CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A team monitoring the quality of water in the Charleston water system indicated Saturday they are moving in the right direction, but are still not where they need to be.
Speaking live on MetroNews flag ship station 58-WCHS, State Adjutant General James Hoyer said a joint inter-agency team working on the situation is making progress, but probably not at the pace most are hoping for.
“We are seeing some positive trends,” said Hoyer. “But not numbers to where they need to be.”
The team is made up of the National Guard, Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Health and Human Resources, a group of outside experts who have been brought in to assist, and West Virginia American Water Company.
“Those folks are all working together, synergized, to provide the best possible advice as to when we’re able to open the system back up for use,” said Hoyer.
They began studying the chemical Crude MCHM Friday which was a virtual unknown in a water treatment scenario Thursday. While the dilution in the water is coming down, it may take a while to get to what is considered a safe level.
He was also uncommitted on when that time would be. He did note bringing down the contamination level is on the first step in what may be a longer process.
“Once we get that number in place, then there are some other things that have to be done within the system to make sure everybody is using acceptable water,” Hoyer said.
The do-not-use advisory for customers on the West Virginia American system in nine counties remained in place Saturday. A heavy rain and mist shrouded the Kanawha Valley and the odor of licorice hung in the air. The odor has been associated with the chemical which leaked out the tank at Freedom Industries a mile upstream of the Charleston water treatment plant on the Elk River.
“The fact that it’s raining, I”m told is a good thing,” said West Virginia Second District Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito. “Because it helps with the dilution. They are trying to work quickly, but as safely as possible.”
Capito visited the command center where work to attack the problem is underway in Charleston. She couldn’t offer any timeline on restoration to the 300,000 people impacted by the contamination.
“They did tell me this is a very complicated water system because of our terrain,” she said. “I think we have to be patient. It could be a while.”
Three days after the spill and with few signs of progress, the patience of some is starting to wear thin. Many were visiting water collection points in Charleston and surrounding regions to collect drinking water. Some of the water is provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency while fire departments and other organizations offered bulk flows to those who brought their own collection containers.
Hoyer indicated the end of the emergency won’t come immediately, but he said they are preparing for the next step of the recovery.
“We are beginning to finalize the plans that would need to be in place for outlying areas,” Hoyer said.
Once contamination levels at the plant reach acceptable levels, the levels at various points in the water system will also have to be tested and verified. A full flush of the system is also expected. The process could take days and involve bringing service back in zones rather than system wide.