PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION
OF WEST VIRGINIA
CHARLESTON
Entered: April 7, 20 15
CASE NO. 14-1668-W-C
THE McINTYRE GROUP REAL ESTATE
& DEVELOPMENT, LLC,
Charleston, Kanawha County,
Complainant,
V.
WEST VIRGINIA-AMERICAN WATER
COMPANY, a public utility,
Defendant.
RECOMMENDED DECISION
This Order requires West Virginia-American Water Company (Utility) to install upstream
pressure regulators on meters serving the Stratford Apartments.
On September 26, 2014, the McIntyre Group Real Estate and Development, LLC (Group)
filed a complaint against West Virginia-American Water Company (Utility) alleging certain
unreasonable acts.
On October 6,2014, the Utility filed its answer denying any improper actions on its part.
On October 28, 2014, the Commission referred the matter requiring a decision on or before
April 24, 2015.
On November 24, 2014, Staff recommended that the Utility be required to install an
upstream pressure regulator on the Group’s meters.
On December 3,2014, the Utility objected to the Staff recommendation.
By Procedural Order issued December 4, 2014, the matter was set for hearing on January
13,2015.
The hearing was held as scheduled. Stephen N. Chambers, Esquire, and Debbie C.
Albrecht, Esquire, appeared on behalf of the Utility. The Group appeared without legal counsel.’
John Auville, Esquire, appeared on behalf of Staff.
EVIDENCE
Donald E. McIntyre, a retired architect, owns the Group. (Tr. 9). The Group operates
three locations which include 186 rental units. One location, Stratford Apartments, is on East
Village Drive in South Charleston. The second location, Rose Lane, is in Elk Forest and the third
is on Lake Drive in Nitro. (Tr. 9, IO, 16).’ The complaint primarily involves the Stratford
Apartments. The Group suffers from excessive water pressure. Excessive pressure and noise
annoy the renters in the apartments. Building 19 has four apartments and the noises generated by
excessive pressure were significant. Pressure valves on hot water tanks constantly released water
into the crawl space. Four renters threatened to move out. Mr. McIntyre made several attempts
to get relief from the Utility without results. (Tr. 10). The pressure on the hose bib at Building
19 measured between 160 and 165 pounds per square inch (psi). (Tr. 11). The Utility also
informed Mr. McIntyre that the water pressure at Building 19 is between 160 and 165 psi.
Pressure at that level will cause pipes to rattle and safety valves to release. (Tr. 12).
A Utility representative indicated that someone could be out to help, but nothing ever
happened. The representative would not take Mr. McIntyre’s follow-up calls. (Tr. 13). Mr.
McIntyre waited for the Utility to respond without results. (Tr. 15).
Fearing he would both lose customers and suffer damage to his internal piping, Mr.
McIntyre hired a plumber to install a regulator to reduce the pressure to Building 19. (Tr. 14, 15).
The plumber set the pressure regulator on 60 psi. (Tr. 15).
Mr. McIntyre believes that the Utility should reduce the pressure on its facilities to prevent
personal injury and property damage. Mr. McIntyre indicates that pressure in the range provided
by the Utility can cause significant injury to the human body. (Tr. 15). There are twenty
buildings at the Stratford Apartments containing 76 units. (Tr. 16). Each building is metered
separately. (Tr. 21). All of the other nineteen buildings have high water pressure. (Tr. 17).
Mr. McIntyre believes that the Utility should be required to lower pressure on its main
line. (Tr. 18). He believes that even a firefighter would consider the pressure excessive. (Tr. 19).
Mr. McIntyre served seventeen years as a volunteer fireman operating a pumper truck in
’
*
Given the absence of counsel, the Group’s participation in the hearing was limited. The Group was not permitted to CTOSSexamine witnesses or call witnesses on its own.
Both Stratford and Rose Lane were constructed in approximately 1985. (Tr. 2 3 ) . Mr. Mclntye bought Rose Lane and
Stratford properties about five or six years ago. (Tr. 24).
Culloden. (Tr. 19, 20). With 160 psi in a fire hose, Mr. McIntyre believes that two men would
not be able to hold a hose with 160 psi. (Tr. 20).
