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Tuesday, July 5, 2022
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HOLD WAPA RESPONSIBLE

The Water and Power Authority is pumping water into many homes and businesses on St. Thomas at excessively high pressure.
Through personal monitoring of potable water meters that I have access to, I have recorded pressure readings ranging between 100 and 115 pounds per square inch. This high pressure causes toilets to overflow, water to waste, high water bills to pay and leaks in the plumbing in older homes.
Apparently the law governing WAPA's water distribution system does not mandate the delivery of water pressure to each household and business at an acceptable operating level. Complaints to WAPA's personnel about the consequences of its excessively high pressure are met with the response that WAPA's responsibility is limited only to delivering water to the meter, implying that there is no requirement to deliver water at any specified pressure.
A tenant known to me occupies a small apartment with another adult. This tenant holds two full-time jobs and the other adult is also employed. There is no washing machine and no children living in the apartment. Yet, the tenant's first water bill was in the amount of $233. She complained to WAPA's personnel but received no relief. Instead she was told that "there must be a leak in your apartment."
Her second bill increased to $268.28, representing more than 16,000 gallons of water consumed. She complained again and WAPA's response was the same.
On her behalf, I visited WAPA's distribution plant to discuss her problem. It was again suggested that there must be a leak in the apartment. I insisted otherwise.
It was next suggested that due to the high pressure that WAPA was pumping water at, I should install a pressure-reducing valve, or PRV, after the WAPA meter to prevent the high water pressure from causing the toilet ballcock to remain stuck in the open position thereby causing substantial water loss.
I argued that the additional cost of procuring and installing the PRV should be at WAPA's expense since it is reasonable for customers to expect that in exchange for the already high cost of potable water, WAPA would deliver its water to all customers at a pressure level that is operationally safe just as the utility does with electric power that is provided to our homes and businesses.
To prove my assertion that there was no leak in the apartment, I rented a jack hammer and had the wall in the bathroom torn apart to expose all plumbing lines. As I expected, there was no leak. Not only did I install the PRV at my expense, albeit grudgingly, I also installed two pressure gauges — one to measure the pressure before the PRV and the other to read and adjust the pressure after the PRV.
This dual installation of gauges revealed that WAPA's pressure to the building was constantly in excess of 100 pounds per square inch and at least twice as high as the preferred operational pressure.
After installing the PRV, the tenant's third water bill was $32.12, representing 2,140 gallons of water consumed. I am left wondering if those high bills were for water lost on account of high pressure affecting the toilet ballcock or for air under high pressure passing through the meter.
Yet, as a matter of policy, the utility declines responsibility for outrageously high water bills for water not used by the consumer. How many other consumers are ripped off similiarly?
To the Public Services Commission and/or the Legislature, the fundamental question is: "Should WAPA as a public utility be required to deliver potable water to customers' properties at a safe operational pressure?"
The issues involved are about weights and measures and consumerism and they should be addressed to ensure that consumers receive what they are billed for.
I have decided to initiate this public call for government intervention to cure any deficiencies in existing laws governing the management and operation of this utility because I am aware of the serious advantage being taken of many consumers and especially poorer consumers who can least afford to pay excessively high water bills while attempting to eke out a living.
Many are intimidated by the system. This matter is one of WAPA's secrets and employees would rather not be seen or heard discussing the problem.
Editor's note: Gaylord A. Sprauve of St. Thomas is a former V.I. government official and businessman.

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