West Virginians are understandably outraged about the water emergency caused by a spill at the Freedom Industries site along the Elk River over a month ago.  The spill of 10,000 gallons of MCHM a mile and a half from the intake of the West Virginia American water plant has illustrated graphically just how vulnerable source water is in West Virginia.

The fears about source water contamination increased even more this week when over 100,000 gallons of coal slurry spilled into a creek leading to the Kanawha River. The spill is blamed on a malfunctioning valve, which was compounded by the failure of an alarm system that should have alerted someone.

Luckily, none of the slurry reached a water supply, but the timing was terrible. In response to the spills, Governor Tomblin and the state Legislature are rushing to pass a comprehensive bill to protect water supplies and regulate above ground storage tanks.

The bill has already passed the Senate (33-0-1) and this week SB 373 cleared the first of three House committees.  However, the House Health Committee made an important change to the bill that needs a second look.

The amendment, authored by Kanawha County Republican Patrick Lane, requires every water treatment plant in the state—some 300 of them—to have either a back-up source for water or the ability to store several days of raw water in case of emergency.

“I think it’s important because part of the problem with the event here… is that there was no secondary intake,” Lane told me on Metronews Talkline Thursday.  “I think it’s important for water providers to live up to their duty to provide clean and drinkable water.”

He’s right, but what neither Lane or anyone else can predict is how much that would cost.  Undoubtedly it would be in the tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars to obtain pipe rights of way, run a second intake, add storage tanks and build the additional infrastructure necessary.

Water companies are monopoly utilities regulated by the state Public Service Commission, which determines rates.  The cost of providing service is borne by the customers. The customers also have to pay for capital improvements, like the ones proposed in the Lane amendment.

Drinking water expert James Salzman from Duke University says it’s possible to build the most secure water supply system in the world, providing customers with the highest quality possible, but it’s going to be really expensive.

Are West Virginians ready to pay higher costs for water security because a slipshod chemical storage facility in Kanawha County spoiled the water supply?  I doubt if they want to, and they shouldn’t have to.

Lane’s heart is in the right place.  His constituents are among those still wrestling with the water emergency and he’s trying to respond on their behalf.  That’s his responsibility.

However, the Legislature must adopt tough legislation to try to prevent another Freedom disaster without creating expensive unintended consequences.

 

 

 

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Comments

  • JIm

    As usual - another EXCELLENT point ! Though, if one counts the transient non-community and non-transient, non-community systems now meeting the definiton of a "public water system" in the bills, I think the number of affected systems is well over 600. The unintended consequences of most legislation on any level are never fully understood initially.

  • BIM Job

    Its all a bunch of foolish nonsense. Until we wake up and realize we can not depend on the government to take care of us, we are going to continue to be extremely disappointed and ill prepared for disaster.

  • Low Rider

    OK Mr. Lane. I live in Wood County. Our water system pulls its water from the Ohio River. Where would you propose we find a secondary source? And build water tanks to hold several days of raw water for the city of Parkersburg? Ummm...how much do you think that would cost.

    Political grandstanding at it's best!!

  • TruthTeller

    These things are happening on purpose just so some large corporations can grab more of your money out of your pocket. They create the disaster and then provide the solution. Oldest trick in the book. This will cost the tax payers more money you watch. Are you people not sick of these crooks pulling the wool over your eyes? WAKE UP people. There are all ready toxins in our water to begin with. Those toxins affect your health. Just get water filteration machines and take those toxins out of your water.

    • Elton Fluty

      By law, the water co's are to provide potable water free of contaminants. What part of that don't you understand?

  • Jake

    This legislation sounds eerily similar to the Unaffordable Health Care Act.

  • Hillboy

    I'm for better protection of drinking water sources but Lane's amendment is totally unrealistic.

  • Concerned

    Was wondering hoppy if you could provide a better time to spill slurry into one of the states streams?

  • WW Glasser

    Hoppy, how will you spend all that extra income ?

  • Hillbilly

    Some small town water systems are drawing from wells. It would be very expensive to drill additional wells and pipe into them, along with adding huge tanks. I do not see any way most of these systems could ever pay for this.

  • Shadow

    Hoppy, bringing this amendment up to the general public was great. Passing legislation like Lane's amendment without due fiscal analysis is the very thing that has made this country insolvent. Nuff said...

  • stophating

    Hoppy, if you think it goes too far, I have a five gallon container of wonderful licorice scented water that you can use for drinking and food preparation--then we will see if you think this bill goes too far.....

    • Aaron

      I'm in the affected area and I believe that this bill goes too far. I do not want to fit the bill for the cost of WVAW purchasing right aways and laying a line to the quinoa river.

  • Mark

    I personally don't think the state and federal government can do enough to restore my confidence in the water. Kudos to the House for its efforts!

  • Silence Dogood

    I'm extremely curious as to where Lane would recommend WVAW put a new second intake? Or for that matter any water treatment facility. If the second intake is drawing water from the same contaminated source, whats the use??
    The real concern is, and an investigation should focus on, who made the decision to leave the intake system open to draw in contaminated water and then send it throughout their entire system. Now their entire water system is contaminated and they cannot get it out. What WVAW and government (State, county or city) official made those decisions solely to keep the water pressure up in case of a fire?? They should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. They made erroneous and very stupid decisions and should be held criminally liable for poisoning the water system, just as much as those Freedom Industries officials should be held criminally liable.

  • Jim N Charleston

    Skippy

    You have officially become a bore with this water obsession.

    We get it. Water Bad. But 9 of your rants on H2O in a month?

    I know you got the 10 year contract (and like the Yanks with ARod and the Angels with Pujols, they're gonna regret the last half of the deal, if not sooner), but you're really stealing $$$$ and beating the dead horse. Just put out a headline saying H2O A OK when its time.

    Enough.

    I'm Jim N Daytona for speedweeks
    L8

  • Friendsoftruth

    Patrick Lane is the King of grandstanding and unethical screwball legislation

    (1) using the Home rule bill to extort changes in gun laws for Charleston

    (2) going on Hoppy's show to promote his bill that provided for a $1000 voucher for the 300,000
    people affected by the water crisis. Hoppy asked him the bill number. He didn't know the number
    But you can bet he knew by heart Hoppy' s number and the number for every newspaper

    (3) grandstanding again with a cockamamie idea to have every water rate payer in West Virginia
    to pay exorbitant rate increases for back up water supplies.

    (4) you can guarantee he will be on Hoppy at the end of the session grandstanding again.