By Rick Palsgrove
Residents of Blacklick Estates say poor water quality and increasing water rates have been a problem for them ever since the subdivision was built about 50 years ago.
On March 19 about 75 Blacklick Estates residents met at Eastland Christian Church with representatives of Aqua Ohio, a private company that has served as the area’s water provider since 2012, to discuss the water quality and rates.
“We’ve been facing these issues for as long as the neighborhood has been around no matter who provided the water,” said Reese Kenney of the Blacklick Estates Block Watch. “Water is essential to life. We should be getting more assistance.”
Kenney said water bills range from $200 to $400 a month for some Blacklick Estates residents. She said to save on their water bills people limit how often they flush their toilets, do not water gardens, and have children share bath water.
“That’s uncalled for,” she said, adding the water issues are causing people to move out of Blacklick Estates.
Kenney said she does not drink the water coming from her tap and asked the crowd in attendance how many of them drink their tap water. Only two people in the audience raised their hands. Kenney also said the water damages appliances.
Former Madison Township trustee Gary McDonald said the PUCO-approved water rates in Blacklick Estates have increased 325 percent from 2002 to 2009.
“There have been six miscellaneous water rate increase requests since 2010, enough is enough,” said McDonald.
According to McDonald, Aqua Ohio was granted a 9 percent water rate increase in 2014 as well as a 4 percent system improvement charge in 2015 on its 3,100 Blacklick Estates customers.
“This is not sustainable for the residents of Blacklick Estates,” said McDonald.
Aqua Ohio media consultant Jeff La Rue said Aqua Ohio decreased the monthly service charge in 2012 from $9.51 to $8.55. He also said that, since Aqua Ohio took over water service in 2012, the average cost for a bill with 4,000 gallon usage has only increased by $8.
La Rue said the average monthly water bill in the area is $102. When asked after the meeting why his cited monthly average water bill was lower than the $200 to $400 monthly bills the residents at the meeting were receiving, La Rue said it is possible there are “silent leaks” on some properties, such as slowly leaking toilets.
“We encourage customers to call us to track down these potential water issues,” said La Rue, who said residents can call him at (614) 893-7635.
La Rue said Aqua Ohio has invested $2 million in improvements in the water system including: installing a $1.2 million reverse osmosis system designed to remove mineral deposits and improve water taste and odor; replaced water mains at Negley, Talford and Tremaine courts; relocated the water main and hydrants on Chatterton Drive; rebuilt the Chatterton lift station; upgraded the sewer plant clarifier; and smoke tested and repaired the sewer system. He said the company plans to spend another $700,000 in 2016 on improvements including painting the water tower and repairing the Harbor lift station.
La Rue said PUCO surveys of perceived water quality in the area show that in 2014 40 percent of the customers thought the water quality was fair to excellent while 60 percent thought it was poor to unsatisfactory. In 2015 the PUCO survey showed that 71 percent thought the water quality was fair to excellent while 24 percent thought it poor to unsatisfactory.
“That’s a big improvement,” said La Rue.
La Rue said the company has the water tested by a private laboratory and the results exceed standards for safe drinking water.
According to La Rue, one disadvantage Aqua Ohio has in its billing that governmental water systems do not face is that, since Aqua Ohio is a private company, it must pay taxes. He said 24 percent of a water bill goes to pay taxes while 14 percent goes to maintenance; 9 percent for fuel, power and chemicals; 18 percent for labor; 6 percent for other expenses; and 28 percent for depreciation and return on investment.
In an interview following the meeting, McDonald was asked why Blacklick Estates does not seek to tap into the city of Columbus water system instead of using a private water carrier. McDonald said Columbus has shown no interest in annexing the subdivision, which would be one way for the residents to obtain city water service. He also said the cost to the city of Columbus would be “astronomical” for it to take over the Blacklick Estates water system because the city would have to purchase the water rights and the existing water system infrastructure in the area.
McDonald also said that if the area did annex into Columbus it would cause a financial hardship for Madison Township because the township would lose revenues generated for its fire and police levies.
While Aqua Ohio has made improvements, Kenney and the residents at the meeting still appeared frustrated.
Kenney, citing how the water quality issues and PUCO-approved water rate increases have impacted the primarily lower to middle economic class neighborhood over the years, summed up her feelings this way, “It feels like we’re in a boxing match with both hands tied behind our backs.”