Caroline MacGregor Published

West Virginia American Water Defends Request For Another Rate Increase

A group of people inspect a water system
A group of people inspect a water system.
West Virginia American Water/Facebook

West Virginia American Water defended its request for a proposed $41 million rate increase before a hearing held by the Public Service Commission Tuesday. 

The utility provider wants to raise monthly rates by more than 22 percent for the average customer. The request is directly related to $340 million the company says is needed for water and wastewater system upgrades.

Attorneys with the PSC’s Consumer Advocate Division argued the company’s lack of improvement in facility operations failed to justify another rate hike. Since 2005, American Water customers have seen 14 rate increases. 

The Consumer Advocate Division said the Distribution System Improvement Charge (DISC) surcharge, which is added to customers’ bills to cover aging infrastructure improvements, is not correcting the problem. The company continues to experience an ongoing increase in water loss and has admitted that its aging water main needs to be addressed. 

Earlier this year Charleston firefighters were unable to access sufficient water flow at three fire hydrants on the city’s west side while fighting a house fire. Following an investigation, the three hydrants, which underwent inspection in July 2022, were removed from service.

Mountaineer Gas filed a lawsuit against West Virginia American Water for a water main break that resulted in lost gas service for 1,500 customers on Charleston’s West Side during bitterly cold temperatures. The outage lasted nearly three weeks.

West Virginia American Water Engineering Director Michael Raymo told the PSC they are operating in the “triage mode” of infrastructure improvements, having replaced just 3 percent of the company’s inventory since 2016. 

“We’re hitting all of the hot spots, the trouble spots,” Raymo said. “I think eventually we will transition to a more strategic approach, a systematic approach where we can specifically tackle and look at the age of our (water) main.”

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper questioned the company’s history of managing aging infrastructure.

“The first thing I would do is look at their record of maintenance,” Carper said. “I wouldn’t reward them for that.”

If the PSC approves the rate increase, it would not take effect until next year.