Keene residents upset over water rate hike proposal

Many residents in Keene are upset over a proposal to nearly triple their water bill. The Keene Water System would like to raise rates to offset increased water expenses.
Leeanna Davis and her husband Jim moved to Keene one year ago. They recently removed their dishwasher and take two-minute showers to conserve water.

“We save rain water and dish water and so forth to water a few house plants,” Davis says. “It’s outrageous, I can't understand why it would even be legal to charge that much for water."

Davis says they pay close to $200 for their water each month. They got a letter from the Keene Water System last month saying their bill could nearly triple.

“Now they're saying it's going to go up 290 point something percent, which I can’t figure out,” she says. “You can’t drink the water you know, it turns green if it sits for any length of time," adds Davis.

The Keene Water System is requesting the utilities commission to raise the usage charge from about $9.47 to $64.04. The meter charge would go up from $163.40 to nearly $300 for a customer with a 5/8 by 3/4 inch meter. It plans to increase water rates by 290.96 % or $375,098 for a test year, which the rate hike is necessary in order to offset an increase in operating costs.

Union Pacific Railroad operates the Keene Water System. Aaron Hunt, a spokesperson for Union Pacific says the water supply in Keene has been problematic for years.

“There are no aquifers deep in the ground, the only wells in that area are hard rock wells and that water quality is poor, and many of the wells that have a slightly better water quality in the area have gone dry,” Hunt says. “So there really isn’t a reliable local supply of water that meets the quality standards, and we have done a lot of analysis, and the only thing we’ve come up with is the process we’re using now.”

Many residents say the increase is way too much for a community with nearly 400 residents.

“The cost is just major,” says Jim Siokos, who’s lived in Keene for 20 years. “I'm retired and what now, I’m going to have a $400 something water bill just using like a minimum of water, and I still have to go buy drinking water."

Maggie Henderson trucks in her own water because she says Keene's system is too dirty.

“I was fighting with the water company because the water would smell and be a combination of over-chlorination sometimes, then it would smell like rotten eggs,” Henderson says. “So I put in my own system, and I only pay for what I use.”

Union Pacific says its water complies with the utilities commission.

“Well in compliance in who's favor, how about being in compliance to what people can afford," says Daniel Romero, who’s lived in Keene for nearly 35 years. “Nobody’s making that amount of money as it is, we’re paying about $150 to $200 on average per household in order to get water, and we can’t understand why the fees are so high.”

The public utilities commission will hold a meeting to discuss the proposed hike on Thursday at 6 p.m. in Keene at the Villa La Paz Conference and Education Center at 29700 Woodford Tehachapi Road.
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