The chemical spill into the Elk River in West Virginia last week that shut down the water supply to 300,000 customers in nine of its counties holds important lessons when it comes to source water protection, say officials with the Kentucky Division of Water (DOW).
“It’s not enough to just have a program on the books,” said Jessica Moore, who coordinates the DOW Source Water Protection Program. “That plan must be continuously updated and relationships with water systems, industry and local officials must be cultivated to keep the lines of communication open.”
When the West Virginia incident occurred, there was little known about the nature and volume of the material spilled, which in turn affected the ability for emergency responders to act quickly and appropriately.
“If you don’t know what spilled, the duration of the spill or where it came from, it becomes difficult to react in an immediate and effective manner,” said Julie Roney, DOW Drinking Water Coordinator. “Information is critical in these situations, whether it is a small incident such as an overturned fuel truck or a larger event, such as the West Virginia situation. Both can have major impacts on water supplies.”
DOW instituted its source water assessment and protection program in 1990 when the legislature passed a statue requiring long-range county water supply plans. DOW also had the first Source Water Protection program approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in accordance with the 1995 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act.
DOW works with counties to develop long-range water-supply plans for the municipalities and public water systems. Through the planning process, each county comes to understand the adequacy and security of current supplies, plans how to protect them, creates contingency plans and develops alternatives where additional or alternate supplies may be needed.
Moore said Kentucky’s Source Water Protection Program emphasizes contamination prevention as well as contingency plans. In Kentucky, drinking water sources include rivers, lakes and groundwater – all of which need to be protected.
“Source water protection is a proactive approach to protecting critical sources of public water supply,” said Moore. “It involves implementation of pollution prevention practices to protect the water quality in a watershed or well head protection area serving a public water supply.”
Moore said public participation is an essential part of source water protection.
“The informed public plays an important role in water supply protection,” Moore said. “An informed public knows, for example, how to correctly store potentially dangerous materials to prevent contamination in source water recharge areas. Similarly, informed municipalities and industries will be aware of steps they need to take to institute best management practices for storage of potentially hazardous materials and to create contingency plans.”
Roney said source water protection has multiple benefits.
“Preventing contaminants from entering a public water system protects public health,” said Roney. “It also saves communities money by avoiding costly water treatment and environmental cleanup activities. Plants and wildlife also benefit with safer natural environments.”
As part of the Source Water Protection Program, DOW is making available up to $60,000 in assistance funds to help communities pay for source water protection projects that will help prevent drinking water contamination. The goal of the funding program is to make money available for small projects that can be accomplished in a relatively short period of time. DOW is encouraging public water systems, towns, cities, counties and even schools to propose a new project, or complete a current project, that will help protect the drinking water sources for their public water systems.
Some examples of possible projects include, but are not limited to, capping unused or abandoned water wells, installing best management practices, or implementing management strategies previously identified in a wellhead or source water protection plan.
Project proposals, available on the DOW website at http://water.ky.gov/groundwater/Pages/WellheadProtection.aspx, must be submitted to DOW by March 1, 2014, for consideration in this funding cycle. Completion of the full application is not required until funding selectees have been notified by DOW.
For more information about the Source Water Protection Program and funding project, contact Jessica Moore at 502-564-3410 or Jessica.Moore2@ky.gov