CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Since West Virginia American Water Company is going to continue billing customers in the wake of the contaminated tap water from the Elk River chemical leak, some residents have decided that they're going to bill the water company right back.
At a protest in Charleston Saturday morning, affected residents filled out invoices, estimating what the water crisis has cost them. Then they stuffed the bills in envelopes with a piece of black licorice -- a nod to the smell of the chemical-tainted water -- to be delivered to the water company.
The blank invoices contain spaces for money spent on bottled water, gas to go buy bottled water, replacing home water filters, hand sanitizer and disposable plates and utensils, among other things.
There are also spaces to estimate the cost of lost wages and profits from when businesses closed, child care services when kids were not in school, sewage bills from flushing pipes and tax dollars spent on responding to the emergency.
Brooke Drake, of Charleston, estimated that the water crisis has cost her $290, mostly in gas and hours lost picking up bottled water.
Kate Grubb just wrote down an even $100, "for flushing away piece of mind," which she said was priceless.
About 140 people gathered at First Baptist Church in downtown Charleston and then marched the half mile down Smith Street to West Virginia American's facility on Rand Street.
The protest was led and organized by a disparate array of groups: the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, both environmental organizations, but also the Charleston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and several local churches.
Paul Sheridan isn't involved with any specific group, but he spoke at the protest, urging citizens to call both the water company and the state Public Service Commission to file complaints about the water.
The water company must keep a record of all complaints it receives and present it to the PSC when the commission reviews the company's rates.
On Saturday morning, in the crowded First Baptist sanctuary, Sheridan called the water company on speaker phone as an example of how to file a complaint.
After pressing 4 to "report a water emergency or a concern about the quality of your water" and then pressing 2 for a call "concerning the quality of your water," Sheridan was connected to an operator.
He said he was calling to complain about his bill and his water. He was asked for the name of the account holder, his phone number and the account number.
"Part of my bill is for the period when we were directed not to use the water," Sheridan told the operator after the formalities. "My objection is to paying for any service since the water has been poisoned."
The operator told him that on his next bill he would receive a credit for $10.29, the equivalent of 1,000 gallons, for the water used to flush out home pipes.
Sheridan said that he didn't want just the pipe-flushing credit.
"I don't want to pay for any water or any service after the 9th until I can be provided with a credible assurance that the water is safe," Sheridan said. "So I would ask that you please record that complaint."