With all of the chaos surrounding the water situation in Kanawha County and that southern region, residents of Gilmer County are of two camps: one is glad it didn't happen here... and the other is worried that it could.
While some of Gilmer County's rural water supply comes from well water, the main towns are on 'city water' and, if the Little Kanawha River were contaminated (as was the Elk), what would happen to the 'city water' folks? What would be the immediate response?
According to Glenville Utility's General Manager Freeman Nicholson, the possibility of such a disaster is remote. "The Glenville area has a million-gallon tank, which is good for three days," he affirmed, "The prison also has a separate million-gallon tank." Also, the plant's water intake in the Little Kanawha is capable of being shut off with the flick of a switch, so the instant Glenville Utilities hear of an issue, they stop pumping in water.
Such an action has happened in recent memory. Readers might remember the fire at Flying W Plastics well over a decade ago and a chemical spill at Mountaineer Mart. Both were immediately reported and steps were taken to make sure that no contaminated water was pumped into the plant.
With Gilmer County having a long tradition of (and rapidly growing) oil and gas resource recovery businesses, it's not too far fetched to imagine something like the Kanawha County incident happening here (albeit on a smaller scale). It wouldn't even have to be a chemical to have an affect on the water plant... one could only imagine what several hundred tons of sawdust suddenly dumped in the water would do to the Glenville water plant's filters.
When asked about something like sawdust, Nicholson was certain that the city's system could handle it, even if there was some kind of chemical soaked up by the material. "Locally-drilled oil, and grease-like liquids are our biggest issues," he said, "and both of them float, so they completely miss our water intake pipes."
Nicholson then went on to explain the current "Source Water Protection Plan" sent to him by the state. It is a plan for watching over and testing of all waterways for a significant distance upriver from the plant. He commented that the plan was almost certainly going to be updated in light of the Elk River / WV American Water incident, but he didn't expect any new paperwork until the DEP and EPA finish their investigation in Charleston. The current rules require that our local plant works with an independent lab in Morgantown, as well as the WV State Health Department's lab to monitor water quality monthly.
For those unfamiliar with standard operations, the water plant begins pumping early in the morning. The water passes through various filters starting with small rocks down to sand and charcoal (to eliminate odd tastes and odors). The pumping goes on for 8-10 hours a day until the local tanks are topped off.
The affable general manager indicated that he has already fielded numerous questions from Gilmer Countians about the state of our water supply. He emphasized that his crew is dedicated to delivering water that is up to State and Federal guidelines for clean water. He indicated that there have been some incidents where customers have called, in a panic, saying they can taste chlorine in their water. This is because of the Federal requirement for a 2-parts-per-million concentration of chlorine from one end of the waterline to the other. This means that the first people getting water from the plant are probably getting some more of the chemical (but still a safe amount) simply because they are nearer the source.
A lot of this will be addressed with the upcoming Water Project slated for later this year. Nicholson outlined that many new pipes would be laid this summer, and he's already asking customers to be patient as his crew works.
For more information on the upcoming $3.2 million Waterline Upgrade Project in Glenville, continue to read your local Glenville Newspaper... we editors will keep everyone up-to-date.