CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The water resource protection and storage tank regulation bill, SB 373, will come down to the final day of the 2014 Regular Legislative Session at the State Capitol.
On Friday, Senate Majority Leader John Unger (D-Berkeley, 16) said he was confident the Legislature would approve the legislation — introduced after the Jan. 9 water emergency in parts of nine West Virginia counties — before Saturday night’s deadline.
“Water is the very critical (factor) of life,” said Unger. “If we can’t protect our water resources, how else can we build our civilization? What else do we have? If the very vitality of life is taken away from us, we have no life.”
Possible Senate amendments to the comprehensive chemical spill bill the House of Delegates approved unanimously, with a 95-0 vote back on Wednesday evening, were being worked on Friday afternoon. The bill looks much different than what the Senate unanimously approved earlier this session.
Unger said the goal was to keep the proposal out of a conference committee in the closing hours of the session.
One provision within that bill would mandate that all public utilities in West Virginia providing water to more than 100,000 customers — West Virginia American Water Company being the target — install a regular monitoring system at its treatment facilities that would test for water contamination and give early warnings of such pollutants.
The equipment required for such testing, a gas chromatograph, would cost an estimated $200,000. A similar system is already in place within the water system that serves Huntington.
Laura Jordan, spokesperson for WVAW, said such an installation at the Kanawha Valley Water Treatment facility would test for volatile organic compounds, as required, but not the additional possible contaminants listed in the bill — things like salts, ions and metals, including heavy metals.
“We have no problem with that (requirement) whatsoever, but the other laundry list of the eight different things listed in there are not something that that organics detection system will pick up,” she said on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
If meeting requirement is not feasible, the bill said WVAW would have to report back to the Legislature by Jan. 2015 with an explanation.
Overall, the proposed bill includes a new set of regulations requiring the state Department of Environmental Protection to license and inspect above ground storage tanks, like the one that leaked crude MCHM and PPH along the Elk River, the source water for WVAW.
Some other key aspects of the proposal include the following:
–A requirement that water utilities that use surface water identify potential sources of contamination that are near the water intake valve. These areas are identified as “zones of critical concern.” These zones are defined as areas within 1,000 feet of the waterway and within a five-hour flow of the intake.
–A requirement that DEP determine which above ground storage tanks are already regulated by another agency and therefore would not be subject to a duplicate review.
–A requirement that by July 2015, all water utilities have a source water protection plan in place in case there is a spill that could contaminate the water supply.
–A requirement that the state Bureau of Public Health gather and store medical information on people exposed to the chemical to determine potential long term health effects.
“The difference of this bill versus others is that the people have been engaged and watching every step of this bill, so that anybody making amendments, they better justify it and be ready to defend it because the people are watching,” said Unger.
“When the people watch and are engaged, the process works. And, I think, this SB 373 is an example of that.”
This year’s regular session opened on Jan. 8, the day before the chemical leak that contaminated tap water for 300,000 West Virginians. The State Capitol fell under the do-not-use water order from WVAW that lasted for days.