News Feature | July 14, 2014

New Law Gives Ratepayers More Control Over Utility Operations

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

WashingHands

After a long debate featuring strong pushback from the water industry, Florida enacted a law regulating water utilities and empowering consumers in the billing process. 

"Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that gives Summertree residents, and other private utility water customers, an escape from outrageous bills and foul-tasting water," the Tampa Tribune reported

The legislation amounts to a crackdown on the water industry, and an attempt to give consumers more of a voice in water utility affairs.  

"Under the new law, the Public Service Commission could cancel a utility company’s certificate of authorization to operate a water or sewer system if 65 percent of its customers sign a petition. If the utility cannot prove it’s operating in the public interest, the PSC could place the system in receivership until it’s sold to another operator," the report said. 

The bill also gives customers the power to speak out against strange flavors, smells, and colors in their water. The commission can issue fines and halt rate increases if the service seems subpar. 

Frustration with a private water company in Summertree helped prompt the new law. "Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said he sponsored the Water Consumer Protection Act after reading news accounts about Summertree residents' fight with their water provider, Utilities Inc. of Florida," the Tampa Bay Times reported

The Ryans, a couple in Summertree, are among those who have been fighting Utilities Inc. for eight years, Bay News 9 reported. They say the company has increased water rates by almost 250 percent since 1990. 

"Our next door neighbors only pay under $35 a month for water and sewer. The people in our community pay between $68 and $110 a month," Ann Marie Ryan said in the report. 

During the legislative process, some privately-owned water companies worked against the bill. 

The law has three main functions, according to the Times

"[It] establishes standards for taste, color and odor, allows the commission to consider those standards along with existing safety levels when judging rate cases, and gives consumers a mechanism to appeal to the commission to review their water quality," the report said. 

For more policy news, check out Water Online's Regulations and Legislation Solution Center

Image credit: "Washing Hands," aka Kath © 2006, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

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