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

  • 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.

  • Polly the Pundit

    What many people miss is that FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security have been pushing individuals and families for years to have enough food, water, and medicines on hand to last for three (3) days in the event of an emergency. Sadly, many ignored those pleas and an event like the Freedom spill puts everyone into a panic.

    Further, the State Department of Homeland Security needs to step up to the plate and ensure that there is a three (3) day supply of water on hand sufficient to supply the population served by the largest public water utility in the State - presumably West Virginia American Water. Waiting on potable water to be shipped in from a FEMA depot doesn't meet immediate needs and, depending on the weather (like yesterday) may not be a reliable back-up.

    This would fulfill the intent of Delegate Lane's amendment but not be as financially onerous on the entire state.

  • jay zoom

    even a village Idiot can figure out that some of Lanes comments could of come from a 3RD grader as well. question -- where would the secondary intake been placed. surely not down stream.

  • thornton

    Legislation often goes too far for two reasons.

    1) Profound ignorance as to the realities and practicalities present in every issue.

    2) A rush to not miss the front row at a photo op or the queue at a mic stand in front of a voter.

    Attorneys often do the math for both 1) and 2), regardless of party affiliation.

    What might help instead of this requirement is to balance risk and reward and then yank the cord the water plant.

  • Mason County Contrarian

    Our desire for clean water has been relegated to that of our highways: we want both, but we want someone else to pay for them. That is not the way it works.

  • TD

    I agree Hop. The town I live in has a new water treatment system and our cost have doubled over the past couple years. They hired a consulting firm to tell them what kind of system we needed and the firm's recommendation was for a top of the line system. After paying a ridiculous amount for this advice the council felt they had to adopt the system recommended. I asked one of the city council members about it and he said, "an Impala will do just fine getting you from point A to B but a Cadillac is nicer. The firm recommended the Cadillac so that's what we went with." Point is its tough to pay the higher amount and this change would create a hardship for residents that is unnecessary.

  • Wowbagger

    Mr, Lane,

    Why not require reverse osmosis systems? Those are REALLY expensive, but they can even make salt water drinkable.

  • Oh NO, Mr. Bill

    No need to check, I'm sure Lane is a lawyer.

    Sad we now graduate more lawyers a year than we do Doctors and Dentist combined as well as graduating engineers.

    TD, GregG. you two are always harping about manufacturing jobs moving over seas-- there's your answer why; A manufacturing base requires engineers to build and maintain it--not lawyers....

    • TD

      what I harp about are trade policies that don't even consider the American worker. Trade is you have lemons, I have sugar, let's sell to each other and now I can make more products and start new business and you can as well.

      Our so called "trade policy" is nothing but corporations outsourcing for slave labor. That's my gripe and both political parties support it which really infuriates me.

      • stophating

        +1

      • Aaron

        If I own a business, why do I not have a right to produce my product where ever I want?

        • TD

          We have to formulate trade policies that strengthen our economy. You can look back to the first NAFTA deal and basically draw a line in declining wages of the lower middle class since.

          The driver of our economy is consumer spending and we need manufacturing jobs that pay decent to be the main engine. When the middle class starts growing and becoming more prosperous again then, and only then, will our economy strengthen.

          Henry Ford said I pay my people well enough to buy my cars, that's what we need to do throughout our entire economy and we need trade laws to help that happen.

          You want to sell your product somewhere else that's fine, manufacture wherever you want. You want to sell here then help keep the place going.

          • Aaron

            Problem is, manufacturing jobs are leaving for reasons other than
            Labor cost. I had a friend who managed a manufacturing facility in Nitro that had a sister company in Argentina. The two plants had almost identical production cost with he Nitro plant the lower of the two on labor cost.

            The Nitro plant was closed because the taxes were higher in the US and legal cost averaging $4 million annually.

            You can say we need to bring back manufacturing and I do not disagree. I just know it won't happen until taxes are reformed and legal issues including environmental regulations and their cost are addressed .

  • AnxiousEER97

    The opinion of someone who obviously doesn't have to deal with tainted water.

    • Oh NO, Mr. Bill

      I'm in the heart of the tainted water and I think Lane's idea is nothing more than a political grandstanding.

      You expect the countless number of small municipalities that maintain their own water supply to undertake such a financial undertaking?--- Maybe you think they should be on the American Water system instead.

      • Wirerowe

        Excellent points Mr. Bill. Let delegate Lane go before all of the municipal and private rate payers in the state and tell them they will have to pay for a dual feed. Good concept but rate payers will have to pay for every dollar invested in a back up source including the rate payers in his election district.

        • Aaron

          I agree. If Delegate Lane has commissioned a study on what his bill will cost each public utility, I'm quite sure that he would not want to link his name to it and would not have proposed the bill.

  • CaptainQ

    Hoppy, this added part to this bill is yet another example of 'knee jerk reaction' legislation. Although safety is a major concern, forcing all public water utilities to fund millions of dollars worth of additional systems is probably overkill. Passing this bill could double or even triple customer water rates (or MORE!). Hopefully, the members of the WV House will realize this and think twice before blindly passing this bill with the extra 'part' in it.