CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling said Tuesday the most important section of the new state law dealing with water is the requirement that all water utilities have a source water protection plan.
Sec. Bowling was on hand as Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed the bill into law Tuesday afternoon that is a direct result of the Jan. 9 chemical leak into the Elk River in Charleston and the resulting water emergency in parts of nine West Virginia counties.
The law is comprehensive but Bowling believes the emergency plans lead the way.
“In the past this has just been a voluntary plan (for water utilities). They’ll be developing plans with our input to make sure we have a process in place for an emergency,” Bowling said.
The utilities will be required to list how they obtain their water, the possible risk factors for that water, including above ground storage facilities in the area of critical concern. The companies then have to come up with an emergency procedure in case there’s contamination.
“Every water utility is going to be a little bit different in terms of how they do these assessments,” Bowling said. “It’s not just one plan that will go out but plans that are based on the geographic area and the different sources and how they obtain their water.”
The plans have to be ready by July 2016. The state DEP, state Bureau of Public Health and local health departments will be part of the process.
Sec. Bowling said the plans will strengthen the public trust in the water supply.
“Our job in public health is really about protecting the health and well-being of our citizens and this gives us a mechanism to help us do that,” she said.
The law also calls for annual inspections of above ground storage facilities in certain areas, an early monitoring system for West Virginia American Water’s Elk River plant and the gathering of medical information looking at any long-term impacts from the spill.