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    Op-Ed
    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    Setting the record straight

    Chris Powell’s column that recently appeared in The Day mischaracterized and omitted key facts regarding the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority's (RWA) interest in acquiring the Aquarion Water Company (AWC), which Eversource is selling to raise cash.

    The legislation that was passed during the recent special session was necessary to permit the RWA to bid on AWC with no guarantee that they will be the ultimate acquirer. The legislation removed the disadvantage the RWA would have as a quasi-public utility if their bid was the only one contingent on legislative approval. Moreover, no acquisition will be allowed unless approved by Connecticut’s Public Utility Regulatory Agency (PURA). They will conduct hearings and seek answers to questions raised in Powell’s column. The RWA’s Representative Policy Board, which represents each community in the RWA 20-town service district, will also hold public hearings.

    The column misrepresented that “the new law may be seen as setting a precedent in-volving the whole state — government acquisition of a major utility.” That is untrue. In fact, the RWA was created by special legislation that enabled it to purchase the investor-owned New Haven Water Company in 1980. There are only nine publicly-traded investor-owned water utilities in the nation compared to 153,000 that are government-owed. The RWA is one of those utilities that has demonstrated the benefits of govern-ment ownership, local control and regulation, and organizational stability with public control. Thus, the central reason for the preponderance of government-run water utilities requires further discussion.

    First, recognize that a water utility has a vital public health impact to its service. It is the only utility product that is ingested and, as such, is stringently regulated by both the state and federal government. The Safe Drinking Water Act was enacted in 1974 to establish standards to provide safe and quality drinking water. Continual water testing is required to meet those standards. Whoever buys AWC will be required by law to meet or exceed those standards.

    Second, the RWA has a 44-year track record of service to 15 towns that receive water and a population of over 400,000 consumers. They are consistently compliant with state and federal drinking water standards. They provide excellent customer service as evidenced by regular outside professional opinion surveys of its consumers. They have and continue to invest in its water distribution and production systems, including building and maintaining state-of-the-art water filtration plants, deploying advanced metering infrastructure technology, operating a nationally and state-certified in-house laboratory, creating a water science education center and successfully managing nearly 28,000 acres of watershed lands, while opening up passive recreational opportunities by permit to Connecticut residents.

    Third, if the RWA is successful in its bid for AWC, there would be many synergies with their operations since the RWA has exceptional technical and operational resources to build upon. They would also continue with service-line protection programs and policies that offer affordable programs to customers through its ratemaking. Also, as a government entity, customers would benefit from the RWA's lower cost of capital through rates that are reasonable, while still providing outstanding customer service.

    Contrary to the column, which portrays that Democrats are gaining an opportunity to grab more power and patronage, the fact is that for the more than 40 years that the RWA has been in charge, its self-governance structure has been completely devoid of benefaction and politics from either party. All towns within the RWA’s service area are represented by their governing body and are charged by legislation to provide quality water service at reasonable rates as well as the protection and maintenance of all its land holdings.

    To headline the RWA's interest in AWC as a democratic power grab is without merit. Instead we should applaud a legislative effort to retain local control of AWC rather than see it be sold to an entity — in state or out of state — that may not have the stellar record and expertise of the RWA.

    Marshall Chiaraluce is the former President/CEO and Board Chair of the Connecticut Water Company and also served as Chief Operating Officer for the RWA, and Head of Customer Service & VP of Administration for the New Haven Water Company.

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