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Water managers face grand jury probe

Water managers face grand jury probe

After months of media attention over alleged improprieties, Veolia Water Indianapolis — the company responsible for managing the city’s water utility — is now the center of state and federal inquiries.

Four managers in the water quality division, including Director of Production Alyson Willans and her second in command David Hill, received subpoenas at their homes Friday ordering them to appear before a federal grand jury this week. The grand jury probe concerns possible falsification of water quality records.

Last weekend, agents of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management took 20 water quality samples at Veolia plants and water treatment lines. An independent lab is analyzing the sampling with results expected in 10 days.

Officials at Veolia, or VWI, released the following statement: “We are fully cooperating and providing requested information. Public trust is important to us — the public should have every confidence in its drinking water. Providing our customers with a safe and constant water supply is our number one priority and always has been. Since VWI began operating the Indianapolis waterworks system in May 2002, we have continually met or exceeded state and federal water quality standards. VWI’s facilities are fully operational and we have every confidence that the water we are providing to Indianapolis Water customers is safe.”

In its on-going investigation, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has asked Veolia why it is in non-compliance with administrative rules concerning pressure recording and various discrepancies concerning incentive payments. The commission also wants Veolia to explain the practice of “dummy orders” in response to customer service requests and instructing customers “how to turn on their own water.”

Another question refers to an internal memo from Veolia official Jean Michel Seillier. Found loose in boxes of Veolia documents, the revealing memo pertains to the Citizens Advisory Group (CAG) which develops member surveys. Good survey results allow Veolia to receive $100,000 in annual incentives from the city.

The memo suggests that Veolia “might need to hold the CAG members’ hands if we want to meet the incentives [and] explain ‘privately’ what the incentives mean to us.” The memo concluded, “Actually, we might have to do some ‘data normalization’ if we don’t achieve what we need …”

After three years of struggling with poorly-maintained facilities, boil-water advisories, layoffs, over-billing and allegations of fraud, Mayor Bart Peterson and the Water Board have defended the management of our water utility by French-owned Veolia. In July, the Citizens Water Coalition and City Councilor Jim Bradford asked the city to do a thorough performance audit of Veolia’s operations. Water Board Chair Barbara Howard promptly denied the request claiming a recent ISO Certification (International Organization For Standardization) audit had satisfied the board, and further scrutiny of Veolia would be “inappropriate and duplicative.”

But a number of public interest and environmental groups, including Public Citizen and the Sierra Club, have slammed the ISO, charging a “history of setting weak environmental standards lacking performance requirements and enforcement.”

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