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Public Water: Resources, not surveys, needed for improvement

According to a report published by the Natural Resources Defense Council, approximately two-thirds of West Virginia counties receive poor marks for public water systems safety violations, and approximately three-quarters of them are slow to get those issues fixed.

It is difficult to understand exactly what the language used in the survey means. Two graphics accompanying the report are simply counties in different shades of the same color with an arrow going from lightest to darkest beside the words “increasing health-based drinking water violations,” and “increasing time in violation.” The Natural Resources Defense Council’s explanation of those numberless graphics is “Two-thirds of West Virginia counties rank in the bottom third for their number of tap-water safety violations; even more are in the bottom third for the time it takes to fix these issues.”

Make of that what you will, but the report’s authors assure us we are among the “worst in the nation.” They say 912,650 people in the Mountain State have drinking water that is out of compliance with the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act.

Here is the crux of the problem, according to the report: Top offenders are small, mainly rural community water systems; including those meant to serve communities of color and those meant to serve those in low socio-economic conditions.

With the exception of a few larger municipal systems, nearly every water system in the state meets that description. The problem can be boiled down to two words: rural and poor.

This is nothing new for West Virginians. Much about our communities that does not meet national quality of life standards is because of where we live and the condition of our economy. In this case we are guessing not a single administrator of a water system in our state would hesitate to provide the best drinking water possible to paying customers, if they had access to the resources (mostly money) to do so.

But the part about paying customers should be another asterisk on this report. As recently as last week, Mid-Ohio Valley residents learned there are folks in Belleville — 175 customers along 22 miles of new line — who have decided despite signing on to an agreement to do so, they do not want to pay for water from the Lubeck Public Service District.

When Lubeck PSD (one of the few water districts in our region for which DuPont PAID to have carbon filters installed for the capture of C-8, mind you) borrowed the money from the Bureau of Public Health to build this new line, they believed all potential customers who signed the agreement would eventually be paying water bills to cover the costs.

Now, “We’re not generating enough revenue,” said Rocky McConnell, general manager of Lubeck PSD.

Truly, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.

Of course, all West Virginians should have access to clean drinking water. MOST water district administrators do their best to provide that, with the meager resources at hand. Should the organizations writing this kind of nonsense like to stop telling us what we already know and instead use the money they spend on surveys and reports to begin providing grants for the upgrade of some of our water districts, we would welcome the help.

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