OT: West Virginia water situation (day 6 and counting)

Baroclinicity's picture
January 15, 2014 at 9:46a

So, I'm going on day 6 without usable tap water.

This situation is disgusting, and I'm not even talking about the water itself.  The news reports, for those who have been following, are true, and it does indeed have a licorice smell to it.  And while it's not like it's benzene in the water, touching it will cause skin irritation and nausea/diarrhea if ingested.

The good:  The response of the state emergency management and FEMA has been good in terms of getting water here.  The lines were long at first, but there are multiple places you can go to for cases/jugs of water, and filling stations for those with livestock/horses and you're in and out in 2 minutes or less.  Neighboring states have been great about shipping water in.

The bad:  Freedom Industries, of course.  West Virginia American Water cannot be left out of this.  DEP?  Don't know.

The Daily Show and Colbert Report are usually spot on with their humor.  Those tanks hadn't been inspected since the early 90s.  In an area that is full of chemical plants (this area is known as the "Chemical Valley", how do you not keep tabs on all structures/operations?  I'm looking at you, DEP.  Aren't you responsible for enforcing these regulations?  How may other companies have slipped through the cracks? 

The chemical that leaked into the water was a relative unknown.  When they identified the substance, there was very little info anywhere other than the MSDS on what it was and how to deal with it.  From what I understand, Dow Chemical, another company in the area, was hired to do testing on it to figure out standard attributes such as the solubility in water, half life, etc.  This is for WVAW:  How do you not have your fingers on the pulse of every chemical whether it's in storage or in an active chemical plant that is upstream of your intakes on the Elk River, let alone 1 mile upstream??  And having these buildings and companies on the water is common here.  First of all, most of these companies need the water access for cooling/dilution processes (I don't know, just guessing... maybe a chemist can chime in), but this terrain is so rugged that the only places you can build around here is on the narrow flood plains in the valleys.  Not ideal to start.

I'm not a native West Virginian, but I have lived here for 7 years now.  I have a love-hate view of the area, as I mentioned in a Skully a couple days ago.  Some really great people, great hiking, the cost of living isn't too bad, and it's a short drive to Ohio Stadium.  On the down side, some of the other people are irrational, you can't get out of your car in a parking lot or a gas pump without stepping on someone's dip plug or spit splatter, the good old boy mentality of the coal industry will ultimately doom this state, and it's a hotbed for potential disasters, be it industrial, weather related (flooding, especially), or anything else it seems.

Fortunately, there are some neighborhoods in the populated area that are on a different water supply.  About 25% of the people I work with in an office of 27 people are in this area, so the rest of us take turns rotating through their houses for an every-other-day shower and things like that.  The small ticket items have been fine; drinking water, water to cook with, brushing teeth, etc.  Big tickets items are a lost cause, like laundry, dishes, and of course, showers.  So in reality, for my wife and I, it's just a really big inconvenience.  I'm tired of pouring cold water over my head in the morning to get the bed head under control (I buzz my head, but you even get sleep divots with that).  I like my shower first thing in the morning to wake up.  Our kitchen sink is a mess.  At least you can flush toilets.

The reason for this post is this:  You gotta be ready, because who knows what is being properly monitored/inspected/cared for around you?  I tend to believe that major problems like this are a result of a cascade of failures, and not just one per se.  When this happened, we had about a half gallon of water in a Brita pitcher.  There was a horrific run in the stores on water right after the announcement, and we were in the gym when it all went down, so we had no shot at anything.  From friend's accounts, the behavior in the stores during that hour or two was appalling and savage-like.  Once people calmed down, people have been very giving, and I've had lots of offers for help.  But between this problem, which will likely be a problem for a week or two after they declare the water safe for everyone, the derecho 2 summers ago that knocked out my (everyone's) power for a week in 90-100 degree heat promoting a run on gasoline similar to that of the water run I mentioned above, to superstorm Sandy that also knocked out my power for multiple days in cold weather, it's clear that you need to have a plan.  This could effect Columbus just as easily as it did here.  Could you imagine the Columbus water supply going down?  That's a lot of people in a worse situation than we are currently in.

I'm not saying we need to go into "Doomsday Prepper" mode, nor am I trying to be an alarmist.  Just sharing my experiences in what has been a difficult couple of years.

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