Plans Help Safeguard Area Water

Officials: MUB, Kingwood rules updated in ’11

Morgantown Dominion Post
26 January 2014
By David Beard

The Freedom Industries chemical spill, which contaminated the water supply for 300,000 Kanawha Valley residents, stirred questions about the safety of water supplies in the state.

Evan Hansen, president of Morgantown-based Downstream Strategies, told legislators this past week about one available means of protection: Source Water Protection Plans.

These plans emerge from federally mandated Source Water Protection Reports (SWARs) for 342 public water systems statewide. The Dominion Post spoke to officials at two local systems — Morgantown Utility Board (MUB) and Kingwood Water Works — about their plans. Conversations took place by phone and email.

An overview

SWARs emerged from the federal 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act. The state Bureau for Public Health said that the program is designed to evaluate the vulnerability of public drinking water systems to possible sources of contamination, and encourages states to work with these systems in developing protection and management plans.

Protection plans, developed with input from area emergency planning committees, should include contingency plans, alternative water sources and management plans to protect sources.

Systems of all sizes have SWARs — from West Virginia American Water, the state’s largest and the one that suffered from the Freedom spill, to tiny public service districts across rural West Virginia.

Monongalia County has just one SWAR, for MUB. Preston has 12 — for Kingwood Water Works; and systems for Arthurdale, Bruceton Mills, Masontown, Rowlesburg, Big Sandy, Terra Alta, Tunnelton, Newburg, Alpine Lake and county PSDs 1 and 4.

Marion County has four: Fairmont, Fairview, Mannington and Monongah.

Each SWAR includes susceptibility ratings for contamination of the water sources. MUB’s and Kingwood’s both rate “high.”

MUB’s watershed covers 2,575 square miles, principally the Monongahela River, with a “zone of critical concern” (a corridor along streams meriting extra attention because of its proximity to the water intake) of 6,070 acres. The watershed has 3,609 stream miles.

The zone of concern has 55 “potential significant contaminant sources”: 34 industrial, 12 commercial, six municipal, two residential and one agricultural. The various industries and the gas wells at the Morgantown Industrial Park, for example, are situated just upstream of MUB’s intake.

Kingwood’s primary water source is the Cheat River. The watershed covers 1,002 square miles — 1,249 stream miles — with a concern zone of 6,376 acres. The zone contains 36 potential contaminant sources: 31 industrial, two commercial and three municipal.

Local plans

MUB prepared a SWAR in 2003 and updated it in 2011. The 2011 plan is 68 pages and wraps in such new phenomena, such as horizontal gas wells.

MUB General Manager Tim Ball wrote, “MUB’s plan specifies coordination with local emergency response personnel if an event occurs. As a lesson of the Charleston event, we recognize that more thorough advanced planning, training, rehearsal and coordination with the appropriate local and state agencies will provide improved preparation and response, and we have begun planning to accomplish that.”

The key element of the plan, he said, is to switch to the alternative raw water supply — from the Mon River to Cobun Creek reservoir — to avoid contamination in the source water.

Ball said MUB is now beginning to update the status and location of such facilities, identifying their chemical inventories, and obtaining their spill prevention and response plans.

Developing plans costs money, and West Virginia Rural Water Association Executive Director Amy Swann told legislators this past week that many small utilities that barely bring in enough money to pay their bills will hardly be able to afford the costs of new plans required in the Aboveground Storage Tank Water Resources Protection Act now working its way through the Legislature.

Robert McVicker, chief operator for Kingwood Water Works, had his contingency plan sitting next to him when The Dominion Post reached him at the water plant. “We keep an eye on what’s going on around here.”

Like MUB, Kingwood prepared a plan in 2003 and updated it in 2011, he said.

McVicker said a number of groups contributed to developing the plan, including the Preston Office of Emergency Management, Camp Dawson and Friends of the Cheat.

It was done at no cost to Kingwood; Grants covered it, including one through the bureau. It was done by the Charleston engineering firm Tetra Tech.

McVicker said he’s baffled by the apparent complacence that allowed the Elk River incident to happen. He goes upstream to monitor industrial activities along his water sources.

“Nothing in this world happens without water,” he said. “Water’s a very valuable commodity. Stupid things like this have to happen” to open people’s eyes.