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State orders closer look at Aloha

Many customers of Aloha Utilities have long complained of discolored, foul-smelling water flowing from their taps.

Now they will have a chance to describe those problems in a detailed survey ordered by the state's Public Service Commission.

On Tuesday, the commission rejected its own staff's recommendation that customers replace copper piping in their homes and that Aloha be ordered only to adjust pH levels in the water.

Commissioners said they weren't sure whether the copper piping and pH levels were to blame.

"They feel like they need more clear-cut information from the customers," PSC spokeswoman Melinda Pace said. "Our commission wants to know how many people are experiencing the black water problem and other problems."

The commission ordered its staff and Aloha to prepare a survey that will be sent to Aloha's 8,000 customers in the Seven Springs area. The survey will help commissioners determine what action to take.

The decision marks a victory for state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and various homeowner association presidents who said the water quality problem starts at Aloha's water treatment plant and its wells. They noted that people with plastic piping have experienced similar water problems as those with copper piping.

Fasano, an Aloha customer, last month arranged a meeting between various association presidents, the county's top health official and the region's top environmental regulator to discuss the water problem.

"I am pleased that the Public Service Commission did not adhere to the staff's recommendation and to Aloha," Fasano said. "For a change, they listened to the customers."

Fasano noted that some PSC members had agreed to visit homes in southwest Pasco to see the problem for themselves. "I think this sets a new precedent," he said. "That's very unusual."

Marshall Deterding, an attorney representing Holiday-based Aloha, said the company was not opposed to the survey and was pleased that "no other action was required" of Aloha.

But he said he was disappointed that the matter has not been settled. "We were hoping for a resolution of this case today," he said. "Because it has not been resolved, we will continue to incur further costs for this study, and those costs are ultimately going to be borne by our customers."

The survey questions will be prepared by representatives of the PSC, Aloha and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The survey will ask customers to describe in detail the water problems they are having, from odor to water pressure.

The surveys will be sent out by mail as soon as possible, and will not be included in monthly bills. PSC staff will compile the results.

"This is the survey that we will rely on," Pace said. "It's very important that people respond to this survey."

The survey results might have broader implications. They might help the PSC determine the causes of similar water quality complaints reported at other Florida utilities, Pace said.