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WV American Water's "Failures" Behind Push for Public Takeover

Charleston City Council member Karan Ireland says the water system that serves the city and surrounding counties should be run by a public utility, not a for-profit corporation. Credit: Dan Heyman
Charleston City Council member Karan Ireland says the water system that serves the city and surrounding counties should be run by a public utility, not a for-profit corporation. Credit: Dan Heyman
September 9, 2015

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – West Virginia American Water continues to slight consumers and their safety, according to critics calling for a public takeover of the water system.

A year-and-a-half ago, the Elk River chemical spill contaminated drinking water the corporation supplies to more than 300,000 people in nine counties. Since then, says Charleston City Council member Karan Ireland, the company hasn't made the water system safe or efficient.

According to Ireland, the company sends $5 million to $7 million in profits out-of-state, money she believes could be used to replace its leaky, crumbling pipes.

She lists the concerns: "Outages because of main breaks, for days or even a week at a time; kids sent home from school; people with flooded basements. Whole communities and business shut down. That continues to be a problem, and one we anticipate will get worse before it gets better."

Ireland, who is also a steering committee member for the group Advocates for a Safe Water System, says some have reluctantly decided the solution is a public takeover of the water system, and are circulating a petition to that end.

West Virginia American Water has requested a 28 percent rate increase, saying some of the money would pay for faster line replacement.

Even then, says Ireland, the company would take more than 100 years to get to all the lines. She adds the company still can't tell if things such as diesel fuel have been spilled into the river above its intake pipe.

"And we've really come to the conclusion that a publicly-owned utility is going to ensure public health and wellness is placed above profits," she says.

Since the Elk River spill, Ireland and others have pressed West Virginia American Water to increase the amount of safe water it stores, or build a separate, backup intake.

She says the company has refused to address these issues and has, in her words, "cut corners on safety monitoring." Ireland is convinced a public water utility would do better.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV