Water main breaks could lead to rate hikes

Police and fire crews were investigating a manhole issue along Ohio Street on Sunday, August 30, 2015. (WISH Photo/Jessica Smith)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The steam leak that closed a downtown street over the weekend is a symptom of a bigger problem: it could mean higher water rates for customers.

Citizens Energy repairs between 650 and 700 water main breaks every year and the water utility wants more money so it can replace and not just repair many of those damaged pipes.

A public hearing was scheduled Monday on a rate hike request that would increase the average monthly water bill by $6 a month.

The money will be used for repairs like the one on Ohio Street.

Citizens Energy says there are so many repairs necessary that one rate hike won’t be enough.

“I would think it’s safe to say that we’re going to be asking for rate increases every couple of years,” said spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple, “for, probably for the next five to six years.”

The steam leak on Ohio Street was caused when a water main broke just above a steam line. The water main was installed in 1904 and some pipes below downtown streets are even older.

“I definitely believe it needs to be addressed,” said water customer Tyrone Humphrey. “Am I personally willing to foot the bill? Possibly.”

“Being charged extra for it for Indianapolis residents, that’s just not cool with me,” said water customer Diane Keller Wood.

The state Utility Regulatory Commission will decide on the rate hike by the end of the year.

In the meantime, some confusion surrounding the Ohio Street closure needs to be cleared up.

The fire department understood the source of the problem but a spokesman said locking manhole covers kept them in place.

Holsapple says there was no danger of explosion.

“People just didn’t understand what was happening,” she said, “because there was a concentrated amount of steam that was rising up.”

And, according to Citizens, it’s a symptom of a problem that new downtown construction will only make worse.

The state Utility Consumer Counselor has until October to take a position for or against the rate hike.

If it goes through the average residential water bill in Indianapolis will go from $29 to $35.

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