Advocates for a Safe Water System announced today the launch of a new initiative for a public takeover of West Virginia American Water’s Kanawha Valley system. The group cited concerns about West Virginia American Water’s lack of progress since the January 2014 chemical leak and what they described as the company’s ongoing failure to provide safe and reliable water service. At a press conference today, speakers discussed the company’s decision to install chemical monitoring equipment at its Elk River treatment plant that can’t detect MCHM or diesel; the lack of a secondary water source for 300,000 people; and the fact that it would take nearly 400 years to replace the company’s mains at the current rate of investment.
Joy Gunnoe, owner of Gunnoe Farms Salad & Sausage, noted that her Charleston business has to close down every time there is a boil water advisory. “The water crisis and more recent main breaks have cost my business hundreds of thousands of dollars. Safe and reliable water service is critical to any kind of economic future for this region. Without a safe water system, my business can’t afford to stay here.”
The water company is currently seeking a 28% rate increase. According to filings made with the West Virginia Public Service Commission, this rate increase includes an increase in its profit rate to 10.75%. But, even with the proposed rate increase, the company is not planning to increase its investment in water main replacement.
Speakers at the press conference voiced concerns that West Virginia American Water’s business model is not working for residents of the Kanawha Valley. In filings made with the Public Service Commission this month, West Virginia American Water revealed that it has paid $4 million so far this year in dividend payments to its parent company, New Jersey-based American Water Works. By comparison, the water company invested $3.8 million in water main replacement in 2014.
“We need to replace West Virginia American Water with a West Virginia-based, public water system that is accountable to the people who live here. Creating a public water system is the only chance we have of making sure that safe and reliable service takes priority over profits,” said Charleston City Councilwoman Karan Ireland, a member of the steering committee of Advocates for a Safe Water System. “It’s just common sense to stop doing business with a corporation that is not providing adequate service.”
Our Water seeks to build support among ratepayers and community leaders for a public water system in the nine counties affected by the 2014 water crisis. Our Water launched an online petition today at www.ourwaterwv.org.
To invite others to find out more information and learn how to participate in the campaign, Our Water will host an information session and training on Tuesday, September 22nd from 6:30-8:30 pm at Taylor Books in downtown Charleston.