Press Conference Call at 10:30 am, ET Thursday, Oct. 25
Charleston, WV - A new national survey of water shutoff rates show how the two largest water systems in West Virginia stand out: West Virginia American Water owns both systems and refused to release any data about how many households it has shut off in Charleston, Kanawha County and Huntington, Cabell County.
As first reported in the Associated Press, the Food & Water Watch report, “America’s Secret Water Crisis: National Shutoff Survey Reveals Water Affordability Emergency Affecting Millions,” is a first-ever nationwide assessment of water shutoffs for nonpayment. The results point to an alarming and largely hidden water affordability crisis.
The study looks at data for the two largest water providers in each state. The average water utility shut off five percent of households for nonpayment in 2016. Based on that data, the report estimates that 15 million people experienced a water shut off at some point that year. In total, 15 of the 73 utilities reported shut off rates of more than 10 percent, with the highest shutoff rates mostly concentrated in the South.
[A press call to answer questions about the report will be held tomorrow, Thursday, October 25 at 10:30 am ET; Call-in: 1 (888) 466-9863; Passcode: 7279 732#]
The trend suggests that West Virginia may have high rates of shut offs, but the largest provider in the state refused to disclose the information. The company is currently seeking a 24 percent rate increase for the state.
“The water affordability crisis is a serious threat to the daily lives of every person living in this country. We need to know the extent of the crisis, and we can only do that with policies that mandate that this information is tracked and made public,” said Karan Ireland, Charleston City Councilwoman. "As West Virginia American Water seeks another rate hike right now, we need disclosure so that we can ensure all people have access to this precious resource."
West Virginia American Water similarly refused to provide water disconnection data for Charleston to the U.S. Government Accountability Office for its 2015 survey of cities with declining populations. West Virginia American Water’s refusal to provide data indicates that government mandates are necessary for disclosure from water corporations. The lack of transparency from corporate operators was typical of the private companies surveyed for the report.
This behavior is especially troubling, given that companies across the country are aggressively moving to buy up state systems, which would mean that basic information about shutoffs would be kept hidden from the public. That lack of data would hamper efforts to address mounting affordability problems.
“West Virginia has a serious privatization problem. Corporations are shielding vital data on shutoffs, while at the same time charging residents more than their public counterparts,” said Mary Grant, Public Water for All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch. “Lawmakers and state regulators should take the lead in forcing all water companies to make this data available, since it is a matter of public health and safety.”
Accompanying data visualizations (embed codes available upon request):
Interactive Map: http://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/wyUkk/14/
Interactive Chart of Survey Results: http://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/IUvzm/9/