About five or six years ago, the Utility installed pressure regulators on the facilities serving
the Rose Lane Apartments. (Tr. 22, 27). Pressure at the Rose Lane Apartments was about 160
psi but it is now 60 psi. (Tr. IS). When Mr. McIntyre first measured the water pressure at Rose
Lane, it was between 155 and 165 psi. (Tr. 25). When the Utility representatives came out, they
were surprised at the high pressure and put a 24-hour pressure reader on the system. It recorded
the water pressure at a variety of levels throughout a 24-hour period. (Tr. 26). The 24-hour
pressure chart ranged from about 167 to 152 psi. (Tr. 26). The Utility installed pressure
regulators on every meter at every building. (Tr. 26). Mr. McIntyre asked that they be set at 60
psi. (Tr. 22, 26). After the pressure regulators were installed, problems with damaged water
pipes at Rose Lane dropped off dramatically, as did his water bill, because of fewer leaks. (Tr.
26). The Utility installed the pressure regulators at Rose Lane slightly upstream of each meter.
(Tr. 28). The regulators also protect the meters. (Tr. 28).
Mr. McIntyre witnessed a line break on Lee Street with a line that had a pressure of 105
psi. He was surprised by the amount of destruction and the speed of the development of a
significant size hole in the area. (Tr. 27).
Connie Truman, the day-to-day manager of the Group, confirmed Mr. McIntyre’s
testimony that the Utility installed pressure regulators on every building at Rose Lane. Before the
regulators, twice a year when the Utility would flush its pipes in the area, Rose Lane would suffer
between ten and fifteen water leaks. (Tr. 30).
Regarding this complaint, on August 30, 2014, a tenant called Ms. Truman indicating that
the tenant had a leak in a toilet. (Tr. 30, 3 1). A maintenance man replaced the supply linc. The
next day, the adjoining apartment reported that the hot water tank was leaking. After installing a
new hot water tank the safety valve blew and was replaced. The replaced valve blew and so the
Group replaced it again. The water pressure was tested at between 160 and 165 psi. (Tr. 31).
The maintenance man went under the building and tried to reset, and subsequently replaced the
pressure regulator owned by the Group. (Tr. 31, 32). The connection blew out after it was
replaced, while one of the maintenance workers was still under the building. The worker was hit
by the pipe. (Tr. 32).
The previous customer-installed regulator was approximately six years old when it failed.
Ms. Truman believes that some of the twenty buildings have customer-installed regulators and
some do not. At Stratford, some of the units already had customer-installed pressure regulators
when the units were purchased by the Group. (Tr. 33). The Group receives complaints from
tenants about howling pipes. (Tr. 32). Ms. Truman believes that the howling is caused by
customer-installed pressure regulators with 160 psi going into it and 50 psi going out of it. Ms.
Truman was afraid that the customer-installed regulator might explode and she talked to Mr.
McIntyre, who took his concerns to the Utility. (Tr. 34).
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Ms. Truman called Mullens Plumbing, who installed a more expensive pressure regulator
on Building 19. Mullens Plumbing charged $531, including a regulator costing under $200. Ms.
Truman is aware of pressure problems at both the Rose Lane and Stratford facilities. (Tr. 35).
She receives significant complaints from tenants are about pop-off valves on hot water tanks and
toilets, that she believes is related to excessive pressure. (Tr. 36). The howling dissipated after
Mullen installed a new pressure regulator. (Tr. 37).
Ralph Clark, a Professional Engineer employed by Staff, has 55 years of experience
dealing with codes and standards. (Tr. 39, 40). Mr. Clark believes that the regulator on Building
19 was going to fail due to the noises it was making and the way it was shaking the pipes and the
appliances. The 160 psi going to the meter exceeded the working pressure of the meter. (Tr. 42).
The meter was not supposed to bear pressure of that magnitude. Each meter serving Stratford
Apartments is not designed for the elevated water pressure. (Tr. 43). At the Stratford location, all
the buildings are within twenty feet of elevation and Mr. Clark is certain that there is 165 psi on
all the water meters. (Tr. 43). The maximum working pressure of the existing meters is 150 psi.
(Tr. 44).
Mr. Clark testified that the meter manufacturers determine the maximum working pressure
of their meters. The manufacturers will not “stand behind” the accuracy of a meter, that is subject
to excessive pressure. (Tr. 44). The meters in question are T-10 Neptune meters. (Tr. 51). Mr.
Clark communicated with Neptune for over a month and received numerous emails concerning
maximum working pressure for Neptune products. Neptune indicated that it would not stand
behind meters subject to more than 150 psi. Jesse Loughney, a senior management manager for
Neptune of a five state area, provided the information. (Tr. 47; Staff Ex. 2). Mr. Loughney
communicated with certain Neptune engineers and stated that Neptune did “not make any claims
about the general meter performance, accuracy, headloss, etc. at a line pressure greater than 150
pounds.” (Tr. 48; Staff Ex. 2).
