Responding to the Freedom Industries chemical spill
WV American Water provided more information about the repeated water main breaks in Dunbar in a statement on its website. The company notes how hard it was to repair the leaks in Dunbar and how difficult it is to provide accurate estimates of how long it will take to restore water service. The latter problem is a product of the company’s own business strategy of expanding its system and interconnecting more and more water systems onto the same intake – after 30 years or so of that strategy, they have a complex system with 179 different pressure zones (most water systems have less than a dozen), which makes it very complicated and time-consuming to restore water service.
The company assures us that it does in fact do long-term planning to prioritize the investments it makes in the system – though, of course, it doesn’t provide any details of those plans. The company states that its proposed 28% rate increase is driven by capital investments and that those “include upgrades to the distribution system, water treatment facilities, storage tanks, pumping stations and technology and are necessary to enhance customer service and maintain water quality, service reliability and fire protection for approximately one-third of the state… We have made necessary investments to provide safe and reliable water service because it is the right thing to do for our customers.”
But when it comes to the crucial point – catching up with all of the deferred maintenance on its water lines – WV American Water says,
[A]n additional $12 million would be needed each year to take the replacement cycle from 400 years down to 100 years, which is considered a target rate. However, customers eventually pay for every single system improvement through their monthly water bills once those improvements are rolled into rates. Consistent with PSC oversight, West Virginia American Water must balance the need for increased infrastructure investment with the direct rate impact it has on customers.
In other words, WV American Water is still not going to invest any more money in main replacement without a rate increase, beyond the 28% that it’s already asking for.