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Chemical spill bill could ‘kill’ small water systems

LEWISBURG, W.Va. — Keeping a wary eye on water-related legislation now under consideration in Charleston, city officials are concerned that SB373, if approved in its present form, could more than double the cost of a new water treatment plant Lewisburg has on the drawing board.

That bill, as it now stands, requires each water system in the state to either have two separate sources on tap or to store a three- to five-day supply of “raw water” — untreated water.

Ken Chambers, an engineer with Chapman Technical Group, told city council Tuesday that, for Lewisburg’s regional system to store even three days of the Greenbrier River in raw form, the city would have to build and maintain storage tanks sufficient to hold 18 million gallons of water. He said that would double the cost of the current water plant upgrade, which is already in the $30 million range.

“We’d need (to build) a pond,” Lewisburg Public Works director Mark Carver scoffed.

Mayor John Manchester said he had spent several days in Charleston “educating” legislators and other state officials about the downside of the storage requirement for smaller systems like Lewisburg’s. He said he hopes if and when the legislation is adopted it at least sets different requirements for small systems.

He said the impetus behind the bill, which is still being fine-tuned in committee, is last month’s toxic chemical spill into the Elk River, which tainted the water supply for 300,000 people in a nine-county area, including Kanawha. The fact that the West Virginia American Water Co. had only a single source of water for its massive regional plant was the “driving force” behind SB373, Manchester said.

Carver offered a dire warning if the clean water legislation is adopted without the changes the mayor described. “It would kill a lot of small operating systems in the state,” Carver said…

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