WV Among States With Most Impaired Sources of Drinking Water

June 16, 2022

Mountaineer News | The Editors

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STATEWIDE - West Virginia ranks among the top three states in the nation for the amount of rivers and streams used for drinking water classified as impaired. A new report found 73% of the state's assessed waterways, including in the New River Gorge, are impaired for drinking, swimming or aquatic life. According to the report by the Environmental Integrity Project, it means municipalities drawing drinking water from affected sources must use additional, and often more expensive, treatment to make it safe for human consumption. Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been slow to review and update limits for water-pollution control by industries, but he added West Virginia has taken steps to address the problem. "And in a state with an industrial past and acid mine draining, it's not surprising to see that," Schaeffer stated. "I will say that West Virginia seems to do a better job in terms of at least having something to say about the condition of their waterways." According to the report, two-thirds of the EPA's industry-specific water-pollution limits have not been updated in more than three decades, despite a Clean Water Act mandate for reviews every five years. Schaeffer pointed out an impaired waterway can contain unsafe levels of fecal pathogens posing health risks to swimmers, low oxygen levels making it harder for fish to survive, or harbor high levels of nitrates, bacteria or other contaminants causing local municipalities to deploy additional treatments in order to make it safe to drink. "Nearly 15,000 miles of rivers and streams that are impaired, meaning they're not suitable for swimming for water sports, contact recreation, or they're unhealthy for aquatic life," Schaeffer explained. He argued it is important for state-based agencies to do regular assessments of water quality. "(Since) the 50th anniversary (of the Clean Water Act), we want to, of course, recognize that and remind people of how bad it was and remind them that we don't want them to slide back to those days," Schaeffer acknowledged. "But also, the data and the evaluations of water quality that are required under the Clean Water Act show that we have a long, long way to go." Overall, based on state data submitted to the EPA, the report found more than 700,000 miles of rivers and streams nationwide -- half of those assessed -- were classified as impaired for at least one use.

Sources:

EPA DATA - How's My Waterway? Report Environmental Integrity Project 03/17/2022 Clean Water Act EPA 10/18/1972