By Whitney Burdette
Charleston Daily Mail
CHARLESTON, W.VA.–Since 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM leaked out of a storage tank along the Elk River three weeks ago, hundreds of thousands of West Virginians have abandoned the tap in favor of bottled water.
By now consumers have probably selected their favorite brands, either regional favorites or nationally recognized. But where does that water come from and who regulates it?
Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick knows. In addition to holding a variety of public offices over the past four decades, Helmick and his wife, Rita, operate Allegheny Lodge, Inc., a water bottling operation in Pocahontas County. Helmick said although many people might not trust their tap water is contaminant-free, West Virginia is full of high-quality water.
“We have it in many, many counties a quality water source, a spring water source,” Helmick said. “So over the years we’ve seen different companies start up and go away over time.”
Only two bottling facilities — Allegheny and Berkeley Springs Water Company — currently operate in West Virginia. But Helmick said his department is working to increase that number.
“We feel in agriculture that there’s an opportunity in West Virginia for that product to be bottled and sold here in the state.”
The Agriculture Department began researching before the spill to find out how much bottled water West Virginians consume. That number has grown exponentially since the Jan. 9 spill as individuals and businesses, including most area restaurants, stopped using the tap.
“You see signs everywhere throughout the Kanawha Valley,” Helmick said. “If you go down to Leonoro’s, the spaghetti place, it says on their sign, ‘We use bottled water for cooking.’ Across the street is Tudor’s Biscuit World. Another sign. So there are a lot of people right now, and we’ve seen hundreds of thousands of bottles of water that’s poured into Charleston to help us through this difficult time…”