Across Appalachia

Disputes Over West Virginia’s Water

Date: August 11, 2016

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By Eliza Laubach

West Virginia American Water, a privately owned water utility serving much of the state, is facing continued public pressure.

In May, the company proposed a new surcharge on ratepayers’ bills that would amount to $88 million over four years, saying it was necessary to replace infrastructure and guarantee investor profits. Advocates for a Safe Water System, a local grassroots organization, argues that this profit is too high for no-risk investments and is calling for more cost-effective options. Earlier this year, West Virginia’s Public Service Commission approved the company’s request for a 15 percent rate increase.

This spring, a hearing was scheduled for November on a long-stagnant state investigation into the utility’s response to the 2014 Elk River chemical spill, which left more than 300,000 people in West Virginia without safe drinking water. The state recently declined the advocacy group’s petition to include emerging information from a separate court case over the water crisis.

The increases to customer bills, along with water safety and infrastructure concerns, have motivated the advocacy group’s call for county commissions to transfer the utility to public ownership.

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