CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia regulators plan to propose a major water quality change that would designate the Kanawha River through Charleston for potential use as a public drinking-water source, state Department of Environmental Protection officials said Wednesday.
The action, if approved by lawmakers, could remove a legal hurdle that West Virginia American Water has said makes it too expensive for the company to add a secondary drinking-water intake for the 300,000 residents who get their water from the utility’s treatment and distribution plant on the Elk River, which feeds into the Kanawha.
DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said his agency’s goal is not to pressure the water company, but he added that redesignating the Kanawha as safe for drinking-water use would provide the region with an alternative that hasn’t existed for more than 30 years.
“It gives options,” Huffman said in an interview. “That’s what we didn’t have in January.”
The DEP proposal could also ultimately lead to tougher pollution restrictions on the Kanawha and to steps to improve water quality in the river.
In January, when the Freedom Industries chemical leak contaminated the region’s drinking water, many residents were surprised to learn that West Virginia American Water had only one intake, on the Elk River, with no backup supply readily available. Under legislation passed in the wake of the leak, water providers in the state would have to study their ability to switch to alternative supplies or intakes in the event of contamination.
The water company has said its preliminary estimates show that building a second intake on the Kanawha would cost between $70 million and $105 million. That’s largely because existing restrictions would force the intake to be located above the Belle area, forcing the company to pipe the water to the Elk River for treatment and distribution.
Laura Jordan, spokeswoman for West Virginia American Water, said Wednesday that her company needs to learn more about exactly what the DEP is proposing…