WV American Water – Still planning to plan

Today, an op-ed piece ran in the Charleston Gazette under the name of Jeffrey McIntyre, president of WV American Water. This document is the latest chapter in WVAW’s PR effort to paint its inaction in the past year as some kind of major business turnaround.

In the op ed, Mr. McIntyre addresses the questions that Advocates for a Safe Water System have been focusing on for the past six months or more.  Here is the Advocates’ diagram of what a clean water system looks like (I had to blow up the graphic for this post.  Click on the graphic for a more readable version) -

Advocates graphic

Compare Mr. McIntyre’s op-ed with the five elements of a safe water system in the diagram.  In Mr. McIntyre’s own account, WV American has done almost nothing to move the company toward providing a safe water system.  There is a lot of talk in Mr. McIntyre’s op-ed about “planning” and “evaluation” and “studies,” but only once does he use the word “constructed.”

The word “constructed” describes a new gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer laboratory that WV American Water has actually installed.  But this is not a step forward, because WVAW had this testing equipment until 2004 when the company removed it to reduce costs when the German electric utility RWE purchased WVAW’s parent company, American Water Works.  RWE bailed out on American Water Works in 2009, but WVAW never reinstalled this important testing equipment until after one of the biggest water utility disasters in US history.

Note that WVAW’s new/old lab equipment is located inside its treatment plant.  The lab can analyze water samples, but it is not a continuous monitoring system for water coming into the plant at its intake on the Elk River.  What about that intake monitoring equipment?  Mr. McIntyre informs us that WVAW’s managers “are investing” in this equipment, with no information about when it will be installed or operating.

For source water protection planning, WVAW has “partnered” on a “pioneering project” about which Mr. McIntyre provides no details and no projected date of operation.  Take a look at testimony by Downstream Strategies’ Evan Hansen in the WV PSC general investigation.  Go to page 26 (.pdf page numbering, not the document numbering) of that testimony.  You will see that WVAW had no source water protection plan or emergency plan in place when the WV Bureau for Public Health asked the company to provide information about those plans in 2006.  In 2006, WVAW responded to Bureau survey forms that it was only planning to prepare those plans at that time.  The company did nothing further before the Freedom Industries disaster in 2014.

So while WVAW is still “partnering” and “planning” we still have no source water protection plan.  In the year since a history-making failure, WVAW still has no plan on paper to protect its water sources.  As in 2006, WV American Water is still planning to plan.

So let’s look at what Mr. McIntyre’s op-ed tells us about what WVAW is doing to ensure Advocates’ 5 elements of a safe water system -

  • Source water protection – planning to plan
  • Continuous monitoring – “purchased” but not operating
  • Second source – some progress: WVAW’s McIntyre has changed his mind on Category A status for the Kanawha River, opening up more options for a secondary intake, but here too, WVAW is essentially still planning to plan
  • Infrastructure renewal – no mention of repair of WVAW’s leaky distribution system or its system storage failures that contributed to the collapse of its system after the Freedom Industries crisis
  • Coordination and emergency planning – Mr. McIntyre provided no information in his op-ed about specific efforts by WVAW to create new coordination with state agencies or local emergency services

The last question in Mr. McIntyre’s op-ed asks “What do you want your customers to know today?”  What follows is a lot of verbiage, but no real substance.  An honest answer would have been “as little as possible, so that WV American Water can continue to operate without public oversight or accountability.” When we look at what WV American Water has done in the WV PSC general investigation into the company’s response to the Freedom water crisis, we see WVAW stalling and hiding information.  When we look at Mr. McIntyre’s op-ed, we see lots of wish lists, but few details about what the water company is actually going to do.

WV American Water has given us little beyond talk to make our water system safer.

The people of the Kanawha Valley need more than puffery.  We need a safe water system.  And we need it now.

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