Protecting our water resources: How does WV compare with other
The State Journal
3 September 2014
By April Kaull, Anchor
CHARLESTON, WV -
The chemical leak at Freedom Industries Jan. 9, 2014, and
subsequent water crisis that affected West Virginia American Water
Company customers in part of nine counties forced communities to
make safe water a bigger priority. It became evident that the
state did not have existing laws to address some of the issues
that arose during the incident. Those issues included regulations
for inspecting above-ground storage tanks and a reporting process
for water utilities to share their emergency response plans with
"This incident was a wake up call," according to Sen. John Unger,
D-Berkeley. West Virginia lawmakers began drafting a bill that
eventually became The Water Resources Protection Act.
"We got some pushback from water utilities, suggesting that what
we were asking was going to cost money and time," Unger said. "My
response was that it was my understanding that they were required
to do it anyhow."
A 2002 federal law required water utilities to file documents
related to Emergency Response Plans (ERP) and Vulnerability
Assessments (VA) with the Environmental Protection Agency. When
contacted to confirm whether West Virginia American Water Company
is in compliance, the EPA issued the following response.
"EPA did not receive the actual ERP from American Water Company,
but did receive a certification of completion from the utility. WV
American Water has completed its Emergency Response Plan and
complied with the Bioterrorism Act."
The Water Resources Protection Act, known as Senate Bill 373, will
require similar reporting to the West Virginia Department of
Health and Human Resources.
Unger also explained how lawmakers researched what regulations and
protocols were already in effect in others states as they drafted
the new law. The Legislature reached out to Massachusetts to see
how officials there handled water protection plan reporting. Then
Unger said his committee investigated Minnesota law, which
included company monitoring and inspections by engineers. In
addition, lawmakers looked at Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, Ohio,
Arkansas and Florida. The research also included conversations
with officials in New York and New Jersey, both of which have
stringent requirements already in place.
Below is a statement from the New Jersey Department of
“The NJDEP requires the preparation of water Purveyor Emergency
Response Plans and Teams at NJAC 7:19-11.2. Although the next
round of rules expected to be adopted in 2015 expand on the
current requirements, we currently require:
1. The NJDEP can require plans for all purveyors
over 3,000 customers or any purveyor as required by NJDEP;
2. Plan shall include:
a. Organizational structure and names/contact
info of emergency response personnel;
3. They need to update plans whenever there is a major change
in procedures, but at least every two years.
b. Emergency notification and communication procedures;
c. Interconnections and backup supplies to be utilized;
d. Interim water restrictions, conservation measures, and
alternate sources of water;
e. Coordination procedures with other agencies;
f. Resource inventory;
g. Vulnerability assessment; and
h. Any other information deemed appropriate by the NJDEP.
4. Emergency response teams shall include managerial,
technical, operations, and public information personnel.
5. The purveyor shall periodically evaluate the effectiveness
of the plan and revise as needed.”
In addition to West Virginia, American Water Company has
subsidiaries in a number of other states. We checked with New
Jersey, one of the state's where American Water Company has
operations, to see if the subsidiaries are complying with the
regulations. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
confirmed that it currently has a "single ERP for all of the NJ
American Water systems.”
While American Water subsidiaries operate in other states, there
are concerns that West Virginia's new law still doesn't go far
enough to provide transparency.
"When we compare ourselves to other states, it's clear that we
have much more work to do," according to Dr. Rahul Gupta,
executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. He
pointed back to Jan. 9, and the way the public discovered the
water system had been compromised. "Remember, this was an event in
which people called the water company to tell them that their
water was contaminated. Emergency responders at the local and
state levels called the water company to tell them perhaps their
water was contaminated. That can't happen again."
Unger agrees that the work is not over when it comes to protecting
our water resources. He explained that is why Senate Bill 373
established the Public Water System Supply Study Commission.
Members from studies and report back to the Legislature. The
Commission will consist of 12 members: four members appointed by
the Governor, one representative designated by the Rural Water
Association, the Municipal League, the Department of Environmental
Protection, the Bureau for Public Health, the West Virginia
Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the
Chairman of the Public Service Commission, a non-voting member
appointed by the Senate President and a non-voting member
appointed by the Speaker of the House.
The Commission will report back to the Joint Committee on
Government and Finance on the effectiveness of the legislation, as
well as suggestions to improve the infrastructure of existing
public water systems and to pursue other measures designed to
protect the integrity of public water service. Its first report is
expected Dec. 15, 2014.
In the meantime, American Water Company issued a statement in
response to questions about its compliance with existing laws and
corporate culture. In it, the company stated: "We have a record of
complying with, and in many cases surpassing, the standards set by
environmental laws and regulations. ... Regarding, corporate
citizenship, at American Water, it is our commitment to hold
ourselves to high standards of integrity, deliver the highest
quality products and services, and utilize the resources of our
business to serve the public good while delivering growth and
value to customers, shareholders and employees."