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Local water service district sues City Utilities in federal court

Sign at Abbey Lane Subdivision
Michele Skalicky
Sign at Abbey Lane Subdivision

Public Water Service District 1 is suing Springfield City Utilities

A local water district is claiming in a federal lawsuit that City Utilities of Springfield is providing services to areas in southwest Springfield that don’t fall under CU’s territory.

Tulsa attorney, Steve Harris, contacted the utility company on behalf of Public Water Service District 1 in August of 2020, CU spokesman Joel Alexander said, demanding that CU stop serving customers of the Monta Vista, Teton Estates and Abbey Lane Subdivisions.

In October of last year, PWSD-1 filed the lawsuit against City Utilities in federal court.

The lawsuit contends those subdivisions are in the water service district’s service territory. It’s basing its lawsuit on the federal statute, 1926b, which grants federally indebted rural water districts the right to be the exclusive seller of water within their service area.

The lawsuit seeks, in part, a declaration that “Springfield has no right and has never had any right to sell or supply water, directly or indirectly within the PWSD-1 Service Territory under Missouri state law,” according to court documents. It also seeks “a monetary judgment for all damages sustained by PWSD-1 as a result of Springfield’s wrongful acts of selling water within the PWSD-1 Service Territory,” court records show.

According to the website of law firm Doyle Harris Davis & Haughey, Harris specializes in the federal statute, 1926b.

Listed alongside Harris as attorneys for the plaintiff are his colleague, Michael Davis, and the Springfield law firm of Husch Blackwell LLP.

Alexander said City Utilities has provided water to the Monta Vista and Teton Estates Subdivisions since the early 1970s and to Abbey Lane since 1991.

“We’re not looking at this in any way as loss of revenue, gross of net revenue, but we think there are a lot of things the customers who would be and could be impacted by this need to have answers to, said Alexander.”

CU hasn’t been able to find any documentation to explain why CU began serving those subdivisions in the first place, said Alexander. But, he said, it appears that CU purchased a private water company that served Teton Estates because the water company wasn’t able to provide adequate service or pressure.

CU held a public meeting in September to let the approximately 375 residents of those subdivisions know about the lawsuit.

Resident Allan DeWoody, who has lived in the Abbey Lane since 1994, attended the meeting.

He said he’d prefer to continue getting water from City Utilities.

“I’ve never had any difficulties with them at all, and they’ve always had good quality everything—water and then the other utilities that I get from them,” DeWoody said.

Public Water Service District 1 declined KSMU’s multiple requests for an interview, saying “the Board for PWSD-1 has no comment until the case has been fully resolved.” Attorney Steve Harris also declined our request for an interview.

Alexander said the parties involved in the lawsuit tried to reach an agreement through mediation on January 25 but did not reach a settlement. A second attempt at mediation is set for October 13. A 10-day jury trial is set to start November 29 in federal court if the parties cannot settle out of court.