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In New Hanover, Reports of Smelly, Sediment-Filled Water on Aqua Lines

New Hanover residents in Montgomery County have been reporting significant water problems coming from their Aqua PA-owned water system in recent months, including foul smells and drinking water full of sediment.

The problem has grown so acute that earlier this month, Aqua PA and New Hanover hosted a joint town meeting to address the ongoing concerns over the town’s water supply.

A list of resident-submitted questions for the meeting reveals broad unhappiness with the town’s water quality:

  • “Why is my next-door neighbor not having brown water if I am?”
  • “Why should I be required to install sediment filters in my house if I am buying what should be drinking water?”
  • “What is the timeframe for having a better quality of water?”
  • “Is it safe to drink? It has a foul taste.”

In many cases, Aqua provided the same stock response to the inquiries: “We routinely test the water, and it continues to meet regulatory requirements.”

Residents at the meeting were far from satisfied with Aqua’s handling of the water system. And they let the company know it. “The water explodes out of the faucet, and it tastes crappy,” one resident told company and township officials, according to a report in the Pottstown Mercury.

“When I first turn on the shower, it smells awful. It has a rotten egg or sewer smell,” another said.

The embarrassing debacle comes as Aqua has faced withering criticism from residents in the Delaware Valley and beyond amid its ongoing efforts to buy local water systems.

Matt Miller, director of water quality and environmental compliance at Aqua PA, told DVJournal the company has been addressing complaints of water quality in the area since December 2021.

“We got a specialized flushing rig in immediately [after hearing the complaints],” Miller said. “It comes in with a truck and is able to do high-velocity flushing in the system. We took a look at a well in the area that’s the primary source for the neighborhood. We did some work to essentially raise the well pump and grout out the well bottom.”

Miller said the company continued to address sporadic reports of sediment in drinking water throughout 2022, with Aqua doing grout repairs to the area well in November of last year. The company had no further complaints until March of this year, he said.

The forum, he said, went well, with Aqua representatives setting up appointments with residents to go address their complaints at their homes.

“We feel like we’re in a good place now,” he said.

The company, whose parent corporation Essential Utilities manages wastewater and natural gas in eight states, has acquired multiple water systems in Pennsylvania in the wake of Act 12. That is the 2016 law which made it easier for private companies to buy municipal water networks.

Grassroots efforts like Neighbors Opposing Privatization Efforts (NOPE) have risen up to push back against efforts by Aqua and other companies to buy those systems, with NOPE and other residents spearheading resistance in locations including Bucks County, Willistown, Delaware County, and elsewhere.

NOPE’s Twitter handle—”@StopAquaPA”—reflects the group’s original aim to counter Aqua’s acquisition efforts in the area.

But the grassroots effort—which has chapters in multiple locations around the Delaware Valley—has expanded to push back against other companies as well. Towamencin’s NOPE chapter led a successful effort last month to change the township’s governance to home rule. The issue that drove the change was a sewer sale to NextEra Energy and Pennsylvania-American Water Company.

Towamencin officials have nevertheless stated their intent to continue ahead with the sale even after the charter ostensibly forbids them from doing so.

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Towamencin to Continue Sewer Sale in Spite of ‘Home Rule’ Charter

The Towamencin Board of Supervisors will continue with its planned sale of the municipal sewer system even after residents voted to pass a charter that scrapped the sale and gave citizens more control over municipal water ownership.

Residents were successful in last month’s primary election in passing a “home rule charter” that effectively negated the proposed sale of the sewer system. The charter passage resulted from efforts by a local chapter of the group Neighbors Opposing Privatization Efforts (NOPE) to halt the utility sale to the controller Pennsylvania-American Water Company (PAWC).

In a statement after the primary results, the Board of Supervisors said it “acknowledge[d] that the Charter will be the law of the Township as of July 1,” but the relevant issue “is whether a prospective law can upend a contract.”

“[T]he Township legal team does not believe the passage of the Home Rule Charter negates the sewer sale under current Pennsylvania law and the Pennsylvania Constitution,” the board said.

“There is strong legal precedent against overturning pre-existing contracts based on the passage of new laws. As such, we do not intend to seek to terminate the contract.”

Towamencin officials could not be reached for comment on the proposed sale. Town resident Kofi Osei, who helped lead the local NOPE chapter to victory in the primary vote, said a lawsuit might be in the works if the town fails to back down.

“The charter is effective July 1, so if neither party attempts to terminate the contract, we will pursue legal action,” he said.

“We haven’t really started that process yet, so there is quite some time before the sale possibly closes,” he added.

“If this goes to court, I believe it will be a landmark case about the extent home rule charters can restrict local governments.”

May’s successful charter vote came after the Towamencin Board of Supervisors voted to sell the town’s sewer system to NextEra Energy in May 2022, with the proposed sale eventually being shifted to PAWC.

Residents revolted against the proposal, leading to a citizen’s commission and the home rule proposal that effectively revokes the town’s utility sale.

The town had moved to sell the utility under Pennsylvania’s Act 12. Passed in 2016, the rule modified the state’s regulations for the valuation and purchase of municipal water systems, allowing private concerns to buy more of them.

Residents around the Delaware Valley and the state have united against proposed utility sales in recent years, with NOPE chapters springing up in Bucks County and other parts of Montgomery County.

In April, persistent resident protests led the supervisors of Chester County’s Willistown to drop a proposed utility sale to Aqua PA, invoking a kill clause in the contract after several years of debate.

Aqua has also moved to take over utilities such as the Delaware County Regional Water Authority, though a judge earlier this year ordered a stay on that deal due to contract disputes.

State Rep. John Lawrence (R-West Grove) has proposed repealing Act 12, claiming the rule had resulted in significantly higher utility fees for ratepayers around the state.

Osei said he expects any lawsuit brought by residents to ensnare the deal in a web of protracted legal proceedings.

“I personally think it would take years to fall in the Township/PAWC’s favor.”

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