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Aloha Utilities customers finally get their wish: good, clean water

The long fight for better water is almost over for residents of Seven Springs.

Today, the government agency that bought the Aloha Utilities water system will throw the switch on an upgraded water treatment plant that will clean the sour, smelly water that residents complained about for years.

"The customers are going to be very, very pleased to finally have good, clean water to drink," said John Andrews, a Trinity resident who leads the Better Water Now citizen group.

The new treatment plant, located next to Seven Springs Elementary, is part of $7.8 million in upgrades to the system. The plant will treat water from the utility's nine wells to remove color and sediments. It will also remove hydrogen sulfide, the cause of blackish tint and rotten egg odors in the water. Other upgrades include 6.5 miles of new water mains and five connections to the Pasco County utility system.

The switch will mean seven to 10 days of discoloration or cloudiness, but officials say it will only be temporary. Most of the changes are caused by the release of built-up sediment in the lines as the new system takes over.

The Florida Governmental Utility Authority bought the Aloha Utility in 2009 for $90.5 million. The utility serves 20,000 residents in Holiday and Trinity.

Many of the complaints began in earnest in the mid '90s when two new wells came online that provided some of the worst water to the Chelsea Place and Trinity Oaks neighborhoods.

Stephen Spratt, the assistant systems manager for FGUA, said the agency already implemented some short-term fixes, including relying less on those wells and pumping more water from other wells. The utility also completely flushed the system to remove built-up hydrogen sulfide.

The new plant will treat just more than 2 million gallons pumped daily from the utility's nine wells. The rest of the 2.8 million gallon demand will be purchased from Pasco County's utility system. Demand is expected to grow as the economy improves, resulting in more water from the county.

FGUA considers itself a transitional agency that buys a troubled private system, improves it and then turns it over to a local government. Its agreement allows Pasco to take over the system at any time, and FGUA has made similar deals in several counties across Florida.

"It really allows somebody to focus on the problem for the county," Spratt said.

Last fall, FGUA refinanced bonds used to buy the utility, saving customers $400,000 in interest costs. That will allow the utility to reduce the planned increase in rates that take effect in October. Under those proposed new rates, a Seven Springs home using 5,000 gallons a month would see water and sewer bills increase from $76 to $81.

Andrews said residents don't like the higher rates, but he quipped, "We used to get rate increases with no improvements to the water."

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Getting to this day

Customers of Aloha Utilities have been complaining about the water quality for more than 15 years. Among the most iconic moments in the saga:

m In 1996: To demonstrate how dirty her water was, Gloria Pilotte of New Port Richey ran the hot water tap in her bathtub. Her family began complaining to Aloha Utilities in 1994.

m In 1998: "That's bad water," said Bob Crouch, who supervised engineering for the state Public Service Commission. He and then-PSC chairwoman Julia Johnson watched as Aloha Utilities president Steve Watford let the water flow from a hydrant in New Port Richey. The demonstration suggested that separate from the utility's black water problem, the utility was not properly flushing its hydrants.

m In 2004: More than 200 customers packed into a hearing of the Public Service Commission to complain about the poor water quality. Residents showed up in force at countless Aloha meetings over the years and even picketed outside the utility offices, demanding better water.

Aloha Utilities customers finally get their wish: good, clean water 08/24/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 24, 2011 7:10pm]
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