The PSC's investigation of WV American Water's response to the 2014 chemical spill was resolved with a settlement among some of the parties.
The settlement has terms that improve the safety of the water system, many of which are things which we have advocated for.
Advocates for a Safe Water System pushed for this investigation to happen, and we are confident that this outcome would not have been achieved without everyone who came out to show that the public was watching.
WV American Water committed to:
- Install better chemical monitoring equipment at its intake
- Install chemical monitoring equipment at 2 locations upstream of the intake to give advanced warning of a spill
- Notify its parent company's chemistry experts within 30 minutes of a potential spill or contamination event (on Jan 9, this did not occur for several hours)
- Provide more water storage to downtown Charleston
- Study the feasibility of a second intake and/or expanded storage capacity (in more detail than previously required by the legislature)
- Increase production at the plant during cold weather (something which had not occurred in the days leading up to Jan 9, 2014)
We think these commitments are important steps towards a safe water system that need to be implemented. But we believe the investigatory process did not go far enough to allow the public to learn all of the lessons from this crisis. Without fully understanding the lessons, it's impossible to say that these terms are sufficient.
Our challenge has been that every step of this process has highlighted deficiencies in the regulatory process in terms of getting information into the public domain and ensuring accountability from the water company. We had to fight multiple times to keep the scope of the investigation from being narrowed. We also struggled to bring into this investigation information which had been developed for two years in the federal court case. And, even had the technical hearing gone forward, it was not clear whether we would have been allowed to cross-examine the water company operators who had operated the system on January 9, 2014.
In the end, this case settled because parties believed that this was a better outcome than would have been ordered by the Public Service Commission. We agree with this assessment - and we are disappointed that we have a regulatory system that forces us to choose between a safer water system and public transparency.
We will continue to fight for a public water system that will be more transparent and accountable to the public.