Aqua Rate Increase Underscores Need for Reform

Financial CapabilityImage by Andrew Khoroshavin
Op-Ed by State Rep. Christina Sappey, D-Chester

Recently, rate increases for water and wastewater services provided by Aqua Pennsylvania Inc. (Aqua) went into effect for over 400,000 customers in 32 counties across the Commonwealth. Many residents, including seniors on fixed incomes, have been surprised and frustrated to receive bills that have nearly doubled.

The current rules regarding rate regulations and water utility sales are not in the consumer’s best interest. It is imperative that reform is considered in Harrisburg to prevent future prioritization of corporate profits over residents’ access to a basic necessity, such as water.

I share the frustration of Aqua customers going through this current increase. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is the regulatory authority in Pennsylvania for utility rates. Utilities wishing to increase rates must submit a request to the commission for approval. The PUC is currently comprised of three commissioners, each appointed by the governor on a five-year term and confirmed by the State Senate.

When Aqua submitted this request in 2021, I urged the PUC to hold in-person hearings for residents to voice concerns. When that request was denied, State Rep. John Lawrence and I hosted a telephonic public hearing and I joined many of you in testifying against the then-proposed additional charges. Despite these efforts, the PUC commissioners voted unanimously to approve the rate increase in May of 2022.

Recently, I wrote to the PUC providing examples of the negative impact the approved rates have had and requesting a review of current charges to ensure they align with the commission-approved rates. I encourage anyone who feels their bill does not properly reflect their usage or the approved rate to file a complaint with the PUC.

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Today’s state laws allow for inflated valuations of financially solvent public water and wastewater utilities by private companies, enticing local municipalities and authorities to sell for a large return in the short term, only for those costs to be recouped through the ratepayer’s wallet. These processes are done with little transparency or direct input from those that it impacts most, ratepayers.

In Harrisburg, I’m working with a bipartisan group of legislators to address the underlying issues, empowering citizens in the process and amending the valuation procedure to prevent ballooned sales prices. I’m proud to have introduced H.B. 144, the Water Ratepayers Bill of Rights, which includes a ratepayer vote of approval prior to the sale of a municipal or authority-owned utility and require water and wastewater utilities to provide transparency on water sources, rate histories, and the disclosure of commercial usage of their water, such as bottling operations.

I am also a sponsor of H.B. 1936, which would reserve the current valuation procedure to municipal or authority-owned water or wastewater systems in financial and/or operational distress, limiting the number of over-valuated sales.

The current status quo is creating unsustainable utility bills for residents. It is imperative that the state legislature consider these reform measures to empower ratepayers and ensure bill payments are being used to maintain and provide safe service, not to fulfill a corporate growth strategy.

Christina Sappey represents the 158th Legislative District which includes the municipalities of Avondale, East Fallowfield, East Marlborough, Kennett, Kennett Square, New Garden, Newlin, Pocopson, West Bradford, and West Marlborough.

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