Water protection plan shows hundreds of potential contaminants, up for public comment

by Sarah Plummer, originally posted on March 31, 2016


FAYETTEVILLE — West Virginia American Water’s Source Water Protection Plan for Fayette County, now out for public comment, shows nearly 300 potential sources of significant contamination that, if spilled or leaked, could reach its water intake within five hours.

Legislation passed after the 2014 Elk River chemical spill requires all public utilities to create an inventory of possible contaminants, communication and contingency plans in the event of a contamination, identify an alternative or backup water source and outline specific engineering details and feasibility studies for installing an early warning monitoring system.

Among the potential contaminants identified in the proposed New River Regional Water System, which serves 25,000 people in Fayette, are 45 abandoned mine lands, seven aboveground storage tanks that meet the criteria for registration under the law and 32 oil and gas wells.

The utility must also map a secondary zone in which potential contaminants could reach the water intake within 10 hours. The number of potential threats increase significantly — 214 abandoned mine lands, 25 aboveground storage tanks and 51 oil and gas wells.

A controversial underground storage well in Lochgelly is just outside the five-hour zone, but well within the 10-hour map. However, Duke University water testing on Wolf Creek, which is near the injection well, revealed fracking waste contamination. Wolf Creek is a tributary of the New River and within the critical five-hour zone.

Possible alternative water supplies noted under the plan are secondary intakes on the Gauley River (between $38 – $47 million), a five-day emergency storage reservoir ($20.8 million), connecting to the Kanawha Valley System ($64.2 million), or developing groundwater wells ($27.7 million).

All water utilities must submit protection plans to the state by July 1. After that deadline, the state must hold another round of public hearings for all public utilities in the state.

Representatives from West Virginia American Water aren’t sure how these plans will be implemented and how long it might be before a secondary supply source is created.

For now, the public is asked to share their input on the plan and help map potential contaminants.

Only a handful of citizens attended either of two hearings on the plan in Fayetteville Wednesday, and, as of Wednesday night, only a few public comments on the plan had been submitted at all.

Public comments will be accepted through May 2. Comments are also accepted through www.amwater.com. Source Water Protection information can be found under the Water Quality Stewardship section of the website.

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