One year later: WV American Water reflects on Freedom Industries chemical spill
One year after the chemical spill that impacted the regional water system in the Kanawha Valley, West Virginia American Water officials believe that water systems across the state are better protected due to the heightened community awareness to protect drinking water sources and the environmental protections added by the West Virginia Legislature's passage of the Aboveground Storage Tank Act.
CHARLESTON, WV, Jan. 9, 2015 -- One year ago today after the Freedom Industries chemical spill that impacted the regional water system in the Kanawha Valley (see "West Virginia chemical spill shuts down capital city, water supplies"), West Virginia American Water (WVAW) officials believe that water systems across the state are better protected due to the heightened community awareness to protect drinking water sources and the environmental protections added by the West Virginia Legislature's passage of the Aboveground Storage Tank Act.
WVAW customers can have further confidence in their water system as a result of the enhancements the company has undertaken to make the water system more resilient, including the most technologically advanced laboratory of any water treatment plant in the state and the addition of source water monitoring equipment in early 2015.
Jeff McIntyre, WVAW president, said that following the spill, his team -- along with interagency partners -- worked around the clock to return the community's drinking water to its longstanding high quality and conducted rigorous testing to ensure that no traces of the chemical existed in the water system and to reestablish confidence in the water supply.
"Once we achieved full restoration of our water to its original exceptional quality, we began taking careful, thorough and deliberate steps to evaluate measures to further enhance the resiliency of our systems," McIntyre said, "including in the areas of source water protection planning, alternate water sources, early warning monitoring systems, and enhancements to our emergency customer notification system."
The company recently provided an update on these projects through an informational piece mailed to all area customers in late December, which can be found at www.westvirginiaamwater.com/about-us/news.html.
Highlights of this progress update include:
- Source Water Protection Planning: In partnership with Corona Environmental and the Water Research Foundation, the company is spearheading a pioneering project to change the way water utilities approach source water protection planning. This innovative method will result in an advanced, dynamic, automated tool and a contaminant information database that will update information on potential contaminant sources within the system's zone of critical concern on a weekly basis.
- New Laboratory Equipment: The company constructed a new $400,000 laboratory at the Kanawha Valley treatment plant and installed two GC/MS high-tech devices that test for volatile organic compounds and semi-volatile organic compounds. The analytical capability of this new lab goes above and beyond the requirements of new state legislation, and the company's Kanawha Valley and Huntington facilities are the only water treatment plants in West Virginia with this advanced equipment.
- Early Detection Systems: After investigating available source water contamination detection technologies and recent recommendations from federal regulators and water industry experts, the company selected online, multi-panel source water quality monitoring devices as an effective option for early detection of source water contamination. This equipment establishes baseline water quality data and alerts water plant operators to certain changes in water characteristics. The company has purchased and is installing monitoring equipment as its baseline level system at all of its treatment facilities.
- Addressing Water Loss: The company has more than doubled its investment in water main replacement over the past five years and has undertaken various initiatives to address water lost through leakage. Most recently, it announced a half-million-dollar project to deploy innovative leak detection technology along a 10-mile stretch of the Kanawha Valley to enable crews to detect leaks and address repairs before they become significant issues.
- Alternate Water Sources: The company has commissioned a detailed engineering study to evaluate options for alternate sources of supply, second intakes, reservoirs and interconnections with other water systems. When complete, this study will present the possible options for each of its nine water treatment plants, along with an estimate of the capital investment required.
- Emergency Customer Notification System Enhancements: Nationwide, American Water is working to enhance its emergency customer notification abilities by developing a platform that will improve communication of specific, time-sensitive information to customers via telephone, text message and email.
About West Virginia American Water
West Virginia American Water, a subsidiary of American Water (NYSE: AWK), is the largest water utility in the state, providing high-quality and reliable water services to approximately 550,000 people. Founded in 1886, American Water is the largest publicly traded U.S. water and wastewater utility company. With headquarters in Voorhees, N.J., the company employs approximately 6,600 dedicated professionals who provide drinking water, wastewater and other related services to an estimated 14 million people in more than 30 states as well as parts of Canada. For more information, visit www.westvirginiaamwater.com.