The WV American Water Blackout

Water blackout?  Is that what’s happening in Charleston right now?

Let’s see,

  • WV American Water Company is a government regulated utility,
  • Over the last 20 years, WV American Water has steadily increased the centralization of water services around Kanawha County and beyond by buying out smaller water systems,
  • WV American Water is serving a large geographic area from a single plant with a single intake point in the Kanawha Valley which is full of lightly regulated chemical storage and manufacturing plants (Freedom Industries, the immediate cause of the current disaster was completely unregulated by the WV DEP, because it was a storage plant, not a manufacturer.  The logic of this WV law and Legislature-approved regulation completely escapes me, except that it is a gift to a dangerous industry at the expense of WV citizens.),
  • The measure of reliability for a water utility is whether it can provide safe drinking water to the people in its service area whenever they need it,
  • The resilience of the system depends upon the ability of the utility to restore service within a reasonable time following an emergency to minimize economic loss to its service area,
  • The WV PSC, the WV DEP, WV legislators, the Governor, federal regulators and local government officials are all responsible to see that a robust regulatory system exists to insure safety and reliability of the system as a whole.  In the current case, they all failed.

Yup.  Sounds just like the chain of problems that creates electrical blackouts that WV has experienced over the last three years.  Now centralization, bad mergers by shareholder owned companies, and lax regulation has spread the blackout disease to WV’s largest private water utility.

And the solutions are much the same as in the electricity world:

  • Manipulation of local systems by large out-of-state holding companies,
  • Lax regulation that allows unsafe centralization and unsafe practices,
  • Poor public investment in local resilient community based microgrids (in the case of water, local Public Service Districts and small town water systems),
  • Regulators and government officials too busy kowtowing to big corporations that they fail to protect their own state’s communities.

People in the Charleston area who have their own water wells are immune to the disaster that is unfolding in the WV American Water system.  Just like people who produce their own solar power who also have battery back up systems are able to produce their electricity when electric utilities fail.  The big difference is that people with their own water supplies are totally “off grid” from the WV American Water system.

Just as generating their own power is not an option for people who live in shady neighborhoods, many people who live on ridge tops or in the city simply or have had their wells destroyed by the coal industry can’t economically or safely drill wells for their water.  So we need to have local systems that provide public services like electricity and water.

There is a limit to the effective size and structure of these systems, however.  Just as decentralization and local control make sense for our electrical system, they also make sense for our other public utilities, like water.

The WV American Water disaster is another in a long line of wake up calls about how centralization and merger mania among privately owned monopolies is destroying the reliability and resilience of our public resources.

3 thoughts on “The WV American Water Blackout

  1. Fantastic analogy Bill and we could probably play it out even more, you have a wonderful mind to put these things together. Folks should be totally outraged as to the events that led up to this. The story is known by folks who will release it soon. Not here in WV but in a nationally recognized publication. This is a game changer for WV and it couldn’t have come any sooner unfortunately.

  2. The path to decentralization of water resources is much harder, unfortunately, given that folks in many parts of southern WV can’t drink their own well water because its contaminated. I know of at least one community in Boone County that fought hard to get city water extended to them because all their wells got poisoned – now only to have the city water poisoned too (temporarily).

    • I’m not drawing a direct parallel here, or advocating that everyone drill their own wells. My main point in this post is that regulators and government officials have failed to protect our public resources for WV and its people. I don’t advocate off grid solar, for instance, because I believe everyone in WV has a right to a reliable and resilient electrical and water system as a shared public resource.

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