The League of Women Voters of Jefferson County and other local nonprofits, West Virginia Rivers Coalition (WVRC), water utilities, and state and local agencies will host a free public forum on how residents can get involved in drinking water protection, May 12, from 6:30–8:30pm, at the Clarion Hotel in Shepherdstown.
The event focuses on how Jefferson County residents and businesses can help shape “source water protection plans.” A law passed after the 2014 water crisis in Charleston requires most public water systems to submit a source water protection plan by July 1, 2016. Shepherdstown, Harpers Ferry, Charles Town, and some of the County’s community systems are preparing plans now.
The law also requires water utilities to involve the public in crafting the plans. The May 12 event in Shepherdstown is the one of four regional forums WVRC has organized to facilitate public participation. At the forum, county residents will learn about what goes into the plans and how to provide input on the plans. They will also learn how everyone can help utilities identify potential threats to drinking water.
Organizers stress that the forum is not a venue to voice complaints about water service and water bills. It’s an event to learn about water supply—before it enters an intake.
“The League of Women voters is excited to be a local host for this important process to ensure the public knows more about its drinking water supplies,” said Mary Sell, president of the Jefferson County league chapter.
“The water crisis of 2014 made people realize drinking water can’t be taken for granted,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of the WVRC. “Following the water crisis, a new law gives the public a voice in drinking water protection. This forum is an engaging way for people to learn how to get involved.”
Utilities working on protection plans are identifying potential sources of contamination for each utility’s “zone of critical concern,” the area alongside the stream in which the intake is located, as well as the stream’s tributaries, from which water flows downstream to the intake within five hours. Although the Charleston-area crisis was sparked by a leaking chemical storage tank, some of the largest threats to drinking water come from other sources. The WV Bureau for Public Health has said that railroad lines and highways pose the highest threats for sources of contamination.
The plans also require each utility to have a communications plan to reach customers quickly in the event of an emergency.
The forum features exhibits by local water utilities, agencies that work on water, and nonprofit organizations. The evening also includes “Drinking Water Jeopardy,” an interactive game based on the popular game show. A free booklet on how to be involved in drinking water protection will be given to event attendees.
Jefferson County public health officer Dr. David Didden will welcome participants to the forum, and each utility and the contractors working on their plans will answer questions. The event is free; refreshments will be provided.