Water storage a concern for W.Va. lawmakers

CHARLESTON – In view of the recent water crisis in the Charleston area, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, along with the leadership of both houses, proposed legislation to implement an above ground storage tank regulation program.

“The last 11 days have been an extremely difficult time for so many West Virginians,” Tomblin said Monday. “The discharge of chemicals or other contaminants into our water supply is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

“This proposed legislation includes reasonable, common sense provisions to regulate above ground storage tanks across the state, including those located in areas of critical concern near our public water supply and distribution systems,” Tomblin said.

The governor’s legislation proposes to assure above ground storage tanks are built and maintained consistent with required safety standards; require public water systems to have written plans to prepare for emergencies, specifically if a contaminant is discharged in the water supply; and will protect the health and safety of West Virginians and the environment.

The legislation will empower the Department of Environmental Protection to implement an above ground storage tank regulation program requiring operators to self-report the location of these tanks and describe the construction and maintenance on each tank. It will require written annual reports outlining changes to on-site tanks.

Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, said a joint session of the House Judiciary and Health and Human Resources committees heard Tuesday from Downstream Strategies, an environmental consulting firm in Morgantown, on the governor’s proposal.

“They felt the governor’s recommendations did not go far enough,” Ellem said.

Ellem has not seen the bill in its entirety and does not believe it has been formally submitted to the Legislature.

“There are several bills dealing with the water situation,” he said.

Ellem said the talk at this meeting, which included representatives from the state DEP, indicated the issue goes beyond just storage tanks, but can involve gas drilling, mining and other items that could have an impact on the water supply.

Once the governor’s bill is formally submitted, Ellem said he will review it and make his own determinations about it.

The governor’s proposed legislation requires annual inspections and certifications by professional engineers and allows the secretary of DEP to order a facility take corrective action when storing material that may impact the health and safety of West Virginians.

It requires facilities to submit individual spill prevention response plans for each on-site above ground storage tank and will permit the DEP to assess penalties for a facility’s non-compliance.

“This legislation will not duplicate the state and federal regulator efforts already in place,” Tomblin said. “It requires a team effort — allowing our DEP to work with our public health officials at the Department of Health and Human Resources to make sure that our zones of critical concern near our waterways remain safe.”