West Virginia Water: Curious what life would be like without safe drinking water?
It’s easy to take water for granted. You may turn on the tap, make a cup of coffee, run the shower, and wash the dishes each day without thinking twice about whether or not clean water will be there.
Last week, when coal-processing chemicals were detected in the Elk River at Charleston, West Virginia, clean water was no longer guaranteed. A chemical storage tank upstream from the city had developed a significant leak, dumping thousands of gallons of 4-methycyclohexane methanol into the Elk River and a source of Charleston’s drinking water. In response, the West Virginia American Water Company (WV American) shut down service to more than 300,000 people, approximately 16 percent of the state’s population.
Sometimes it takes a massive disaster like this to expose our reliance upon safe, clean water and the importance of local, state, and federal protections. The federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires that water delivered by utilities such as WV American is safe enough to drink. The federal Clean Water Act works to ensure that the water in the Elk River taken by WV American is clean enough to be treated to drinking standards at WV America’s plant before delivery. Each of these laws is supported by other federal regulation, as well as related state and local policies.
In 2004, and again in 2008, the West Virginia Legislature affirmed the state’s responsibility to protect and conserve water resources, such as the Elk River, “for the benefit of the citizens …while also preserving the resources within its sovereign powers for the common good”. Explicitly within West Virginia state law is protection of water resources, including the Elk River, for drinking water supply use. While we pay a fee to have WV American and other utilities deliver water to us as needed, we have trust through laws and rules that our water resources are clean. It is incumbent upon the regulated and the regulators to ensure that trust.
Unfortunately, even in spite of these types of spills, there are those who believe that these fundamental public health and clean water laws are too restrictive and there are those, like Freedom Industries, who appear to have broken these laws. Numerous articles point to legal loopholes and poor maintenance, monitoring and enforcement. West Virginia regulators, state and local, must ensure permitted or illicit activities do not pollute our water – and they need to be supported by lawmakers, and by us.
In the end, it is up to all of us to make sure our lawmakers understand the importance of clean water. And it’s up to all of us to make sure our regulators are not only doing their job, but have the support they need to do it right.
Check out this video by Elaine McMillion for the Charleston Daily Mail: