Thursday night (Oct. 19) marked the first official meeting of the Lake Monticello Owners’ Association (LMOA) Ad Hoc Committee on Aqua Virginia Rates.

During the hour-long meeting, chairperson Mike Harrison walked the five new committee members through a lengthy list of tasks to be accomplished over the coming weeks and months.

The LMOA Board of Directors approved the formation of the committee within hours of learning that Aqua Virginia was seeking a rate increase back in September. Harrison, who chaired the same committee during the last round of Aqua rate hikes in 2014 and 2015, was appointed to oversee this new effort.

Aqua has requested that the State Corporation Commission (SCC) approve an 11 percent increase in water rates and 5.4 percent increase in sewer rates, to reach a combined revenue increase of $1.9 million.

The company is also requesting permission to implement a water and wastewater infrastructure service charge (WWISC), a separate charge customers would pay to allow Aqua to recover its investments in repairing or replacing aging infrastructure. The company has not yet said how much this service charge would be, but Aqua Virginia President John Aulbach has previously said it would most likely be capped at about 10 percent of the average statewide monthly bill.

The SCC denied the request for the WWSIC in 2015 and Harrison said he is hopeful that community pressure can convince it to do so this time around.

The committee has until Jan. 16, 2018, to draft a formal filing as a respondent in the rate case. They will have to develop testimony and exhibits by Feb. 13, and assemble written comments from interested parties by April 17. The SCC hearing will be held in Richmond April 26.

Along the way, the committee members said they need to develop their strategic messaging; conduct research; make timelines, charts, and exhibits; educate the public; draft filings and formal resolutions; prepare for an anticipated town hall in January; and collect stories on the toll Aqua rates take on local households.

Driving home the negative impact of the proposed increase will be an important part of the committee’s case before the SCC. Not only do high water bills stress family budgets and force residents to alter their habits to reduce their water usage, they create what Harrison has dubbed “Browntown,” a community largely bereft of lawns and gardens too expensive to water. This, in turn, drives down property values by making Lake Monticello visibly less attractive to prospective buyers.

Aqua Virginia serves an estimated 5,000 homes and businesses in and around Lake Monticello, making it the largest system Aqua owns in the state. According to its website, the company provides water and sewer to 81,000 Virginians in 36 counties.

The committee will next meet Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. at Ashlawn Clubhouse. The public is invited to attend.