A water rate increase request filed by Aqua Maine Inc. Feb. 26 with the Public Utilities Commission became effective Aug. 1.

According to PUC Director of Communications Ellen DeFrees, the original request for a 23.6 percent increase was reduced to 20.95 percent during the course of the settlement negotiations.

“The company was required to build the new filtration plant by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act,” DeFrees wrote in an Aug. 3 e-mail message. She said Aqua Maine applied to the federal stimulus program for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds that were available for a relatively short time.

“Part of the ARRA funds were made available in outright grants; the rest of the money came in loans,” she said. “These loans will be paid back through the rate increase in this settlement agreement. The company’s application for and attainment of the ARRA funds to employ in this project was a major benefit to their rate payers.”

A total revenue increase of $1,000,000 will be applied at 21.8 percent for residential customers, 22.2 percent for industrial customers, 24 percent for commercial and public authority customers, and 20.3 percent for private and public fire protection customers.

At the same time, the water allowance in the residential minimum service charge was lowered from 900 cubic feet of water a quarter to 300 cubic feet a quarter and from 300 cubic feet a month to 100 cubic feet a month, for quarterly billed accounts and monthly billed accounts, respectively.

Aqua Maine Vice President of Operations Rick Knowlton said the change will benefit low-volume water users such as single people, couples and the elderly. Prior to the change, these people were charged for a minimum usage that amounted to 75 gallons of water a day. Under the new allowance, that minimum usage will be 25 gallons a day.

“This is a trend in utilities across the country,” Knowlton said. He said it would promote conservation and give people a better sense of equity.

“There will be more people paying for exactly what they use,” he said.

According to an Aug. 2 press release from Aqua Maine, “the new membrane filtration facility at Mirror Lake, built to comply with new water quality regulations, is substantially complete and will be online and delivering filtered water to the system this week.”

“While the lake water quality has not changed, new regulations aimed at increased public health protection now require filtration,” said Aqua Maine President Judy Wallingford.

The press release said customers should see improvement in the water delivered to their homes as the new treatment process will remove naturally occurring organic material from the water and also require less chlorine addition.

“The membrane filtration technology chosen for the new facility is the first large-scale application in Maine,” according to the press release. “Compared to more traditional filtration methods, membranes require a smaller building footprint, less chemical usage and less power consumption. Power efficiency is further enhanced as the new building addition was constructed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, and will use an active solar system. The solar portion of the facility will not only heat the water necessary for the filtration process, but will also produce electricity that can be used to power the new facility.”

Aqua Maine said the rate increase would bring the average quarterly bill for a customer using 1,300 cubic feet of water (110 gallons per day) to $93.23.

More details of the rate increase impact for each class of customer will be sent to customers within the next week.

The Camden and Rockland Division serves customers in the communities of Rockland, Rockport, Camden, Thomaston, Owls Head, Union and Warren and is one of 20 Maine water systems owned or operated by Aqua Maine.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by e-mail at sauciello@villagesoup.com.