Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 6, 2014

Water safety: New inspections justified

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — The new state safeguards on above-ground storage tanks and water systems signed into law this week by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin are justified and necessary. The legislative action comes in response to the Jan. 9 chemical spill in Charleston, which impacted the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginian while also prompting widespread fear across the Mountain State.

And while our water supply here in the deep south counties was not affected by the spill, folks were still concerned — and rightfully so. The chemical spill prompted national media attention, and some in the greater Charleston area are still concerned about the safety of their water.

The Water Resources Protection Act signed into law by Tomblin regulates storage tanks like the one that leaked at Freedom Industries on Jan. 9, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. The new law will specifically require all above-ground tanks in critical areas to be registered with the Department of Environmental Protection and to have annual inspections. The new law also requires that the Bureau for Public Health work with federal agencies to gather medical information to track long-term health effects associated with the spill.

The legislation also wisely requires all water utilities in the state to have a  written emergency plan in place by July 2015. In fact, all communities and public utilities should have such a plan in place. West Virginia American Water also will be required to install an early monitoring system at its Elk River plant under the new rules.

Tomblin says the chemical spill was a wake-up call for West Virginia, and states across the nation.

“The Elk River chemical spill has made us all, in our communities and across our nation, take a closer look at our infrastructure, especially around our waterways,” the governor said “We have focused our efforts on the health and safety of those impacted.”

We would agree with that assessment. Protecting our region’s water supply must be of utmost importance. When families are suddenly told that they can’t drink or wash with their existing water source, panic and confusion can ensue — as we saw in the day after the Jan. 9 chemical spill.

That’s why the new water protection act makes sense. The measure enjoyed bipartisan support — a rarity nowadays in Charleston and also an indicator of the importance of the new safeguards — before being signed into law by Tomblin.

The new safeguards should help in preventing future disasters. And, with hope, will provide an added peace of mind to families in the Mountain State.