Report: Source Water Protection Workshop

Jefferson County:  Source Water Protection Workshop

A public education and engagement event co-sponsored by the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the Jefferson County League of Women Voters

In the spring of 2016, The West Virginia Rivers Coalition launched a Drinking Water Engagement Project to strengthen public participation in local source water planning efforts throughout the state. Four workshops were held across the state and the Jefferson County League of Women Voters was invited to co-sponsor Jefferson County’s Workshop, on May 12, 2016, at the Clarion Hotel.

The Workshop presented a unique opportunity to engage, educate and raise awareness regarding the public’s source water, and additionally, coincided with requirements for local public water utilities to conduct outreach and receive public comment on their source water protection plans as a requirement of Senate Bill 373.[1] Senator John Unger, who introduced SB 373 was in attendance; other elected officials included Commissioner Dale Manuel and the Honorable John Doyle, together with approximately 200 members of the public.

SB 373 requires public water utilities to protect their systems by identifying zones of critical concern, inventorying possible contaminant sources, developing emergency and contingency plans, and conducting public comment outreach on draft plans. A major component of this Workshop was to educate the public on the comment process itself, and to provide opportunity to review plans and to engage in comment process. The utilities’ plans were due July 1, 2016, to the Bureau of Public Health for approval and to be updated at least every three years, or when there is a substantial change in the potential sources of significant contamination within the identified protection areas, or more frequently as needed (such as major staff changes, new PSSCs near the intake(s), major changes in water quality, and development and use of new sources that would trigger a plan review).

Representatives from local water utilities included Charles Town, Shepherdstown, and Harpers Ferry.

The event itself was lively and interactive with Jefferson County Public Health Officer David Didden kicking off and energizing the attendees with his opening remarks. Autumn Bryson (WVRC Program Dir.), Angie Rosser (WVRC Exec. Dir.) and other staff of the WVRC gave an overview on public involvement in the comment process, the three public water utilities introduced themselves and teams participated in a Safe Water Jeopardy game. Table partners followed with announcements on their upcoming events, door prizes were awarded and the attendees gathered together for food and refreshments during and after the event. Additionally, the WVDEP Environmental Advocate was on hand for a pre-event meet and greet session and to answer questions and make contact with attendees.

Table Informational Partners included Birthplace of Rivers Coalition; Cacapon Institute; Jefferson County Water Advisory Board; Eastern Panhandle Conservation District; Planning and Development Region IX; the Jefferson County League of Women Voters (voter registration and information); WV Bureau for Public Health Source Water Program; and WV Bureau for Public Health and WV Land Trust.

The League of Women Voters of Jefferson County (LWVJC) greatly appreciated the opportunity to work with WV Rivers Coalition, the event planners, including the Jefferson County Board of Public Health and many others. The Workshop was highly successful, fostering a high level of public participation and comment by over 200 attendees.

The LWVJC would like to thank Board Member Renny Smith who coordinated the dissemination of press releases to the media and coordinated WEPM radio interview for David Lillard, WVRC Special Project Manager; Vice-President Mary Sell who assisted with securing several table partners for the event and participating on planning conference calls; and Cris Kinsley who staffed the League’s Voter Education and Registration Table. A special thanks to WRRC David Lillard for his efforts to include the LWVJC.

[1] In 2014, the West Virginia state legislature passed Senate Bill 373 which revised portions of Article I of Chapter 16 (Public Health) of the West Virginia Code to address regulation of public water systems, source water protection, grants for wellhead and source water protection. Key components of these revisions were approved by the 2014 Legislature and signed into law by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on April 1, 2014. The changes to the code outlines specific requirements for public water utilities that draw water from a surface water source or a surface water influenced groundwater source. SB 373 was passed in response to the January 9, 2014, Elk River chemical spill of crude MCHM from Freedom Industries at the principal West Virginia American Water intake and treatment and distribution center leaving 300,000 residents and nine counties without potable drinking water until the MCMH could pass through the system.