February 12, 1998 in Nation/World

Water Woes Postpone Development Utilities Commission Probes Customer Complaints

By The Spokesman-Review

It takes “forever” to fill the bathtub at the Abrams household near Hayden Lake.

And when the Abramses wanted to install a lawn sprinkler system, they were turned down by the sprinkler company.

Why? Their water pressure is too low.

“It’s not normal. It’s not normal at all,” said Alexandra Delis-Abrams.

The Abramses’ complaints are among many that have shadowed the Allied Water Inc., formerly Hayden Pines Water Co., the past few years.

Aside from water pressure problems, customers complain about the high iron and manganese content in their water, which leaves stains in sinks, around tubs and on clothing. The Abramses solved that problem themselves by installing an expensive water filtration system.

But that’s not all that bedevils the water company.

An ongoing dispute over management of the company has brought the Idaho Public Utilities Commission into the fray.

And concerns over water pressure in the Rimrock service area, which has more than 600 homes, have convinced Kootenai County commissioners to postpone approving any new subdivisions in the area.

Five new developments, totaling 198 lots, are on hold until problems with the water system are worked out. But some people are growing impatient.

Kootenai County Commissioner Ron Rankin said he was prepared “to file a complaint with the Public Utilities Commission.”

Developers have been waiting for a year to find out whether they’ll have enough water for their subdivisions, Rankin said.

“When they come to us, they come here with the idea that they’re going to be able to use that water. And the water company has agreed to supply the water, but they can’t,” Rankin said.

The holdup is an unfinished hydraulic analysis of the water system, which should tell Allied Water more about the capacity of the system. The report initially was finished in October, but the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality found some problems with it and asked for more work.

Complicating matters is the fact that some of the neighborhoods in the Rimrock area were built before 1985, when state standards for water pressure increased, said DEQ’s Gary Gaffney.

“It’s kind of a hybrid,” Gaffney said of the neighborhood. “It has more than doubled in the number of users since 1985. We have to decide which standard to use.”

Allied Water’s manager, Bob Roe, said the company is making improvements. Last summer, a line along Lancaster Road was connected, improving water pressure to the Avondale area.

To deal with the iron problem, the company is trying a new product that’s supposed to keep the iron from staining dishes and clothing.

The company also is planning to purchase booster pumps for the Abramses’ neighborhood, but is waiting on results from the hydraulic analysis to make sure the new pumps will be adequate, Roe said.

“We’ve been trying to run Allied Water Co. to the best of our ability to the benefit of the customers,” Roe said.

Some customers are skeptical, however.

“I don’t trust them,” said DelisAbrams, who claims that Allied Water never returns her phone calls.

After suing Hayden Pines over rates in 1988, the Hayden Pines Water customers formed the North Kootenai Water District at the suggestion of a county judge. The district operates as a watchdog of the water utility and has tried to buy it.

Last spring, prompted by complaints from North Kootenai Water District, the PUC launched a formal investigation of Hayden Pines management, citing problems found in a PUC audit of the company. The investigation is ongoing.

Shortly after that, owner Charles Ford announced that he had sold Hayden Pines’ assets to Allied Water, which claims to be a not-for-profit company. If the company meets the not-for-profit criteria, then it is not subject to the regulatory powers of the PUC.

The commission staff questioned whether Hayden Pines had, in fact, sold its assets to Allied, and whether Allied Water was exempt from regulatory oversight. The PUC launched a second investigation.

That investigation has been held up because Ford has been out of town all winter and unable to respond to the PUC’s request for more documentation.

“Until he complies with our request, we don’t have sufficient record to proceed,” said David Scott, PUC spokesman.

The fact that Ford was on the board of Allied Water, and still owned the wells and other assets of the company, concerns customers. They also worry that the move could leave the utility unregulated.

Roe said Ford no longer is on Allied’s board of directors, but Allied is making mortgage payments to Ford.

“Allied is trying to bring itself on board as a not-for-profit corporation,” Roe said. “With all the legal issues going on, that leaves us in limbo.”

The North Kootenai Water District is getting impatient with the pace of the PUC’s investigations and has been contacting legislators to ask for help.

“We’ve been doing our best to put pressure where we can to make this thing come along,” said district board chairman Dean Kastens. “We don’t seem to be making a lot of headway.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo Map of area

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