MIDDLEFIELD — The fate of a small water utility rests in the hands of the state.
Rainbow Springs Water System serves eight properties on Lakeview Place, a neighborhood of mid-century bungalows along Lake Beseck.
The privately owned water company, REJA Acquisition Corp., made a request in October 2014 to the state Department of Public Health and the Public Utility Regulatory Authority to cease operations and abandon its Rainbow Springs water system.
Since then, the state departments have held several joint hearings to determine which public or private entity could take ownership, and any associated costs, to ensure adequate water supply at a reasonable cost to the residents.
The most recent hearing was Sept. 22. The departments continued the hearing to a later, unspecified date to give the town of Middlefield, REJA and residents time to pursue a plan to drill individual wells.
Neither the town nor other water utilities, including Aquarion Water Co. and Connecticut Water Co., want to take over the Rainbow Springs system.
It’s just too small to be profitable, First Selectman Ed Bailey said, and the town does not want to set water rates or be financially responsible for upgrading the old system.
The seven property owners on Lakeview Place sent a letter to DPH in February 2016 saying they want to drill individual wells and disconnect from the community well, which is in the backyard of the oldest house on the street.
Bailey said the reason this plan hasn’t gone through yet is red tape involving underground pipe regulations.
New wells wouldn’t meet setback requirements, and,
according to a joint statement from DPH and PURA issued Dec. 5, the Public Health Code does not provide for any kind of waiver regarding separation distance requirements between a proposed new well and existing underground sewer or septic pipes.
Both departments will issue a decision in this case, but there’s no rush and no state hearings scheduled.
If the DPH and PURA determine that Rainbow Springs should be acquired, “the departments will order the most suitable public or private entity to acquire the system, which may or may not be the town of Middlefield,” the statement said.
REJA continues to operate the community well, but it’s unknown why REJA wants to relinquish water rights to Rainbow Springs. REJA owners John Wittenzellner and Bob Wittenzellner, who are brothers, have moved out of state and have been divesting of all water systems in Connecticut and Massachusetts, according to Bailey.
REJA’s business phone number has been disconnected. Other calls to numbers associated with the Wittenzellners have not been returned.
The town was on board from the beginning with the plan for customers to drill their own wells, Bailey said.
Individual wells would be cheaper in long run, costing $5,000 to $10,000 to install, Bailey estimates, and the town has a fund of money to lend to eligible homeowners through a federal grant program.
If the town operated Rainbow Springs, residents would see a significant increase in their monthly bills, and the town would have to make expensive infrastructure upgrades, Bailey said.
Water bills now average about $65 a month. Under the town, their rates would “easily double, possibly triple,” he said, to hundreds of dollars a month.
Capital improvements to the 60-year-old system could cost the town $300,000 to $350,000, he said.
“The wells are in best interest of residents,” he said. “Around the lake, the water is good, safe and sanitary. The ground is good for drilling wells.”
Residents backed the idea of individual wells in 2015, and they still do today.
George and Sandra Ennever have lived in their house on Lakeview Lane since 1986.
“We’d like to see the town take ownership to allow us to drill our own wells,” George Ennever said. “I want my own well. I want to be in charge.”
Sandra Ennever’s parents bought the house in 1968.
“It’s taking so long, nobody can make a decision,” Sandra Ennever said.
Catherine Crocker has lived in her home on Lakeview Lane for more than 20 years. The community well operates in a vault in Crocker’s backyard.
“I would be delighted if everyone had their own well,” she said.