WSAZ Investigates | W.Va. American hydrant policy revealed

WSAZ Investigates | W.Va. American hydrant policy revealed
Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 7:24 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Days after losing its attempt to keep secret a hydrant maintenance policy, West Virginia’s largest water provider filed an unredacted version, and its pages reveal a practice heavy on screenshots and pictures.

The utility -- West Virginia American Water Company -- also resubmitted five years of inspection records Friday, telling regulators its initial submission contained nearly 400 duplicate inspections, an issue brought to the company in mid-August by WSAZ NewsChannel 3.

The maintenance practice and inspection records represent core aspects of a sweeping, statewide investigation by the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

The PSC ordered water utilities across the state to produce policies and inspection records. That order came June 30, amid weeks of investigation by WSAZ, and less than 24 hours after the station reported on a senator’s call for testimony.

The WSAZ investigation -- False Security -- stemmed from two fires with the same story. Firefighters didn’t have enough water May 5 to fight a house fire in Charleston, 15 months after crews encountered the same issue in failed efforts to save a Pizza Hut in Danville.

Hydrants at both locations are owned by West Virginia American Water, a company responsible for more than 10,000 hydrants statewide.

WSAZ NewsChannel 3′s Curtis Johnson went to the company president, Rob Burton, days after the Charleston fire.

“I’m just interested in knowing how does your company keep track of hydrant service?” Johnson asked.

“We do annual maintenance and inspection on those hydrants,” Burton replied.

“Every one of them?” Johnson asked.

“Every single hydrant, every year,” Burton replied.

West Virginia American filed its written hydrant maintenance program under seal in late July. Its request for confidentiality drew objection from PSC staff and the state’s Consumer Advocate Division.

The PSC rejected the request last Wednesday.

The company unmasked its protocols Friday, including a summary saying the goal, in part, is to “reduce hydrant failure,” adding that “improper or insufficient maintenance may result in hydrant failure causing,” items including the “loss of fire protection.”

The 13-page document, reviewed by WSAZ, is heavy on pictures and screenshots. It shows West Virginia American uses a computer system to track the location of its hydrants. Other pages show how hydrants caps should be removed, lubricated and replaced, along with the process to pressurize hydrants and record water pressure.

Screenshots show how the information is recorded in West Virginia American’s mapping program, including the type of inspection conducted, the form used to order a repair and the method used to monitor progress.

The policy states local protocols can determine the frequency of those inspections.

The policy also allows workers to seek a waiver. However, not complying with or circumventing the policy can be grounds for termination.