CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The new state Fire Hydrant Maintenance and Testing Task Force has less than 60 days to recommend a package of rules to the state Public Service Commission that will govern the testing, inspection and marking of fire hydrants across the state.

The PSC ordered a general investigation last year after a few situations where fires occurred and fire hydrants weren’t working or provided very little water. The state legislature followed that action with a bill this year that allows the PSC to establish rules governing hydrants. The PSC created the task force to recommend the rules.

Charlotte Lane

The task force, which met for the first time Friday afternoon, has until June 30 to get its proposals to the PSC.

PSC Chairman Charlotte Lane told task force members their work would be key.

“This is an important endeavor,” Lane said. “I hope you can have a free and open discussion and give us a lot of good information from all of the expertise that you all have with fire hydrants.”

Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, told task force members what they were doing would end up saving lives.

“We want to hopefully come to a body of regulations which is workable,” Linville said. “There’s no reason to put forward regulations that no one can outright comply with.”

PSC staff member Jonathan Fowler, a longtime worker in the PSC’s engineering division, told the task force last year’s study showed there are 49,906 fire hydrants across the state, operated by approximately 250 water utilities. West Virginia American Water Company owns more than anyone else at 10,548.

Fowler told the task force the most obvious thing the study turned up is there are no codified state requirements relating specifically to the testing, inspection and marking of fire hydrants.

Fowler said not enough utilities are testing the water flow through their systems and hydrants.

“We found out that only 42% of water systems reported that they had written hydrant inspection procedures even though those procedures are readily available for free to the public utility,” Fowler said.

Upcoming changes to hydrants, including possibly replacing them, will come at a cost. The PSC asked the legislature before this year’s session to approve a $70 million hydrant replacement program over a 10-year period but Fowler said the request wasn’t taken up.

Daniel :Linville

“We didn’t get the money so that’s the end of that,” he said.

Linville said he hopes the coming improvements won’t hit customers too hard.

“Obviously, we want to make sure it has a minimal impact to ratepayers as possible but clearly this is a responsibility that we all share to make sure this infrastructure works,” Linville said.

The next meeting of the task force was not immediately scheduled.