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Alexandria City Council embarks on second water war with Virginia American Water

ALXnow reporter’s sink (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

Three years after Alexandria battled with Virginia American Water over a significant rate hike, both sides are rearing up for round two.

Back in 2021, the City of Alexandria pushed back against a rate increase proposed by utility company Virginia American Water. The city was able to secure a $420,000 refund, but the rate still increased.

Now, Climate Action Officer Ryan Freed said Virginia American Water has increased rates by another 29%, which Alexandrians will see on their utility bill in May.

The average water bill in Alexandria is $35 per month, so Freed said this will amount to a $10 monthly increase or $125 per year.

Freed said there’s no way of stopping the rate increase from taking effect, but the City of Alexandria can fight it in the Virginia State Corporation Commission.

Freed said, with City Council approval, staff will argue to the Commission in June. Virginia American Water will make their rebuttal in September, and a settlement conference will likely come afterward.

“I think it’s going to be jarring to people when they open that bill in May,” said City Council member Sarah Bagley. “I think it’s important that the community hears we’re planning to object; that, unfortunately, the process does not provide a way to stop the rate from taking effect. You can only appeal it once it’s happened, so we are preparing to do that but it will take place regardless. Ultimately, if successful, we will be seeking refunds.”

Freed also noted that Virginia American Water is also seeking to further decouple the rate increases from regulatory oversight.

“Virginia American Water has been aggressive in seeking these increases,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “They’ve been aggressive in seeking features that allow automatic rate increases without the scrutiny of the State Corporation Commission. We have universally opposed those mechanisms as well as exorbitant increases.”

Wilson also said he’s frustrated by the “inefficient” system of fighting over rate increases via refunds and suggested, in the future, trying to get Virginia American Water to come to the table to discuss increases rather than both sides engaging in a protracted legal battle.

The City Council voted unanimously to support staff intervening.

“Staff is really concerned about this for the community,” Freed said. “This is water. Water is life. This is why we’re taking this pretty seriously.”

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