Ensuring Drinking Water Is Available
Ohio Valley residents have some experience with contamination of public water supplies drawn from the Ohio River. Some may have had a “been there, done that” reaction to a chemical spill that affected about 300,000 people in and near Kanawha County earlier this year.
Many local residents remember what happened in January 1988, when a diesel fuel storage tank near Pittsburgh ruptured, spilling about 800,000 gallons of the substance into the Monongahela and Ohio rivers.
As the miles-long plume of contamination moved down the Ohio River, many water systems in the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio had to be shut down – because their water was drawn from the river. Weather conditions made the situation worse. As an Environmental Protection Agency report noted, freezing water caused the spill “to virtually halt over Steubenville’s water intakes” for several days.
While public water service was disrupted, tens of thousands of area residents had to rely on water trucked or even barged in from elsewhere.
An important change was made this week to a bill in the West Virginia Legislature, meant to address the chemical spill this year. In addition to regulating chemical storage facilities, the bill now includes a section requiring public water systems to have back-up sources, should contamination affect their primary intakes.
That may be expensive for water consumers – and lawmakers should take that into account. It may be prudent to avoid new mandates until the situation regarding back-up water supplies is explored.
Still, at some point, the issue needs to be addressed. Legislators are right to be looking at it.