One of the most important laws ever enacted by the West Virginia Legislature is the Distressed
and Failing Utilities Improvement Act. This 2020 statute gives the Public Service Commission
crucial tools for improving water and sewer services. The law allows the Commission to
determine whether a system can properly serve its customers.
Systems fail or fall into disrepair for any number of reasons. A major issue is a declining
customer base. Fewer customers mean less money for repairs, maintenance, and salaries.
Running a water or sewer system takes expertise. Qualified operators often leave smaller systems
that cannot match the salaries or benefits of larger operations. It becomes a vicious spiral,
Some of these systems have enormous pipeline circuits, and the terrain in West Virginia does not
make the job easier. Adequate water pressure often requires more pumping stations, which
increases costs. Many smaller systems were built decades ago and neglect has caused cumulative
problems. The crews struggle to keep up, but too often it is a failing struggle.
This law is not meant to be punitive against a system that just can’t make it. It is aimed at
continuing, or even improving, the basic water and sewer service that customers expect.
West Virginia has nearly 600 water and sewer utility systems. The Public Service Commission
has handled a number of these cases so far, and we expect the trend to continue.
A handful of cases are currently pending, including a few that present some major challenges.
These cases generally always present a host of technical issues. Unfortunately, some of them
generate hard feelings when the proprietors of these systems argue that they can provide
adequate service. They take it personally, which is never our intention.
So we continue to carefully scrutinize the situations we face. The Commission certainly is not in
the finger-pointing business. We don’t want to take away local control of these systems if we can
avoid it. But in all instances, our primary concern has to be, and is, the health and safety of the
The Legislature has given us a powerful tool for helping the citizens of the Mountain State to
have clean, reliable water and sewer services. It is one we treat with careful deliberation and the
utmost concern for everyone involved.