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Editorial: Long-term plan needed to stem huge water loss

Sep. 04, 2013 @ 05:13 PM

Poor roads. Obsolete and unsafe bridges. Antiquated sewer lines.

The list of transportation and public utility systems needing attention is a long one. And there's another to be added: aging water distribution networks.

That particular problem was put in focus by a recent report in The Charleston Gazette. After combing through annual reports submitted by water utilities in West Virginia to the Public Service Commission, the newspaper found that about 30 percent of the water pumped by those utilities never makes it to paying customers, and nearly a quarter is unaccounted for.

In all, more than 60 percent of the nearly 400 water utilities in the state do not comply with the PSC's standard of 15 percent for an acceptable amount of water loss.

What to do about it poses a tricky question.

On the one hand, water utilities are paying the operational costs of pumping that lost water, which would run into millions of dollars for their combined operations. Those costs no doubt show up in their overall expenses, which form the basis for the rates charged their customers.

But updating the water lines to reduce leaks would be an expensive undertaking, one that more than likely would mean requests from the utilities for permission to charge higher rates.

As it stands now, relatively few of the state's water utilities reporting higher-than-permitted loss of water submit plans for fixing their system problems, even though law requires them to do so. Perhaps that's a place to start, so that the utilities themselves and the PSC can get a better handle on the spending required to bring water systems up to date. Accumulating that information might help devise a solution that can be applied over the long term.

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