Some York County customers complain about Blue Granite Water Company

YORK COUNTY, N,C — Jason Habbal said Blue Granite Water Company’s water “smells bad. It taste bad.”

He won’t drink it. “We buy jugs of water,” he told Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke. “We probably buy 30 to 40 gallons a month of that that we use for drinking so we don’t have to use their water.”

But, he said, his bills are still high. “The rates just keep going up and up and up,” he said. “When does it stop? Are you going to pay $500 a month for water? Are we going to pay $300 before somebody sets something in motion to fix it?”

He also criticizes the utility’s customer service.

Other customers shared similar complaints to Action 9 recently.

Blue Granite serves about 4,500 residents in the Lake Wylie area.

As for the water taste and appearance, Blue Granite told Stoogenke, “Blue Granite has always maintained strict adherence to all state and federal standards with regard to water quality, and the fact that water aesthetics are not regulated by those standards supports the notion that water aesthetics are not tied to safety and quality. Also, there are simply too many factors that can impact taste, color or smell that Blue Granite cannot control once water passes to the customer.”

As for customer service, the utility said, “In this most recent rate case, customers testified publicly under oath before the Public Service Commission that many, if not a majority of their service complaints stemmed from years past, not recent experiences, and were resolved long before the Company’s rate application. When more recent issues were raised, Blue Granite held open meetings with customers around the state to hear concerns and state our commitment to addressing issues our customers were facing. We also encourage any customer with an issue to contact the Company so it can be resolved.”

As for the rates, the company said, “As a privately-owned utility, Blue Granite’s rates are higher than public utilities due to a myriad of factors, most notably the taxes that the Company pays that municipalities and counties do not.”

The company also said, “Blue Granite Water Company purchases water from York County. Therefore, the water that everyone in our footprint consumes is the same as everyone else in the entire county. The water aesthetics are the same for everyone and not a condition of Blue Granite Water Company. It is a pass-through water purchase, which means if York County raises our price, the rates for the customer are also raised.”

In 2019, it asked the state permission to raise rates up to 56%. In April last year, the state agreed to an increase, but a smaller one: 12-23% for water and 24% for sewer. The utility disagreed with the state’s math and reasoning, so -- a few weeks later -- it asked the state to reconsider. In the meantime, the company raised rates 18-36% for water and 35% for sewer which -- legally -- it was allowed to do while both sides sort this out. But Blue Granite waited until September to start charging the new amount because of the pandemic. “This was an unprompted voluntary move the Company took following it’s decision in early March to suspend disconnections for non-payment, the first utility, public or private, in South Carolina to do so,” the company added.

Customers told Stoogenke York County councilmember Allison Love has been very involved in this situation. So he asked her for her take on it. “Blue Granite Water is the former Carolina Water Service and this has been on ongoing saga for about 28 years now,” she said. “Many new people have arrived on the scene and are shocked when they get their first water bill. My phone rings a lot!”

“The rates are considerably higher than what most York County residents pay,” she added. “The good news is there is new management at Blue Granite and there is new and continued dialogue [between Blue Granite and the county]”.

Blue Granite’s also come under fire for pollution in recent years. In 2017, the state fined the utility almost $80,000 for failures involving fecal coliform at a wastewater treatment plant. Last year, the state fined the company more than $50,000 for raw sewage that went into a creek near Columbia.