Mr. Clark testified that it was not an acceptable engineering practice to operate a piece of
equipment beyond its maximum rated pressure. (Tr. 48, 49). Mr. Clark believes that once a piece
of equipment is subject to pressure above maximum operating pressure, that it starts to raise
questions about accuracy and possible damage, including damage to the nutating disc. (Tr. 49).
Mr. Clark believed that the testimony offered by Mr. McIntyre regarding problems faced at
Stratford Apartments is consistent with excessive pressure. (Tr. 49).
Mr. Clark testified that not only does Neptune have a 150 pound working pressure
standard for its meters, but so does Mueller. (Tr. 51, 52). Mueller sent Staff an email that said
“you also asked if we guaranteed anything over 150 psi, and no, we don’t, that is all they are
made to handle.” (Tr. 181 ; Staff Exhibit 3). The standard is to protect the integrity of the meter,
not the customer. Mr. Clark believes it is an unreasonable practice to bill from a meter subjected
to pressure beyond its manufacturer’s recommended working pressures. (Tr. 52, 53). Mr. Clark
also testified that American Water Works Association Standard C700-02 indicated that water
meters operate at a maximum working pressure of 150 psi. (Tr. 53, 54). The C700-02 standard
requires that meters must operate accurately to at least 150 psi. (Tr. 54).
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Mr. Clark testified that the Utility uses low pressure (approximately ten feet of head) when
it tests the accuracy of its meters and asserted it is an unreasonable practice and poor operation of
the system to subject meters to pressure exceeding the maximum working pressure of the meter.
(Tr. 55, 56, 57).
Meter manufacturers pressurize the shell of the meter to 300 psi to make sure it does not
explode. (Tr. 62). Mr. Clark does not believe that a meter subjected to 200 pounds of pressure is
going to explode, but questions the accuracy of the meters working under similar pressure over
decades. (Tr. 62, 63). Mr. Clark testified that there is a meter design available for 200 pounds
psi. (Tr. 64). The Utility has not chosen to use that meter. (Tr. 65). Mr. Clark believes that the
Utility should either install a pressure regulator prior to reducing the pressure to the maximum
working pressure of the meter or install a meter that has a higher working pressure. (Tr. 68).
In Gardner v. West Virginia American Water Co., Case No. 14-0331-W-C, Mr. Clark
offered a different opinion from his recommendation in this case. In that case, he recommended
that the Complainant had to install a pressure regulator and expansion tank in the similar situation
where pressure exceeded 150 psi. (Tr. 71, 72; Utility Exhibit 1). Mr. Clark explained his change
of positions in that he “got a little smarter.” (Tr. 72). He stated that he would recommend the
same result he is recommending now to any West Virginia water utility. (Tr. 72). Mr. Clark
believes he made the wrong call in the Gardner case. (Tr. 73). Mr. Clark’s supervisor reviewed
his recommendation in this case before it was issued. (Tr. 74, 75). The other Staff engineers did
not agree with Mr. Clark’s recommendation in the Gardner case, but do agree with his current
recommendation. (Tr. 85, 86).
Mr. Clark believes that a basic tenant of engineering is that you do not operate any piece of
equipment beyond its maximum rated operating parameters. (Tr. 77, 78). Mr. Clark believes that
limits are set for a reason, which in this case, might include the long-term accuracy of the meter
and the life of the meter. (Tr. 78). He is also concerned with the viability of fittings and parts on
the meter. (Tr. 78, 79).
Mr. Clark believes that for most residential water using equipment, the maximum working
pressure would be 100 pounds or less. (Tr. 79, 80). Most hot water tanks have a trip point of 135
psi and a maximum psi of 150. Above 135 psi, it would start sizzling. Sizzling is a release of
pressure. (Tr. 80).
Mr. Clark has worked for the Commission for fifteen years and believes that the Utility
previously installed pressure regulators in similar situations. The Utility changed that practice
within the last five years. (Tr. 82). Mr. Clark believes that they both installed regulators that they
continued to own and operate, and installed regulators that it wanted customers to maintain. (Tr.
82, 83). The Utility is a large entity and its work crews sometimes follow different practices. (Tr.
83).
