By Bob Weaver

With the state and nations infrastructure collapsing, Investigative Reporter Caity Coyne has published a series on water in West Virginia called "Stirring the Waters," researching the problems surrounding the state's aging or dysfunctional water systems.

Coyne researched annual reports filed by 305 public, community, municipal and private water systems to the state Public Service Commission.

More than 55 percent of water produced and treated by West Virginia water plants disappears underground, through hundreds of leaky, dilapidated systems that have not been properly maintained or upgraded in years.

Another 19 percent of the water pumped in the state is lost but "accounted for," through things like main breaks and fire department use, meaning systems know where the water goes, but still do not collect revenue for it.

With Calhoun's three PSDs, there is loss, according to WV-PSC communications director Susan Small:

- Mt. Zion PSD (which serves a large area from Grantsville to Mt. Zion, Arnoldsburg, Rt. 16 West Fork, Sand Ridge and Russett) the system loses 47% of its water.

- Pleasant Hill PSD (which serves northern Calhoun and a section of Ritchie County) loses 27% of its water.

- Town of Grantsville (which serves the immediate Grantsville area) loses 5%.

Mt. Zion and Pleasant Hill PSDs purchase water from Grantsville.

The costs of the water loss was not immediately available, except the the 5% loss for Grantsville, estimated at $6,018.

Reporter Coyne said just 183 of the state's water systems attributed a dollar amount to their unaccounted water loss on annual reports, totaling more than $23.5 million.

"You're treating the water, you're paying for it, and you're not getting any revenue back," said Amy Swann, director of the West Virginia arm of the Rural Water Association. "Quite literally, it's money down the drain.

" The PSC considers any system with more than 15 percent unaccounted water loss to be non-compliant.

Just 105 of the state's 305 water systems meet the agency's standards. Susan Small, director of communications for the PSC, said that while annual reports are mandatory, the issue of unaccounted water loss rarely comes up unless systems file for rate increases, particularly cases that involve a system buying and reselling water from another system, said Coyne.

The Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council, a clearinghouse for funding for all water projects across the state, estimates that $17 billion is needed to rehabilitate and connect every structure in the state to centralized water and sewage service.

WV-PSC communications director Small told the Hur Herald the water system problem is not peculiar to the Mountain State, but endemic to most states, in addition to the decaying of the nation's infrastructure with roads, bridges, public utilities and other vital services.

See Money down the drain by Caity Coyne Staff writer for the Charleston Gazette-Mail

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