Rural West Virginians Understand Bad Water
1 March 2014
By The Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The chemical spill in January that
contaminated drinking water for 300,000 West Virginians around
Charleston has brought national attention to issues of water
safety. But many rural West Virginians outside the reach of the
spill have been living without drinkable tap water for months --
or even years.
The residents of Bud, in southern Wyoming County, haven't been
able to drink from the tap for six months, ever since the owner of
Alpoca Water Works - the small water plant that had served the
community for decades -- died.
When that happened, the plant shut its doors and the water
situation "deteriorated rapidly," said state Sen. Daniel Hall, a
Democrat who represents the affected area.
"It is a terrible situation that should not have happened and
those people fell through the cracks. It is taking time to get
resolved, but it will be," Hall said.
Regional water authorities say they don't know when Bud's 430
residents can expect to drink tap water again.
"There are still a lot of hoops we have to jump through. We have
to have a bond closing and go through the steps to purchase the
system," said William Baisden, general manager for Logan County
Public Service District, which provides water to rural areas of
Logan county. The county is in the process of taking over the
system in conjunction with East Wyoming.
Lack of money, crumbling infrastructure and the deteriorating
quality of well water have left scores of rural residents in
southern West Virginia without tap water that is safe to drink or
Mavis Brewster of the McDowell Public Service District, which
provides water to 3,000 customers, said there are scores of small
municipalities with water systems that have been in use since the
coal boom of the 1930s. Those systems are disintegrating, with old
pipes breaking frequently. Residents often are under boil-water
advisories or experience water outages.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 people in McDowell County itself do not
have access to clean tap water or suitable well water, she said.
"I'm 54 years old and, as long as I can remember, people have
collected water from a spring or old mine source up on U.S. Route
54 in Maybeury. Any time of day you can see trucks loading their
tanks," Brewster said. Road-side collection sites are often a
single PVC pipe jutting out from an embankment.
The McDowell PSD just completed a $3.5 million federally funded
project to bring water to 500 customers who had never had tap
water on Bradshaw Mountain, Brewster said. Residents there had
been paying $30 per 1,000 gallons of water hauled to their homes.
A new water treatment plant is set for the towns of Northfork and
Elkhorn and will serve about 850 customers, Brewster said.
Summers County Commissioner Jack David Woodrum said some residents
in his southern county face poor water quality or well
contamination from septic systems that empty near or into water
systems. Many have water filtrations systems that are costly and
must be replaced on a yearly basis because the water corrodes them
Several projects in Summers County are on hold until funds can be
"The biggest problem we face regarding water is that
infrastructure money is slated to be cut in half. The 2015 state
budget will cut funds from $40 million to $20 million," Woodrum
"Nine counties in the Kanawha Valley experienced a terrible thing
to be without clean water," he said, referring to the
Charleston-area water crisis. "But it is an experience that rural
West Virginians experience every day."
David Cole, executive director of Regional I Planning and
Development Council, which serves the six southernmost counties
including McDowell, estimates it would cost more than $250 million
to meet top priority water and sewage needs in the region. But
grant funding is even harder to secure for many of these small,
rural towns where populations are aging and dwindling, Cole said.
McDowell County Commissioner Gordon Lambert said the he felt sorry
for people in the Charleston area after toxins from a chemical
plant last month leaked into the Elk River and then into the
city's water supply. That left 300,000 people without clean
drinking water for a week or more.
"I'm sure it was terrible up there," Lambert said. "But some
people here have faced not having water for numerous years."