Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin introduced into the West Virginia Legislature a bill aimed at preventing another water contamination disaster in West Virginia.
Three-hundred thousand customers of West Virginia American Water Co. were told not to use their water (except for flushing the toilet or putting out fires) on Jan. 9 after a chemical leak in the Elk River 1.5 miles from the treatment plant intake.
The order created hardship in a nine county region, closing schools and businesses and forcing people to queue up for fresh water supplies. Even though the order has been lifted, many remain suspicious of the water supply.
"I've directed my legal team to work with the DEP to draft legislation to help prevent this type of crisis from happening again," Tomblin said. The legislation will have a three-prong approach: identify, prioritize and regulate.
First, the administration wants to inventory the source water points throughout the state and determine what is upstream that could threaten the water supply.
Some of this work is already done. Years ago, the state implemented the Source Water Assessment and Protection Program that identified water systems throughout West Virginia and the possible threats to them.
For example, the Kanawha Valley report in 2002, prepared by state health and environmental officials, looked at the Elk River and concluded it was highly susceptible to contamination.
The survey identified 46 commercial and industrial sites that were potential sources of contamination. However, the survey stressed the findings were incomplete.
"A detailed risk-assessment of the PSCS's (potential significant contamination sources) was beyond the scope of this survey because of minimal data and resources," the report said.