Despite Not Using Water, West Virginians Say Water Bills Have Spiked Since Chemical Spill

CREDIT: AP Photo/John Raby

Demonstrators hold signs Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. after a Jan. 9 chemical spill into the Elk River tainted the water supply.

Many West Virginians have not been using their water since a massive chemical spill tainted their water last month. Despite this, some say their water bills are outrageously high.

The bills, according to the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, are worth more than the credits that West Virginia American Water has offered to people who had to flush their water systems several time since 10,000 gallons of a chemical called Crude MCHM (and potential a few other chemicals) leaked into the Elk River. During those flushes, customers leave their water on for 25 minutes, a process that WVAM says should use a maximum of 500 gallons of water. WVAM has promised a 1,000-gallon credit for residents on their water bills, and a 2,000-gallon credit for small businesses.

But many customers have not yet seen that credit on their bills. The credits, according to WVAM President Jeff McIntyre, are supposed to be included on bills that were sent out Friday.

Charleston resident Patrick S. Lawson Sr., however, sent ThinkProgress a bill he received Friday, with no credit to be found. The bill also showed a meter reading saying he used 600 gallons of water since Jan. 30, which Lawson said is untrue. He has not flushed his water since the 30th, nor has he been drinking or cooking with it. He has limited his showers to twice a week, has done two loads of laundry, and has run his dishwasher twice.

“They are claiming I have used 600 gallons in the past 6 days and that I don’t have any leaks,” Lawson said by e-mail. “This also means my sewage bill will go up, due to it being figured by your water usage. It is becoming painfully obvious that I’m in a no-win situation, if I don’t pay the bill they shut off my water. They leave the burden of proof on the homeowner.”

Brooke Drake, an event coordinator the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, also told ThinkProgress that she had not yet seen a credit. Her group’s bill showed usage of 2,800 gallons for the month of January. The group’s bill for January of last year was 1,700 gallons, she said, which would make sense considering they had flushed their lines twice. But without the added 1,000 gallons from the flushing, the bill would still mean the group used as much water as they did in January of last year — something Drake says is impossible. Since the spill, the group has not been using its water, citing concerns by state officials that the flushing might not have worked.

“They can’t tell us we’ve been using that much water,” Drake said.

A spokesperson from West Virginia American Water did not immediately return ThinkProgress’ request for comment.

To protest, the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, along with the NAACP, is holding a rally and subsequent march on Saturday morning, where they will present the water company with invoices detailing their monetary losses. Those invoices will include details such as the gasoline used for multiple trips to purchase to obtain bottled water, the cost to replace water filters in their homes, and the cost of sewage bills for flushing.

“I’m sending West Virginia American Water Company a bill for the cost of the contaminated water they billed me for,” local minister Mel Hoover said. “It is neither just nor right that company should expect people to pay for a product we can’t use.”