When Aqua Maine becomes the Maine Water Company, early next year, customers will see little difference, according to Connecticut Water Company Director of Communications Dan Meaney.

Connecticut Water announced July 27 that it had reached an agreement to purchase the public water utility from its parent company Aqua America, based in Bryn Mawr, Pa. The last time the company changed hands was in 1959, when Consumers Water Company of Portland acquired the Camden and Rockland Water Company through the majority of the stock. Today the company, now named Aqua Maine, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the publicly held Aqua America, Inc.

Throughout Maine, the utility has more than 16,000 customer accounts, serving approximately 48,000 people in Rockland, Camden, Rockport, Thomaston, Owls Head, Union and Warren, as well as Bucksport, Freeport, Greenville, Hartland, Hiram, Millinocket, Oakland, Parsonsfield, Porter and Skowhegan.

The purchase price of the transaction is approximately $53.5 million.

The main water supply for the Camden and Rockland division of Aqua Maine is Mirror Lake in West Rockport. The back-up supply is Grassy Pond, also in West Rockport.

Connecticut Water Service Inc. is based in Clinton, Conn., and serves approximately 90,000 customers, or 300,000 people in Connecticut through its public water utility subsidiary, the Connecticut Water Company.

Meaney said the current management team is to remain in place, and that he expected Maine customers to see little change in service or billing.

The purchase will have to be approved by the Public Utilities Commission. Aqua Maine President Judy Wallingford said an application is expected to be filed shortly, and that PUC will have six months to respond to the application.

Land protections to remain in place

“Over the past 10 years, we have set aside or worked with municipalities and local land holding organizations [in Connecticut] to set aside 800 acres for former watershed land that has been protected for recreation or as open space,” said Meaney.

A new $7.2 membrane filtration plant, installed last summer, has minimized the need for a natural buffer area to protect the water sources at Grassy Pond and Mirror Lake.

Meaney said Connecticut Water President and Chief Executive Officer Eric Thornburg was impressed by the “pristine nature” of Mirror Lake, when he visited the Midcoast recently.

“He commented that it’s a piece of land that shouldn’t be developed,” said Meaney. “We would certainly follow Judy’s lead in what was Aqua Maine’s policy in protecting that watershed land.

Aqua Maine Vice President for Operations Richard Knowlton said, in March 2010, that Aqua Maine would continue to manage the forested buffer areas around Mirror Lake and Grassy Pond, even after the filtration plant began operation, in order to maintain the quality of the company’s drinking water.

Wallingford said choice of the membrane filtration system was based on the “pristine quality of the water in Mirror Lake.”

“We’re committed to maintaining that quality,” she said.

Aqua Maine currently owns more than 500 acres in the Mirror Lake watershed and more than 700 acres in the Grassy Pond watershed within Rockport’s boundaries, and additional acreage in Camden, Hope and Union. The area provides habitat for moose, deer and a variety of fish and waterfowl.

Meaney said Maine Water Company would join Connecticut Water Company, as a second subsidiary of Connecticut Water Service, an investor-owed company that is publicly traded on the NASDAQ (CTWS).

“We’re held in a lot of 401k retirement and pension plans,” said Meaney. “Our shareholders tend to be smaller investors who predominantly live in the Northeast.”

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