Water customers notch win over Aqua

By Lisa Treiber-Walter —

In a “David versus Goliath”-type duel between a small group of local water consumers and a national utility corporation, the little guy has officially won concessions.

Nearly two years ago, Gillespie water consumers serviced in the four housing areas of Harper Road Estates, Northwest Hills Water Supply, Deerwood Subdivision and West Oak Heights were shocked to discover that their water rates had doubled overnight.

“After investigation, it seemed the odds were stacked against us. Our water system had been purchased by a multi-state corporation using antiquated state law to maximum advantage,” said Forrest Nikorak, a Northwest Drive resident who was affected by the change and who spearheaded a local movement to fight for and which won on the side of change. “This didn’t just happen in Gillespie County, but to 30,000 Aqua Texas customers across the state.”

Galvanized by the Aqua Texas seemingly disproportionate rate hike, affected residents took their plight to local governments, including the Gillespie County Commissioners’ Court.

In response, elected county officials signed a resolution in protest of Aqua Texas’ sudden rate increases and reverberated a message up the political chain that it was unfair for local water customers to be charged fees to help the multi-state corporation recuperate infrastructure improvements and investments it said it had made in other places.

Aqua Texas customers in protest were able to collect enough signatures to warrant a preliminary hearing with the only agency that has the ability to regulate the water utility company’s actions, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ.)

“That’s when the unfairness really started,” Nikorak, a former City of Austin engineer, said. “Aqua customers were pitted against hundreds of thousands of dollars in sophisticated utility attorneys. Worse yet, state law said that Aqua’s legal bills would be passed on to us.”

Soon, Gillespie’s citizens who had joined forces with other water customers from across the state realized that the best that could be hoped for was a settlement.

Terms of that settlement were reached in December 2012 and the results were reflected for the first time on affected customers’ July water bills.

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