If the Utility installs a pressure regulator to protect the meter, the regulator will have
ancillary benefits of protecting the customer equipment. (Tr. 84). Mr. Clark believes that most
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customer equipment would be appropriately protected at 80 psi. (Tr. 84). He understands that the
rules are now written to allow 135 psi. (Tr. 84, 85). The rules place a maximum water pressure
of 135 psi for customers seeking service after the year 2003. (Tr. 85). Mr. Clark admitted that an
engineer would design a product with some safety margin above any recommended operating
standard. (Tr. 90).
David Dove, a Professional Engineer who is a manager in the Engineering Division, has
about thirty years of engineering experience. (Tr. 95). Mr. Dove explained that there are a
couple of types of water pressure including static elevation pressure, which has to do with the
elevation head. The higher the column of water, the more pressure one has at the base of the
column. The other factor is the residual pressure or dynamic head. One loses pressure through
the flow of water in the pipes through friction. One has to account for elevation, headloss and
friction headloss to fully analyze pressure. (Tr. 96). Pressure also increases the flow of water,
which is the volume of water going through a particular pipe. Flow will decrease as one
decreases pressure. Flow exponentially increases with pressure. (Tr. 97).
Plumbing codes recommend that pressure not exceed 80 psi. (Tr. 97, 98). Many
municipalities and utilities adopt the plumbing code as their internal standard. (Tr. 98). Mr.
Dove believes that an ideal pressure would be between 60 and 80 psi. Most home appliances are
rated for no more than 100 psi. (Tr. 98). The higher the pressure, the more risk for safety
concerns. (Tr. 98). Residential customers are often not comfortable with extremely high water
pressure. It makes a shower uncomfortable. (Tr. 98,99). Mr. Dove believes that a child drinking
from a hose connected to a hose bib with 165 psi might lose his tonsils. (Tr. 99).
Mr. Dove testified that most washing machines, dishwashers and other appliances using
water have a maximum pressure of 100 psi. (Tr. 99). High pressure can cause pipes to break and
hoses to rupture, creating significant leaks causing thousands of dollars of damage to property,
including ceilings and floors. (Tr. 100).
Mr. Dove was a part of the task force that was established to make proposed water rule
changes in 2003. (Tr. 101). The committee was organized in approximately 1999 and included
numerous Staff members, representatives from utilities and attorneys. (Tr. 101). When Mr. Dove
started working at the Commission in 1997, the Health Department rule of thumb in reviewing
designs for systems was 100 psi. (Tr. 101, 102). Staff wanted a maximum pressure and the rules
to reduce the number of complaints. Staff dealt with numerous pressure complaints. Staff would
deal with the cases on a case by case basis, arguing that pressure in a particular case was either
too high or too low. (Tr. 102).
Mr. Dove believes that the 80 psi recommended by the plumbing codes is an appropriate
goal. Staff, during the rulemaking task force, tried to obtain a 100 psi maximum pressure. The
utilities, however, pushed for a much higher limit, because certain utilities had high pressure
lines. Morgantown had some water lines with 200 psi. The Utility's position was for 150 psi.
(Tr. 103). The task force compromised at 135 psi. The rulemaking was promulgated in about
1999 but enacted in 2003. (Tr. 104).
6
After the Commission established a 135 psi guideline, the Health Department changed its
rules to 135 psi. (Tr. 105). Given the very limited new construction in West Virginia, the limited
applicability of the new rule to new customers essentially left everything status quo. (Tr. 105,
106). Mr. Dove’s professional opinion is that he would not design a system with water pressure
over 100 psi. (Tr. 106). Mr. Dove believes the rule means that in the future, the pressure should
be kept below 135 but that in any existing situation is subject to defining a “reasonable pressure.”
(Tr. 106, 107). One can place pressure reducers on either meters or on entire lines. (Tr. 108).
Mr. Dove believes it is better to have utilities responsible for pressure regulators because
customers often do not have the experience, knowledge or understanding to appropriately
maintain the equipment. (Tr. 109). He believes that pressure regulators are simply equipment
that is necessary for the reasonable operation of public utilities. (Tr. 109). Most customers
would not have the ability or knowledge to know how to install or maintain a pressure regulator.
(Tr. 109, 110). Mr. Dove believes the best practice is to limit water pressure to 100 psi. (Tr.
110). Mr. Dove believes the Utility has more expertise in installing and maintaining a pressure
regulator than customers. (Tr. 138).
Mr. Dove believes that generally accepted engineering standards require that a water utility
does not operate equipment beyond its limits. (Tr. 111). When a water meter manufacturer
indicates that there is a proper operating maximum, one should not exceed that maximum for
extended periods of time. (Tr. 111, 112).
