Watershed Groups Host House Majority Leader

West Virginia Rivers Coalition and three WV Choose Clean Water Coalition members hosted WV House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles at a holiday reception in Berkley Springs, December 15. Leaders from Sleepy Creek Watershed Association, Warm Springs Watershed Association and Cacapon Institute welcomed Mr. Cowles to spend the evening learning about watershed restoration and protection efforts in the state’s Eastern Panhandle.

They were joined by directors of the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District, who described how Chesapeake Bay Program funding and grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation are the financial engines for restoring West Virginia’s Bay tributaries. “We’re making progress through voluntary programs,” Conservation Commissioner Jim Michael told Mr. Cowles. “But it takes money for these programs to work.”

Watershed groups also described the importance of upholding current “Category A” protections in the upcoming legislative session, and expressed concerns about a proposed natural gas service line that would run from the Potomac River through three Eastern Panhandle Counties.

Mr. Cowles then facilitated a dialogue about clean water and local economic development issues — including the tourism economy.  Following the reception, Mr. Cowles volunteered to host Eastern Panhandle clean water advocates at the State House for a meeting with the region’s senators and delegates.

West Virginia Rivers Coalition Applauds Passage of SB 625

Legislature Passes Measure to Keep Public Informed of Threats to Drinking Water

Today the House unanimously approved Senate Bill 625 that allows for the sharing of information related to potential significant sources of contamination to local drinking water supplies. The Senate has also unanimously passed the measure, so it is expected to advance to Governor Tomblin’s desk for approval.

The legislation has immediate relevance as public water systems are involving the public in source water protection planning efforts. Following the 2014 Water Crisis affecting the nine-county area surrounding Charleston, a new mandate passed requiring most public water systems to submit “source water protection plans by July 1, 2016. The water utilities must inform and involve the public in the development of these plans. However, conflicts in the law hampered the sharing of information on contamination threats. Senate Bill 625 clarifies that. Disclosure is permitted on any location, characteristics and approximate quantities of potential sources of significant contamination within the zone of critical concern to the extent they are in the public domain through a state or federal agency.

Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, notes the significance of the bill’s approval. This bill preserves the public’s right to information and involvement in the protection of their drinking water supplies. Now citizens can more meaningfully participate in source water protection planning with their utilities. Remember, the Freedom Industries chemical leak was first reported by a citizen; that shows the benefit of public awareness of threats and our role in helping detect problems and prevent disasters.

The West Virginia Rivers Coalition is convening a series of regional public forums to help citizens understand their role in protecting drinking water, and opportunities to participate in their local water utilities’ planning processes. The next forum is scheduled for March 22 at Hawks Nest State Park in Ansted from 5-7pm.