CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some West Virginia American Water customers were surprised this week to see increases on their most recent water bill -- despite being unable to use their water for several days.
"These water bills should have stayed the same," said Dunbar resident Paul Welker. "I think the water company's ripping us off."
On Jan. 9, a chemical leak from Freedom Industries into the Elk River above West Virginia American's Charleston water-treatment plant prompted state and local officials to warn 300,000 water customers in nine counties not to use their water for cooking, drinking or bathing.
It took several days before water officials started telling customers it was OK to flush out their water lines and start using water again. Some residents still aren't using it.
Water customers were told they would receive a 1,000-gallon credit on their bills so they wouldn't have to pay for the water used in flushing the pipes. However, when water bills came out this week -- including the period between the chemical leak and the time residents were told it was safe to flush their lines -- many customers received bills showing their water usage had gone up.
"Everyone I've talked to said their bill has gone up, not down," said Loretta Jividen, who lives with her husband, Rex, across Highland Avenue from Welker.
Welker and the Jividens saw their water bill increase by only a few dollars in January. However, one of their neighbors saw the bill go up from about $43 in December to about $57 in January, and one elderly woman on a fixed income in the neighborhood saw her bill go up from $70.65 to $99.11.
Increased water bills aren't confined to Dunbar. Harry Machado of Winfield said his latest water bill is about 40 percent more than his previous bill.
"We were out of town for two days during the water crisis, and we haven't been using the water for anything but flushing the toilet," he said. Even after being cleared to flush his water lines, Machado said, he and his wife are still drinking and cooking with bottled water.
"Where's that 1,000-gallon credit they're supposed to give us?"
Water company spokeswoman Laura Jordan said the water residents used to flush out their pipes might account for much of the increase in use. She said the water company is still working out details with the state Public Service Commission on how to apply the water credit.
"Those [credits] have not been applied yet," Jordan said. "Customers will see that on a future bill.
"For some customers, it may be their next bill, and for some, it may be the bill after that."
The math doesn't add up for Welker, who has a 5/8-inch water line going into his home.