Staff would request utilities to notify customers in cases where excessive pressure may
exist on a new line extension. (Tr. 114). Mr. Dove believes that, for customers prior to the rule,
one could argue that a reasonable standards requirement would exist. (Tr. 120).
The M6 American Water Works Association manual recommends a maximum water
pressure of 80 psi. (Tr. 125). The M6 manual says that if pressure for the meters is above 80 psi,
a pressure reducing valve should be installed to avoid excessive pressure flowing through the
fixtures. (Tr. 126). The manual is a recominendation by the American Water Works Association,
an industry group. (Tr. 127). It is a typical industrial standard that an engineer would consult
when trying to determine the reasonableness of a design. (Tr. 128).
Mr. Dove believes that 150 psi is never a reasonable pressure for a residential customer.
(Tr. 129). Mr. Dove believes that there would be overall lower societal costs if the Utility would
maintain regulators as opposed to customers. (Tr. 129, 130). Excessive water pressure creates
problems for meters, water using fixtures and appliances. (Tr. 130). Mr. Dove believes that a
water utility should provide safe, reliable service, but service with excessive pressure, fails to live
up that obligation. (Tr. 130).
The customers of the Utility ultimately bear all utility expenses. The issue is whether
customers pay individually for regulators or if they pay through the utility process. (Tr. 136,
137). If the Commission required pressure regulators, all customers would bear the cost
regardless of whether they were high or low pressure customers. High pressure customers,
however, sometimes bear the cost to increase pressure to low pressure customers. (Tr. 142).
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Mr. Dove believes that if the Utility is going to place a regulator to protect the meter, it
should set the regulator low enough to also protect the customer’s fixtures. (Tr. 139). Mr. Dove
would support modifying the Water Rules to lower the maximum pressure to protect the public.
(Tr. 140).
Bill Lucas, a utility meter repairman, has been employed by the Utility for 33 years and
has a high school degree. (Tr. 145). Mr. Lucas was trained to test meters and is certified by the
Commission as a meter tester. He tests 200 to 300 meters a month and has been doing so for 22
years. (Tr. 146). h4r. Lucas testified that there are very few parts to a water meter with the main
part being a measuring chamber, which involves a nutating disc. Water fills the meter and
empties and fills and empties, with each cycle measuring a precise amount of water. (Tr. 147).
Some meters work in other ways, but the Utility has always preferred the positive disc meters.
This style meter is produced by several manufacturers including, Badger, Neptune, Rockwell and
Simpson. (Tr. 148).
Mr. Lucas testified that water meters are tested by the Utility anytime they are removed or
moved from one account to another. The meters are only tested if they come into the shop for
some reason. A change in customers at a service location would not result in a meter test. (Tr.
149, 150).
Some meters that come into the shop are not tested, for instance, a meter has very low
registered use, or it is ready for retirement. (Tr. 150, 151). When testing, Mr. Lucas uses three
different flow situations. He uses a.flow of 15 gallons per minute. The water flows into a proofer
tank. On the 15 gallons per minute flow, he runs 100 gallons. He also runs 2 gallons per minute
and a quarter gallon per minute, using 10 gallons of water. (Tr. 150). The water pressure at the
shop is 110 pounds. (Tr. 151). The water pressure would drop as it goes through the 12 meters
on the bench, ending up near 40 or 50 pounds. (Tr. 152).
Residential meters are almost always accurate when tested. Occasionally, particles go
through the meter and scar the chamber or the disc. The meters have a screen, but certain
particles get through the screen. (Tr. 152). Mr. Lucas asserted that water meters will never over
register usage, but will under register usage. (Tr. 153). About five percent of the meters tested
fail and typically they have internal damage. (Tr. 153). Most meters last fifteen years. The
Utility typically removes the meter after fifteen years. (Tr. 154).
The week before the hearing, Mr. Lucas set up a procedure to test some meters at high
pressure. (Tr. 154, 155). He tested certain meters at 235 and 240 psi, but the pressure required 5
gallons per minute to maintain the pressure. (Tr. 156, 157). He concluded that the meters
registered the same at high pressures as at lower pressures. (Tr. 158; Utility Exhibit 3). Mr.
Lucas tested both the Neptune and Mueller meters, each with internal nutating discs. (Tr. 159).
One of Mr. Lucas’ test results, however, indicated a meter over registering usage. (Tr. 160).
The Neptune meters performed slightly better than the Mueller meters at high pressure.
