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waterFor the fifth time in 13 years, Aqua Virginia has started the process of raising water and sewer rates for its customers in Fluvanna.

Aqua’s biggest customer in Virginia is the Lake Monticello system, which serves Lake Monticello and Sycamore Square. Aqua also provides water service to Columbia, Palmyra, and Stagecoach Hills. All told, the company provides service to 4,648 locations in Fluvanna. Lake Monticello and Sycamore Square account for 4,550.

Aqua plans to file its rate case with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) on or around Aug. 1, said Gretchen Toner, spokesperson for Aqua America.

Aqua has not released any specifics on how high it wants to raise water and sewer rates, and the rate case filing was not available at press time. John Aulbach, president of Aqua Virginia, will discuss details of the rate case with the Fluvanna Review after the paperwork is filed, Toner said.

Because one rate increase was phased in over two years, Aqua customers have actually seen their water and sewer rates increase six times since the company purchased the system in 2003.

The average water and sewer bill at Lake Monticello is $118 – an amount that has more than tripled since the average customer paid $38 a month in the years before and immediately after Aqua bought the system.

At the time, the Lake Monticello water and sewer system was operating under a consent order from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Consent orders are issued for DEQ violations, and those who receive them must work to bring their systems into compliance. It took 10 full years for Aqua to work its way out of the consent order, which was lifted in 2013.

Since acquiring the system, Aqua has put $5.1 million into the water system and $16 million into the sewer system, according to figures from three years ago. The totals have climbed even higher since then. “Since 2015 Aqua has invested approximately $22 million in Virginia water and wastewater systems statewide,” said Aulbach in a statement.

Aqua filed its last rate case in August 2014. The SCC did not issue its decision in that case until January 2016. The new rate case could take until 2019 to be decided.
In the meantime, however, Aqua is permitted to charge its customers the higher rates. If the SCC ultimately approves a lower rate than that requested by Aqua, Aqua must return the difference plus interest to its customers.

The SCC has typically approved most of the additional revenue sought by Aqua through rate increases. In the most recent rate case, the SCC permitted Aqua to receive 87 percent of the increase it requested.

“This [rate increase] request is related to significant infrastructure improvements throughout Aqua’s water and wastewater systems, including Lake Monticello, and increases in operational expenses,” said Aulbach in his statement.

Aqua has completed the following projects in the Lake Monticello system, according to Aulbach’s statement:

  • Water treatment plant upgrades to improve water quality.
  • Installation of a generator at the Nahor subdivision booster station to ensure uninterrupted service and adequate water pressure during a power outage.
  • Repairs to the water treatment plant backwash-holding lagoon to increase operational reliability.
  • Improvements to the Brassie wastewater pump station to improve reliability and longevity.
  • Wastewater treatment plant improvements including replacement of aging equipment to prevent overflows and protect local waterways.

The following projects are currently in progress, said Aulbach:

  • Repairs to the wastewater collection system pipes and manholes to keep storm water out of the wastewater system and prevent potential wastewater overflows into nearby surface waters.
  • Replacements to aging infrastructure to maintain water quality.

A 2016 law now requires Aqua and other water and sewer companies to include notices of rate increases in customer bills. The estimated 12,000 to 13,000 Aqua customers in Fluvanna will probably be keeping an eye on their mail to see how high their rates may climb.