Long way to go before West Virginia American Water decides to go to Kanawha River for backup

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With an extensive drinking water study of the Kanawha River complete, West Virginia American Water Company is examining the next steps into using it as a secondary source for its Elk River Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant.

Company Spokesperson Laura Martin said there’s still a lot to review of the 585-page report that was released last week, but the initial findings of the study were favorable.

“Certainly the report shows that this is promising. It certainly shows that the water quality in the Kanawha River is really quite good,” she said. “The health of the river is quite good. We think this is good for the community overall, and the impact for recreation and fishing in the area.”

For the company to actually go through with using the river as a secondary source, Martin said, would require a lot more work on the regulatory and economic side.

“We have other things we have to evaluate including permitting, approvals from our regulators, cost impact to customers; whether that’s something customers can afford. And still a variety of other stuff.”

Martin described the next step as figuring out whether the water system would be able to treat any possible contaminants that the study identified.

“Would next include treatability studies, so any of the contaminants, which there were only a handful, that exceeded any type of safe drinking water regulations found in this report, would have to be studied as far as could our current treatment process remove those to drinking water standards,” she explained.

Martin noted that having a secondary source isn’t required, but it was something the company is looking into anyway.

“It’s something we continue to move forward with in good faith, evaluating and moving toward all the steps needed to make a good decision.”

There were over 25,000 data points raised by the study, Martin said, which ran for a year from June 2015 to June 2016.

“To seriously consider the Kanawha River as backup supply for our largest water system, sound and comprehensive empirical data was necessary – particularly with its history of industrial use and lack of historical water quality data,” company president Jeff McIntyre said upon the study’s release last week.

The $1.3 million study collected water quality and sediment data to evaluate the river on its drinkability standards.

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