(Tr. 161). Chuck Brunson at Neptune sent a letter to the Utility’s lawyer indicating that the meter
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should register accurately at 200 psi. (Tr. 163; Utility Exhibit 4). The Utility presented a similar
document from Mueller. (Tr. 165; Utility Exhibit 5). The Utility currently is only putting
Mueller meters in its system. (Tr. 165). The Mueller letter indicated that regardless of the
pressure, the meters would register accurately. (Tr. 165). At a very high flow, however, high
pressure would destroy the disc because it can only rock so many times per minute. (Tr. 169).
Flow increases when pressure increases. (Tr. 172).
Mr. Lucas does not test or repair regulators. (Tr. 173). Normal residential regulators cost
between $40 and $45. The Utility normally puts in an S setter if they are installing a regulator on
a meter. Each S setter costs about $175. (Tr. 173, 174). Regulators last about five to seven
years. Mr. Lucas has no idea how they work. (Tr. 174). Mr. Lucas estimates 30 to 45 minutes to
install the regulator on the meter, excluding any travel time. (Tr. 175).
When meters fail tests, they are scrapped. (Tr. 175). Mr. Lucas does not know why a
meter manufacturer would set a maximum working pressure. (Tr. 179).
DISCUSSION
The Utility first argues that this case is resolved by the Group’s installation of a pressure
regulator on Building 19 and should be dismissed. Neither the Group nor Staff concur. The
same high water pressure is provided to the meter wells serving each of the other nineteen
buildings at Stratford Apartments. Ms. Truman specifically testified that widespread plumbing
problems were occurring at Stratford Apartments. Even if the only building at the facility was
Building 19, the Commission should also address possible reimbursement for the installed
regulator and who was responsible for maintaining the regulator. Unlike Frank Browning in Case
No. 14-0667-W-C, the Group not only appeared at hearing but provided significant testimony
supporting its complaint and is very interested in a resolution of the matter before the
Commission. The case should not be dismissed as resolved.
Staff presented two engineers which testified that the maximum working pressure of the
meters serving the Stratford Apartments is 150 psi and that it was an unreasonable utility practice
to routinely exceed that the inaximum working pressure on these meters. The evidence showed
that a typical pressure on these meters is 165 psi.
To respond to the two Staff engineers, the Utility presented the testimony of one of its
meter testers who graduated from High School. Mr. Lucas had conducted an informal test with a
few meters for a few minutes running at pressure higher than the maximum working pressure.
Although in its reply brief the Utility argued that Mr. Lucas “has far, far more knowledge and
experience concerning how water meters operate and perform under varying conditions than
either of Staffs engineering witnesses,” it was not apparent at the hearing. Mr. Lucas’ testimony
was at times hard to follow. He also contradicted himself. Mr. Lucas testified at one point that
water meters will never over register, then he presented evidence from his little experiment
showing that one of the meter’s over registered. Mr. Lucas also testified that he did not know
why a meter manufacturer would set a maximum working pressure.
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The Utility, in its reply brief, indicated that Mr. Clark sought information from meter
manufacturers because he was “lacking meter expertise.” Mr. Clark’s solicitation of information
from the manufacturers of the meters does not indicate that he lacks expertise but indicates that he
is doing his job. Professional engineers routinely seek out information regarding materials and
maximum working pressure and base their expert opinions on information they gather.
The parties also presented competing evidence from the meter manufact~rers.~
Mr. Clark
relied on inforination provided to him from Jesse Loughney who appears to be a Territory
Manager from Neptune Technology Group Inc. for West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and
Delaware. Mr. Loughney represented to Mr. Clark that he received the information from a
Neptune engineer. It indicated that the meter at issue in this case “is rated to operate at 150 psi
line pressure. We do not make any claims about general meter performance, accuracy, headloss,
etc. at a line pressure greater than 150 psi.” Mr. Loughney indicated that the meters are
hydrostatic pressure tested4 at 300 psi BEFORE any accuracy testing is done. Further, he
indicated American Water Works Association standards require that bronze meters withstand
100,000 pressure cycles of 100-300 psi with a 1.5 second ramp between pressures and a hold time
of only one minute at 300 psi.’
