Settlement proposed in 2014 West Virginia water crisis

AP News
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Posted: Jan 25, 2017 1:37 PM

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A proposed settlement was filed Wednesday in the state investigation of West Virginia American Water's role in a chemical spill and resulting water crisis in the Charleston area three years ago.

Thousands of gallons of a coal-cleaning agent leaked from a Freedom Industries storage tank into the Elk River in January 2014, leaving 300,000 people without water for nine days.

Attorneys for the parties presented a proposed agreement to the Public Service Commission, which has been overseeing the investigation.

If approved, the water company agrees to install upstream monitoring systems to detect contaminants sooner, increase tank storage with more emergency supply for residents, report and update measures annually to protect source water and practice emergency measures. It's building two tanks to hold 8 million gallons of water in nearby Amandaville that could be used in a crisis, the company said.

"We worked diligently and cooperatively with the other parties involved to address the numerous issues raised through this case," company spokeswoman Laura Martin said. "The settlement recognizes that we have made important changes over the past three years to improve customer confidence in the water system, and additional changes will take place according to this agreement."

West Virginia American Water has already filed its protection plan with state health officials, according to the settlement. It promises to maintain an incident reporting system that complies with health department requirements that depending on severity will include emergency phone calls, emails and texts; websites and social media; and notifying municipal and emergency management officials.

More than 65 residents attended the Public Service Commission's meeting Tuesday to urge the commission to not give in to persistent water company requests to narrow the scope of the investigation, saying questions remained unanswered.

The settlement said evidence and testimony filed in advance, important changes can be achieved based on that, and there would be limited incremental value from the time and expense of a full evidentiary hearing.