Reporting Dorothy Tucker
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CHICAGO (CBS) – They say they’re drowning in their water bills; scores of angry customers of Aqua Illinois say they have to think twice now about everyday tasks like taking a shower, washing the dishes, or even using the bathroom.
CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker reports those homeowners in suburban communities like Will, Kankakee, and Lake County are determined to fight back.
Kevin Burns’ tomato garden is now filled with weeds. He let it die when he got a water and sewer bill for $614, three times what it cost him last year for the same amount of water.
“Once we got this bill, there is no vegetables and tomatoes, this is weeds. I got one tomato plant up on the top,” he said. “I can’t afford it. It’s ridiculous.”
He also let the grass in his back yard turn brown, and cut down a tree that was dying from lack of water.
On a personal front, he said, he’s even had to cut back on basic hygiene.
“Across the board, you brush your teeth, what is it, eight bucks? You take a shower. I don’t even shower every day. I haven’t even shaved for two days,” he said, explaining he doesn’t want to use that much water every day.
“Forget about it, I’m working 80 hours a week to try and survive,” he added.
Samantha Oliver is also furious every time she uses water. Her bill jumped from $200 a month last year to nearly $700 this year.
“It angers me that they could feel justified in doing this to people,” she said.
Both Oliver and Burns – and thousands of other homeowners in Will, Kankakee and Lake counties – are customers of Aqua Illinois.
The Illinois Commerce Commission recently approved a rate hike for Aqua. In a telephone conversation, a spokesperson explained why.
“They improved infrastructure,” the spokesperson said.
Oliver said, “I can understand a rate hike maybe 5 percent to 10 percent – this is what you expect when you hear a rate increase, not a 300 percent increase.”
But the company argued the average customer, who only uses about 6,000 gallons of water a month, had an increase of 56 percent. Those families –like Oliver and Burns – who use more than 40,000 gallons of water per month, weren’t paying their fair share before, so the formula was changed, and now they pay more.
Affected homeowners said the new formula is unfair.
“Preposterous, absolutely ridiculous; it’s criminal,” Burns said.
Homeowners want the ICC to reverse the rate increase.
Aqua is holding a meeting next month in University Park to discuss the rate hike.
The Illinois Attorney General’s office, which has heard some complaints, is also looking into what steps it can take to help customers.