Utility Workers Union of America wants WV American Water to make - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Utility Workers Union of America wants WV American Water to make infrastructure repairs

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The Utility Workers Union of America wants West Virginia American Water Company to put more emphasis on shoring up its distribution system.

In a letter issued Thursday, Jan. 23, to the Public Service Commission of West Virginia, UWUA voiced concern that some of the chemicals spilled into the Elk River Jan. 9 from a Freedom Industries storage tank could have leached into the ground through WVAWC's leaky pipes.

"We do not know – and take no position on – whether any deficiencies in American Water's infrastructure contributed to this water crisis," UWUA President D. Michael Langford wrote. "Our purpose in writing is not to point fingers, but to focus on the future.

"Toward that end, we urge the (PSC) and other agencies charged with investigating this situation and crafting going-forward recommendations to consider how best to address any deficiencies they find in American Water's physical and human infrastructure."

A storage tank at Freedom Industries Etowah Terminal in Charleston ruptured Jan. 9, spilling thousands of gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk River, contaminating the water supply for WVAWC customers in a nine-county area. More than a week after the spill, Freedom Industries told officials some PPH, a hydrophobic glycol ether, also was mixed in with the MCHM and released.

UWUA Local 537 represents workers in Huntington "and has for several years participated actively in (proceedings) involving American Water," Langford said. "The local has testified from first-hand experience about the need for substantial upgrades to American Water's infrastructure and the impact of continuing manpower shortages on the ability of the workforce to operate and maintain aging mains and other facilities."    

"We are not alone in voicing such concerns," he continued. "The commission itself expressed frustration in late 2011 over American Water's emphasis on investing in new accounting software rather than on distribution system upgrades, and noted in an order issued as part of a general investigation of the company that ‘neglecting distribution system infrastructure spending over time is shortsighted and not in the best interests of WVAWC or its customers.'"

Langford noted that in a review of WVAWC's quarterly metrics report for the third quarter 2013, the PSC's engineering division highlighted concerns about the system's leaky pipes and notes that its "unaccounted for" water was well above the commission's acceptable figure of 15 percent, including a 12-month rolling period of 37.57 percent for the Kanawha Valley District in both May and June of 2013.

"The staff went on to express concerns about the number of leak repairs and the failure to meet valve inspection targets," he added. "The data highlighted by the staff were prepared by American Water, Moreover, in identifying ‘resource' concerns, the staff pointed out that American Water's staffing levels were below commission-approved numbers."

Langford said that "excessively high" leak rate in WVAWC's distribution system raises concern that "a significant amount of the contaminated water pumped through the system will have leaked into the ground. The UWUA does not know whether this presents a public health concern, but believes that the matter warrants investigation."

He also alluded to reports that Freedom Industries believes a leaky water pipe near its storage site may have contributed to the tank's rupture, saying UWUA doesn't know and takes no position on whether deficiencies in American Water's infrastructure contributed to the water crisis.

"Our purpose in writing is not to point fingers, but to focus on the future," he wrote. "Toward that end, we urge the commission and other agencies charged with investigating this situation and crafting going-forward recommendations to consider how best to address any deficiencies they find in American Water's physical and human infrastructure."