Now We Know

A lot of us pushed for a general investigation at the WV PSC last spring, because we thought that a PSC investigation was the best way for the public to get independent analysis of WV American Water’s role in the Kanawha Valley’s 2014 drinking water crisis.

Last week, the intervenor parties in the PSC general investigation case filed testimony by their expert witnesses. Expert testimony was also provided by the staff of the WV PSC, which operates independently from the three PSC commissioners and plays a key role in general investigations by providing independent technical and legal information.  Taken together, the testimony provides a clear picture of mistakes made by WVAW’s managers. This is a picture of WVAW’s failures that we have not seen anywhere else.

Here is what we have learned from the experts’ testimony.

  • In 2004, WVAW, eliminated from the Charleston plant monitoring equipment that could have detected, in real time, the presence of organic compounds, including MCHM, in its intake water.  Because it had no monitoring equipment in place, WVAW had to depend on Freedom Industries officials, who were trying to minimize the danger of their negligence, instead of having hard evidence on which to act.
  • WVAW has no backup source of raw water, either in the form of a reservoir or a second intake on the Elk or Kanawha Rivers.  The connections to neighboring water systems are not large enough to support any backup from those sources.
  • In the weeks leading up to Jan. 9, 2014, WVAW failed to produce enough clean water to maintain storage capacity within its existing system to provide a reserve in the case of an emergency.  Just before Jan. 9, 2014, WVAW was maintaining only about 35% of capacity in its system.  WVAW managers had no backup source and failed to maintain even the backup capacity that already existed in their existing system.
  • In 2002, WVAW learned that the Etowah Terminal (the tank farm later bought by Freedom Industries) was a possible threat to the company’s raw water intake.  WVAW took little or no action to identify chemicals stored in the tank farm or to plan response to leaks and spills that company managers knew were a possibility.
  • The highest concentration plume of MCHM/PPA in the Elk River took several hours to pass the WVAW water intake.  If WVAW had been prepared for the contamination with monitoring equipment, a source water protection plan and had maintained required reserves in its existing system, it is quite possible that after closing the Elk River intake for part of a day, the WVAW’s plant filters could have handled the lower concentrations of MCHM/PPH after the initial plume had passed.
  • After being notified in the morning of Jan. 9 that MCHM was in the Elk River, and after smelling it in their own system, WVAW failed to issue a “do not use” notice to the public until 6 pm that evening.  The company’s response to the crisis was chaotic, ineffective and irresponsible.

WV PSC managing engineer David Dove testified that WVAW violated more than 20 PSC rules for the operation of a water utility in WV.  Mr. Dove also listed 9 ways that WVAW failed to meet the standards for “reasonable and sufficient” operation of a water utility as required in Chapter 24 of the WV Code of Statutes.

With the testimony in the PSC General Investigation, we have a clear picture of WVAW’s role in the Jan. 9 water crisis, and it’s not a pretty picture.

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