Op-Ed

Ongoing investment is key for quality water service

As a regional water utility providing service to nearly half a million people in portions of 14 counties, Kentucky American Water significantly impacts this region’s quality of life. Water is critical for health, sanitation, fire protection, cleanliness, manufacturing and more.

In order to fulfill the water needs of the communities we serve, our systems and facilities must be reliable, and since water utilities deliver a service that is ingested, the quality of the water we deliver must meet increasingly stringent standards.

Kentucky American Water has been dedicated to providing reliable, high quality water service for more than 130 years, and we remain committed to this tradition of performance excellence.

We prioritize and undertake drinking-water infrastructure renewal projects to support the public health, safety and economic vitality of communities in a reliable, cost-effective manner.

Without effectively planning water infrastructure investment, we will incur the haphazard and growing costs of aging and failing drinking water systems and place in jeopardy what past generations worked so hard to build. Too many water and sewer utilities across the country and even in Kentucky are behind in upgrading their infrastructure, and those systems are now failing. We will not be among them.

The rate increase we requested from the Public Service Commission in late November would help to pay for such investments.

Among the upgrades included in this request are those at our Kentucky River Station facility in Fayette County, the largest of our three water treatment plants.

Built in the 1950s, this treatment facility remains a critical part of our operations. It has served our region well, but at 60 years old, it has undergone a number of upgrades in recent years to enhance operations and safety.

In addition to treatment plants, our system includes more than 20 water storage facilities, over 8,000 fire hydrants and more than 2,000 miles of pipe. We also have multiple booster pump stations that assist with maintaining adequate pressures in our system and more than 20,000 valves to help isolate water flow to make repairs or conduct maintenance.

All these components work together to provide the water service we deliver, and although we conduct regular inspection and maintenance, there does reach a point after decades of use when they require replacement.

We understand that we must balance these infrastructure projects with the affordability of the service we provide, and we work hard to do just that. Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars we’ve spent on water infrastructure in the last nine years, the average water bill over that same period will have increased about $7 if our rate adjustment request is granted in full.

Water from the tap would remain around a penny per gallon used. We believe when you compare an average residential monthly water bill with other monthly bills, water service is still a tremendous value.

That said, our commitment to contain costs by seeking out efficiencies will continue, and by being part of American Water, a national company, our customers will continue to benefit from the economies of scale that this structure brings in terms of containing expenses through the negotiating power we have for purchasing materials and supplies, for example.

Likewise, as a regional utility with each customer class paying the same rate regardless of location, costs are spread out among a larger pool of customers than if we had one rate for Lexington customers, another for Owenton, another for Millersburg, and so forth.

This sort of regionalization and consolidation of water systems is precisely what the Kentucky Legislature encouraged when establishing the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority and what continues to be supported today to make quality, reliable, affordable water service available to Kentuckians.

We understand that no one wants to pay more for anything, and we will continue to work hard to contain rates as much as possible, while also making appropriate upgrades and replacements that support the provision of quality, reliable water service for generations to come.

Kevin Rogers is vice president of operations and Brent O’Neill is director of engineering at Kentucky American Water.

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