CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A West Virginia Wesleyan political science professor says the state’s response to January’s nine-county water emergency should have looked more like the state’s response to a snow emergency.

“(After a heavy snow) suddenly, they’re out there with the snow plows, suddenly we’re seeing action being taken. I’m not seeing that much action in Charleston,” said Robert Rupp of the response following the Jan. 9 chemical leak on the Elk River that contaminated tap water for 300,000 West Virginians.

“Water is everyone. There’s no partisan issue on that. But, also, water is part of the primal elements. It’s earth, air and water,” he said.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, state Adjutant General James Hoyer, state Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Jimmy Gianato, state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman and other state officials joined West Virginia American Water Company officials for water quality updates in the days after the Freedom Industries’ leak of crude MCHM and PPH.

State officials and those with the Guard were involved in water-quality testing for the chemicals throughout WVAW’s extensive system that continued even on Monday. As of last Friday, Tomblin estimated the state had spent $900,000 on supplying bottled water to the affected region.

Members of the state House of Delegates are also considering legislation that would establish new regulations for above-ground storage tanks, including a requirement for annual inspections of those facilities. The Senate unanimously approved the bill last week.

However, Rupp said he perceived officials were running from the incident at Freedom Industries that left large chunks of West Virginia without usable tap water days. Rupp said it is an “outrageous” event that demanded leadership.

“You are disrupting an accepted ritual when I no longer trust the water coming out of my tap and I’m scared to death of the water in the shower,” he said.

Rupp, who was a guest on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” said the long-term effects of the water emergency on West Virginia’s image and Tomblin’s legacy will depend on what lawmakers do in Charleston in the coming weeks. He said public apologies, accountability and action are needed.

“I’m waiting for someone down there to say, ‘We’re going to pivot. If we have a state that was the most lax on regulation, we’re going to make sure that, particularly when it comes to water, it’s not going to happen again,'” he said.

“They’re going (to have) to pivot and take this negative and say, ‘Now, look at West Virginia. We have guarantees in place that we didn’t have before.'”

bubble graphic


bubble graphic


  • Justin Time

    Double ditto what "dodge" said. Any water system that big should have more than one intake and more than one water supply.

  • Mason County Contrarian

    I can hear developers breakin' down the door wanting to locate to this part of the state.

    Just bring your own water. Basic amenities are optional here.

  • dodge

    Any water system that big should have more than one intake and more than one water supply.

  • Jean

    Good regulation doesn't cost -- it pays! All tanks should be properly designed, installed, maintained, and operated. If they are, the additional cost of periodic oversight and inspection is minimal.

    • BS

      You absolutely have no idea what you are talking about. The cost to inspect and repair is not minimal.

    • northforkfisher

      I can't understand after they made gas storage tanks above ground at service stations have retaining walls and floors they did not do the same to these tanks.

      • BS

        The Freedom Industry tanks do have adequately designed secondary containment, they just weren't maintained properly and the secondary containment failed somehow. I am waiting to see how. I think the past owners of these tanks were negligent in properly maintaining them, it takes years for them to degrade. If Freedom just closed on purchasing them late 2013 it would be impossible for them to correct any past lack of maintenance.

  • Michael

    West Virginians have been screaming for the EPA to leave us alone. Is anyone surprised that this would happen when they finally did?

    • AnxiousEER97

      It was an excellent point and deserves more attention. There is something horribly disjointed about the collective antipathy that is typically displayed toward government regulation in West Virginia. This event, if nothing else, proves why regulations are necessary. Clean air, clean water. Free markets do not preserve those. Regulation, oversight, enforcement.

  • rick

    This material has been running into the water supply in the coal fields for years. Where do they think this stuff and other chemicals go when it washes away from the prep plants. They should be testing water in those areas. The Charleston water is safer now than prior to the water problem began. At least now we know the water is being tested and that harmful elements are below acceptable levels. I am using the water.