CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A new water quality monitoring station in Charleston will allow West Virginia American Water Company officials to better detect what contaminants are in the Elk River in an effort to prevent another water emergency.
Water company officials introduced the new station Wednesday at its Kanawha Valley treatment plant. It’s the 17th station to be added to the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission’s Organic Detection System.
Laura Martin, external affairs manager for WVAWC, said they voluntarily asked the commission, also known as ORSANCO, to be added to the network following the January 2014 Freedom Industries chemical spill.
“You can see that there is something present, but at that time there was no standard to be able to tell how much was in the water, what level was in the water, what concentration — that did not exist at that time. That has been developed since then,” Martin said.
The spill impacted drinking water for more than 300,000 residents in nine West Virginia counties.
The new technology is set up to detect up to 31 organic compounds in the Elk River. The purpose of the ODS network is to monitor the water quality conditions to protect drinking water.
Martin said the new station adds another level of protection for its customers.
“The equipment and the sophistication of the technology that we have in place now here at our Charleston water treatment plant as well as our Huntington water treatment plant are the only two water utilities in the state of West Virginia that have this type of advanced abilities to test for certain things in source water. We’re very proud of that. Our customers should feel a higher level of assurance because of that,” she said.
The 17 ODS stations are located along the Ohio, Allegheny, Monongalia, Kanawha and now Elk rivers.
Lisa Cochran, communications coordinator for ORSANCO, said they send out notifications if a containment is detected in the water.
“Any time a compound is detected at any of the 17 locations, there’s communication downstream to all the water intakes so they can respond appropriately,” Cochran said.
Cochran said having the ODS stations means the water will be constantly monitored in real time.
“I think it’s important for the public to understand that these 17 locations are monitoring the water quality behind the scenes and quietly. It’s a lot like your smoke detector. It’s a good thing when it doesn’t go off,” she said.
The system was implemented in 1978 and has since detected and tracked numerous spills and discharges.