West Virginia Public Radio recently published a story on the silver lining of chemical spills: that they lead to stronger protections for drinking water. It recounts what happened in 2014, when a Freedom Industries aboveground storage tank leaked chemicals into the Elk River, an event that contaminated the water supply for about 300,000 West Virginians. The chemical leak not only impacted people's health, it also had a huge economic impact on the region.
As the story describes, this leak led to greater drinking water protections. A total of 125 public water systems across the state have now updated their source water protection plans, in order to minimize the risk of contamination. And a new aboveground storage tank regulatory program provides protections for the largest tanks, tanks that store the most toxic chemicals, and tanks located near drinking water intakes.
While the state has made great progress, vigilance is required to make sure that we don't backtrack. An example occurred this month, when the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's revisions to the state Water Quality Standards was before the Legislative Rule Making Review Committee. The DEP proposed revisions that would essentially protect all rivers and streams as potential drinking water sources. The revised rule went through an inclusive, public process. But when it arrived at the Legislature, lobbyists representing industrial dischargers had other ideas. They only wanted small areas, directly upstream from intakes, protected.
Rather than allow this to happen, DEP quickly pulled the rule from consideration. I thank the DEP for recognizing the importance of clean drinking water as a foundation for economic growth.