After a chemical spill in the Kanawha Valley left more than 300,000 people with contaminated drinking water for days, state lawmakers passed legislation in an effort to prevent a similar crisis. One part of that legislation requires most water utilities in the state to draft source water protection plans – with public input. West Virginia Public Broadcasting attended a public forum in Shepherdstown Thursday night aimed at educating the community about the plans.
In the grand ballroom at the Clarion Hotel in Shepherdstown Thursday evening, dozens of community members were playing “water” jeopardy. They were learning about West Virginia source water protection plans.
These plans have to be drafted by most water utilities by July 1, 2016. The plans require six things: a management plan, a contingency plan, engineering details, an inventory of potential sources of significant contamination, a communication plan, and an early warning monitoring system.
It’s a lot to take in, but anyone can access the information about the requirements online.
And a big part of these plans is getting input from the public.
Angie Rosser is the Executive Director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. She’s been hosting forums like this one across the state to help educate West Virginia communities about the source water protection plans and what they can do to help mold them.
Shepherdstown was the fifth of six stops.
“As community members, we have a stake in the decisions made around water that we are part of the solution," Rosser explained, "I mean, I’m interested in this being very solution oriented. Yeah, we have to face what are the scary things that could harm our water, but really the planning, the source water protection plan is, okay we know about it, what are we going to do about it? How are we going to minimize the threat of contamination?”
The management area in the plans is one of the six areas where residents can help the most. Community members can do things like correctly dispose of old cleaning chemicals instead of pouring them down the drain. They can dispose of old medications on special days rather than flushing them down the toilet. Community members are also encouraged to report any spills or accidental discharge to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
Abigail Benjamin has six kids, ranging in age from 1 to 13, and she’s a resident of Martinsburg. She says the forum showed her ways she and her family can conserve water.
“I’m inspired to really make those changes, and I’m really inspired to talk to my neighbors, because I think we’re a small group here, but there are a lot of people who are interested in this issue,” she said.
Angie Rosser, of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, says there are still lots of steps for communities in the state to take, but she says we’re headed down the right path.
“The Legislature in 2014 were very serious, and the 300,000 people who lost their water were very serious that something needed to change; a fundamental shift," Rosser noted. "And as the water crisis fades in distant memory, I mean, the question will be is that fundamental shift, has it happened? Are we better off? I answer that question, yes, we know more, we’re aware more, you know, I have to be hopeful.”
Also on Thursday night, the Morgantown Utility Board presented its draft source water protection plan. It’s the first utility in the state to present its plan, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources, which hosted the public meeting and comment session.
Water utilities will hold such meetings around the state in the next few weeks as they work to meet the July 1st deadline to file their own plans.