The Utility presented a letter solicited by its attorney from Chuck Brunson. Neptune‘s
Principal Product Marketing Manager. Mr. Brunson described Neptune’s accuracy testing to
include a High Flow test which started off with a line pressure of 200 psi. Mr. Brunson explained
that four meters are tested simultaneously and the 200 psi is measured at the first meter with
pressure dropping because 18.5 gpm goes through the four meters. It appears that the 200 psi at
the first meter is simply required to provide at least 150 psi at the fourth meter. Meters pass the
testing protocol if they register between 98.6 and 101.4% accuracy.6
The evidence here established that the maximum working pressure of the meters serving
the Stratford Apartments is 150 psi. Mr. Lucas performed an informal experiment with a few
meters for a few minutes operating the meters (at least the first ones on the bench) at pressures of
235 psi and 240 psi and the meters tested within Commission guidelines for accuracy. The test,
It is clear that the information Staff solicited is admissible since it is the type of information that the professional engineers
would routinely rely on to form their professional opinions. It is not so clear that the Utility’s information would be admissible
given that it did not present the information through a professional engineer. However, Staff did not object to the admission of
the documents and they were admitted into evidence. It is somewhat disconcerting that the evidence presented by Mueller to
Staff and the Utility seems to contradict itself.
1 Hydrostatic testing implies fluid at rest as opposed to hydrokinetic testing. It seems clear the test is not an accuracy test. It
appears to be a test to make sure the meter does not explode or leak.
Staff also offered an email from Mueller Customer Service that simply indicated that the Mueller 5w” meters were “made to
handle” 150 psi and that Mueller would not guarantee the meter’s accuracy at higher pressures. The meters in the case at bar
are Neptune T-IO meters.
The Utility also offered a letter from Matt Thomas, Vice President for Business Development for Mueller Systems who
indicated that pressures under 1,000 psi “would have absolutely no influence or change on meter accuracy.” It is unclear what,
if any, expertise Mr. Thomas possesses. The 1,000 psi number and the certainty of his opinion seemed incredible. In any
event, the meters at issue are not Mueller meters.
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however, does not indicate that subjecting meters to years of pressure above their maximum
working pressure would not impact the meter’s accuracy or longevity.
The professional opinions of the Staff engineers concluding that routinely subjecting water
meters to pressures above their maximum working pressure is an unreasonable utility practice is
persuasive.
The Utility also makes much to do about Mr. Clark’s recommendation in Gardner v. West
Virginia American Water Company, Case No. 14-0331-W-C. In that case, Mr. Clark
recommended that the customer install his own pressure regulator. Mr. Clark stated that he was
wrong in the earlier case and had not considered the maximum operating pressure of the meter
and unreasonable practices. The record indicates that the Utility has also changed its position
approximately five years ago. Before that point, the Utility installed pressure regulators in similar
circumstances. In fact, the Utility installed pressure regulators for the Group’s Rose Lane
Apartment complex under similar circumstances. Neither Staff nor the Utility have been
consistent in how they approach high pressure problems. Staff should certainly be as free to learn
from its past mistakes as the Utility is.
The Utility argues that Staffs position is merely an effort to change Water Rule 5.8.d. That
rule established a maximum water pressure of 135 psi for “all new customers desiring service on
and after” October 24, 2003.’
The Utility argues that the rule can only be changed by a
rulemaking. Resolving the issue of whether or not the Utility is acting reasonably by subjecting
an essential piece of equipment which measures customer usage of its service to pressures above
its maximum working pressure does not directly implicate the rule at all. It is appropriate to
consider unreasonable practices in complaint cases. Indeed many, if not most, complaint cases
examine the issue of unreasonable practices. The Utility in its briefs expresses a disdain for the
jurisdiction granted to the Commission in W.Va. Code 324-2-7, arguing that the statute is
subjective and broad. It also complains that Staff often relies on the statute to make
recommendations. It bemoans the fact that the core of the Staff case is the “bare opinions of Staff
Engineers.” The Utility certainly had the opportunity to call one or more of its own engineer(s)
but did not. Instead, it appears to rely primarily on its legal argument that because a rule is
tangentially involved that any use of jurisdiction under W.Va. Code 424-2-7 is an improper effort
7
Oddly enough, the Group became a new customer at the Stratford Apartments location after 2003 because it purchased the
facility after that date. Under the plain reading of the rule, the Group is protected by the maximum pressure limit of 135 psi.
However, the Utility interprets the grandfather provision of the rule not to be new customers but new customer services (Le.:
new construction). Indeed as one reads further and further into its briefs, the Utility actually substitutes the word “services” or
“new services” for “new customer$.” The rule does use the term ”services.” Engineer Dove also interprets the rule in the same
manner. It is clear that the Commission intended to phase in the maximum water pressure rule. It seems that if the
Commission had intended the rule to only apply for new services it would have been clear in its writing of the rule and stated
new customer services or new construction. It did not. The rule says “new customers.” Phasing in application of the rule for
new services creates an extremely slow phase in period given the lack of development in much of the State. It is undoubtedly
why the Utility advocates this strained reading of the grandfather provision. Phasing in the 135 psi limit as new customers
come and go seems much more reasonable. However, it is not necessary to interpret how the grandfather clause should be
applied because subjecting a meter to a pressure higher than its maximum operating pressure is an unreasonable practice.
