News Feature | October 11, 2018

Control Of Dysfunctional Water Utility Seized

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A judge has ordered that an Arizona water utility hand over its reins to a management entity or face jail time.

“Pinal County Superior Court Judge Stephen McCarville ordered Johnson Utilities officials to give EPCOR USA financial control of the company [by a specific time], and warned that anyone interfering with the new boss would be arrested,” The Arizona Republic reported.

EPCOR, the entity that Johnson Utilities was forced to hand control to, published an update on what it is doing to address the organization’s challenges in The San Tan Valley News. The update addressed water pressure issues, billing, and sewage overflows.

“Our engineering team is reviewing the entire system to determine customer usage patterns and system capacity. We’ve identified several booster stations that aren’t properly sized to accommodate water demand, and we’re establishing zones to manage pressure. Infrastructure work will be needed to put permanent solutions in place, and that’s going to take time,” EPCOR stated.

EPCOR also stated that it is planning to take immediate action to minimize sewer overflows, an issue that state regulators had flagged, as well.

“Johnson Utilities utilizes 36 different lift stations to move wastewater through pressurized pipelines to different treatment facilities. During a recent lift station overflow, we discovered that the valves controlling the flow of the wastewater were not operating and that there were no air relief valves on the five-mile force main. We temporarily bypassed the system to make those immediate repairs,”

Johnson Utilities had fought the court order. After it was issued, the utility criticized it as lacking specificity.

“Johnson Utilities lawyers have argued that ‘cooperate’ is vague, and should not be read to mean that the company must turn over financial control to EPCOR. They also said that certain duties ‘reserved as a right of ownership’ prevent the company from giving financial control to EPCOR,” The Arizona Republic reported.
A variety of challenges at Johnson Utilities led to the management shakeup.

“Johnson Utilities has faced several service and environmental issues in its Pinal County water and wastewater service area, which led the Arizona Corporation Commission to vote for EPCOR to take the helm of the company to correct the problems,” the Associated Press reported.