CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Public Service Commission is recommending the legislature spend $70 million over 10 years to improve the conditions of fire hydrants across the state.

Charlotte Lane

The PSC recently finished up its investigation into fire hydrants. It opened a general investigation at the request of Gov. Jim Justice on June 30, 2023.

The agency learned there are 49,906 fire hydrants across the state, 95% of them are owned by utilities. West Virginia American Water Company owns more than anyone else at 10,548.

According to the investigative report, not enough utilities are testing the water flow through their systems and hydrants. The study also found many of the hydrants are old and should be replaced on a faster cycle.

The PSC said the legislature could appropriate $70 million over 10 years to help utilities replace their hydrants.

According to a PSC news release issued Friday the report also suggested, “national testing standards should be added to the state rules. In addition, all water utilities operating fire hydrants should be required to certify in their annual report the number of hydrants inspected and the number of flow tests completed for the year.”

PSC Chairman Charlotte Lane said the report would be submitted to Gov. Justice and the legislature.

The PSC had difficulty getting hydrant information from several utilities in the first few months of the investigation. A Sept. 1 from Lane carried a threat.

“If you do not respond to the [original June 30] order within 10 days, the commission will consider issuing a Show Cause proceeding for each utility that has not responded.”

The PSC told legislators in August that hydrants are designed to last 100 years, and there are a few that old, but the majority — according to the responses filed at that time — are less than 50 years old and parts are still available.

Costs for replacing hydrants can be a deterrent for small utilities, the PSC said. New hydrants on new water lines cost about $5,000 each. New hydrants on existing lines, as part of a bigger project, cost $10,000 each, And one utility reported replacing 10 at $13,000 apiece.

The discussion of the condition of hydrants began last May after a house fire in the Edgewood neighborhood of Charleston where there were three fire hydrants that firefighters said could not produce a flow of water needed to take care of the fire.