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11
to rewrite the rule in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. This legalistic argument is
not persuasive. The Utility should have brought an engineer to the hearing.’
Routinely subjecting the water meters at issue in this case to pressures above their
maximum working pressures over an extended period of time is an unreasonable utility practice in
violation of W.Va. Code $24-2-7. This practice calls the accuracies of the meter into question
and may prematurely damage meters. Therefore, the Utility must install and maintain pressure
regulators at all the meter pits serving the Stratford Apartments.
FINDINGS OF FACT
1.
On September 26, 2014, the Group filed a complaint against the Utility alleging
excessive water line pressure. (See complaint).
The Group operates three apartment complexes including the Stratford Apartments
2.
in South Charleston. (Tr. 9. 10, 16).
The Group purchased Stratford Apartments and became a new customer of the
3.
Utility at that location in 2009 or 2010. (Tr. 24).
4.
Stratford Apartments includes twenty residential apartment buildings with twenty
separate meter pits, all subject to water pressure that is routinely 165 psi or more. (Tr. 11, 12, 17.
3 1.43).
The Utility placed pressure regulators on the meter pits serving the Group’s
5.
facilities at Rose Lane Apartments about five or six years ago. The Rose Lane units also
experienced water pressure ranging from 152 to 167 psi. The Utility placed pressure regulators
on every meter for every building and set the limits at 60 psi. Immediately after installing
pressure regulators, the Group’s problems with damaged water pipes, leaks and high water bills
dropped dramatically. The pressure regulators were installed upstream of each meter. (Tr. 18.
22,25,26,27,28).
When Mr. McIntyre visited the Utility’s offices regarding the pressure problems a1
6.
Stratford Apartments, a Utility employee indicated someone would be dispatched by the nexl
afternoon, but no one came. The individual later would not take Mr. McIntyre’s calls. (Tr. 13
7.
The Group installed a pressure regulator on Building 19 at Stratford Apartments due
to significant problems the high pressure was causing the tenants in that building. (Tr. 30, 3 1. 32
33,34,35,36,37).
8
Likewise, the lengthy effon that the Utility makes in its briefs discussing the underlying data for the professional opinions o
the Staff engineers is less than persuasive. Had half as much effort been utilized by a real live professional engineer on the
witness stand who was subject to cross examination, it is possible that the outcome of the proceeding would have beer
different.
8.
The apartment units at Stratford are served by twenty T-10 Neptune meters. (Tr.
51).
The T-10 Neptune meters have a maximum operating pressure of 150 psi according
9.
to the manufacturer. (Tr. 47,48; Staff Exhibit 2).
10. Two Staff engineers testified that it is an unacceptable engineering practice to
operate a water meter beyond its maximum rated pressure and recommended that the Utility place
upstream pressure regulators on each line at Stratford. The engineers also concluded that
subjecting the meters to pressures above maximum operating pressure could degrade the meter’s
accuracy and service life. (Tr. 44,47,48,49, 52, 53, 54,77,78, 79, 11 1, 112, 130).
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
It is an unreasonable utility practice for the Utility to operate the water meters
1.
serving the Group at Stratford Apartments with line pressures routinely exceeding the maximum
operating pressure of the meters.
It is not necessary to interpret the grandfather provision in the Water Rules which
2.
adopted a maximum water pressure of 135 psi for “new customers” given Conclusion of Law
Number 1.
The Utility should be required to install and maintain upstream pressure regulators
3.
on the meters serving the Stratford Apartments.
return receipt requested.
Leave is granted to the parties to file written exceptions supported by a brief with the
Executive Secretary of the Commission within fifteen days of the date of this Order. If
exceptions are filed, the parties filing exceptions shall certify that all parties of record have been
served the exceptions.
If no exceptions are filed, this Order shall become the Order of the Commission, without
further action or order, five days following the expiration of the fifteen day time period, unless it
is ordered stayed by the Commission.
Any party may request waiver of the right to file exceptions by filing an appropriate
petition in writing with the Executive Secretary. No such waiver, however, will be effective until
approved by order of the Commission.
Keith A. George
Chief Administrative Law Judge
KAG:lc:ksf
141668aa.doc
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