CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There have been jokes about three-eyed fish in the Kanawha River for decades but when the Elk River water crisis happened in January no one was joking when they questioned why West Virginia American Water didn’t have a back-up intake system from the Kanawha River.
Now the state Department of Environmental Protection is proposing a change to state regulations that would redesignate the Kanawha as acceptable for drinking water intake. It would have to be approved by the state Legislature.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said four decades ago the Kanawha was a different body of water.
“That river in those days was so polluted it was just not fit for a water source at all,” Carper said Thursday.
However, the commissioner said there’s been a lot of change since the early 80s, especially when it comes to what companies can dump into the river. He agreed it’s time to change the designation on parts of the Kanawha to allow for WVAWC to create a second intake upstream from the Elk that could run Kanawha water into the company’s Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant.
Carper stressed WVAWC should have had an alternative water source decades ago but the chemical leak into the Elk on Jan. 9, that forced a Do Not Use order for more than 100,000 customers, really hit home the point.
“Sometimes you have to get hit over the head with a stick before you wake up,” Carper said.
West Virginia American isn’t willing to jump on the band wagon just yet. A spokesperson for the company said they’d have to take a look at the cost of the project to determine if it would even be feasible.
Carper said feasible or not, the company can no longer afford a single intake system.
“Most water companies have already done that in other areas. With all due respect this was and continues to be the responsibility of the water company,” according to the commissioner.