Small Connecticut water companies face extinction

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 1, 2014 at 7:31 am •  Published: June 1, 2014
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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — For nearly 50 years, a community of 15 homeowners in New Milford got by fine on three water wells, paying a reasonable price for a reliable supply, resident Mark Conrad said. But about four years ago, the state took an interest, he said, and that's when the trouble began.

Regulations required hiring a certified operator, more water testing and upgraded electrical systems. Now the community is being forced to buy water from a large regional water company with rates likely to rise by more than $200 per family per year, Conrad said. With the possibility of state fees, he fears the price for water could double.

"We were going to be taken over by a water company, or we're going to go broke trying to do it on our own," he said. "It's been very frustrating and very unsatisfactory."

Across rural areas of Connecticut, hundreds of tiny water companies are showing their age and face extinction. An array of environmental regulations, record-keeping requirements and decaying systems are forcing residents to shed ownership of their water companies — turning in the keys, it's called — and fold their community systems into large water companies.

John Betkoski III, vice chairman of the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, said water rates for many small companies will likely rise when they're taken over by larger, regulated companies. Volunteers ran the small community companies for years, helping keep the prices down, he said. But now, plant and equipment upgrades will be needed, and "we obviously need to pay for those," he said.

The water systems date back decades when small housing developments were built in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, said Michael Krespan, director of health at the New Milford Public Health Department. Many communities sprang up near Connecticut's numerous lakes, and wells are the dominant source of water, he said.

In the past five years, nearly two dozen water companies were acquired by larger businesses, according to the state Department of Public Health. At least four other water system takeovers are being reviewed by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.