W.Va. water customers complain of higher bills

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – Some customers of West Virginia American Water are questioning why their bills went up even though they didn’t use their tap water for several days after a chemical spill.

Although he continues to use bottled water for drinking and cooking, Harry Machado of Winfield said his latest bill was about 40 percent more than the previous one.

“We were out of town for two days during the water crisis, and we haven’t been using the water for anything but flushing the toilet,” Machado told The Charleston Gazette.

About 300,000 water customers in nine counties were told not to use their tap water after a Jan. 9 chemical spill from a tank at Freedom Industries went into the Elk River. After tests were conducted over several days, water customers were told to flush out their lines and start using tap water again.

Freedom Industries told environmental officials recently that a second, less toxic chemical also was mixed in the tank.

West Virginia American Water spokeswoman Laura Jordan said the flushing might account for much of the increase on bills. She said a promised 1,000-gallon credit on water bills for the flushing process hasn’t been applied yet because details are being worked out with the state Public Service Commission.

“Customers will see that on a future bill,” Jordan said. “For some customers, it may be their next bill, and for some, it may be the bill after that.”

Paul Welker and Loretta and Rex Jividen, all of Dunbar, saw their water bills increase by a few dollars in January.

Welker questioned why his bill didn’t go down because the water he and his wife didn’t use for bathing, washing clothes, drinking and cooking should have more than offset the roughly 400 gallons of water used to flush out the lines.

Jordan said January is generally the highest-usage month for customers. She said frigid weather earlier in the month caused a sharp increase in water use because customers left faucets running to keep their lines from freezing.

Rex Jividen said he called the water company about his bill and was told his water lines might be leaking. But after checking his meter and putting a dye in his toilet test to make sure it wasn’t leaking, he said, “I don’t have a leak.”