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Aloha Utilities should give up this pipe dream

Aloha Utilities' water meets state drinking-water quality standards but neither a state environmental regulator nor a county public health official would sip a sample of the stuff this week.

Why?

For two good reasons. One: It stinks. Two: You can't see through it.

If this water meets quality standards, Florida needs new standards. Florida also needs a Public Service Commission that is willing to stand up for consumers. In this case, that means rejecting a staff recommendation to let Aloha off the hook for the dirty water it sells to some of its customers.

Aloha insists that its water is clean. The problem, according to the company, is in the copper pipes of certain residents' homes. Following this logic, the tobacco industry could claim that cigarette smoke is clean. The problem, instead, is in lungs of certain smokers.

Copper plumbing is as common as dirt. Yet Aloha insists that its customers should replace their pipes, instead of asking it to improve its product. Such arrogance could be comical, except that the Florida Public Service Commission's staff has recommended official endorsement.

A recent staff report advises the PSC against ordering Aloha to build new water treatment facilities and dig new wells at a cost of about $9.5-million. Instead, the report suggests letting Aloha's customers pay for their own solutions to water-quality problems at home.

"While it may appear unfair to take the position that the individual customer will have to incur the replumbing expense, staff believes that it would be equally unfair to require that Aloha build treatment facilities, which . . . would double or triple the rates of all 8,000 of Aloha's current customers in an attempt to specifically address the problem of discolored, black water in 200-300 homes."

The staff is right about one thing. It would be unfair to make Aloha's current customers pay the cost of fixing the problem. Aloha should absorb a substantial portion of that cost, especially as long as it is unwilling to comply with the PSC's request to see its books. State Rep. Mike Fasano has also wisely suggested that new customers help pay through higher impact fees.

The PSC's staff is dead wrong, though, to suggest that Aloha customers should replumb their houses. Some experts are still skeptical of Aloha's explanation for dirty water. And Fasano said bad water has turned up in new homes plumbed with PVC pipes. PSC members should keep all of this in proper perspective next week, and send the staff back to the well for better answers.

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