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Water safety front and center

Experts to share lessons from Elk River Friday

CHARLES TOWN — Residents concerned that the catastrophic chemical spill that contaminated Charleston’s Elk River could occur in Jefferson County are encouraged to attend a forum that explores the implications for just such a scenario.

The Jefferson County chapter of the League of Women Voters and the Jefferson County Health Department will host a forum entitled, “Lessons from Elk River,” at 7 p.m. Friday in the downstairs meeting room of the Charles Town Library at 200 E. Washington St. Questions and comments from the audience will be accepted after the presentation.

“What we’re trying to do is continue the conversation concerning the safety of our drinking water,” said Dr. David Didden, the physician director of the Jefferson County Health Department. “Everyone is aware of how devastating the Elk River chemical spill was. In Jefferson County, many believe we are vulnerable to something [similar]. More importantly, we can talk about what we think the community has learned from this, and what we can do to prevent it.”

On Jan. 9, a chemical spill from the Freedom Industries facility spilled into the Elk River, contaminating the public water supply. Up to 300,000 residents in nine counties in the Charleston area were without access to clean water. The chemical spill shut down businesses and led to a run on bottled water.

Friday’s forum is intended to be the start of discussions on developing a plan of action and response in the event a similar spill occurs in Jefferson County’s Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.

The panel, which includes Rahul Gupta, executive director of Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, Mary Sell, chairwoman of the Jefferson County Water Advisory Committee and Didden, will discuss the challenges of protecting the public’s water supply from exposure to contamination and ensuring that the county’s existing infrastructure is adequate to prevent a widespread disruption.

Sell said she will be discussing the work her nine-member all-volunteer group is doing to advocate the importance of protecting the county’s watershed from contamination.

The Blue Ridge watershed is approximately 24 square miles and is part of the Shenandoah River watershed. The Shenandoah flows into the Potomac River at the northern edge of the watershed.

“I will talk about the good things going on in Jefferson County,” Sell said. “The best line of prevention is education … My story is a feel good story.”

Sell said installing a rain barrel, a system that collects and stores rainwater runoff from a roof, and a rain garden, which uses rainfall and storm water runoff in its design and plant selection, are the best ways to help protect the waterways and watersheds.

“People are really interested in the watershed and water quality,” she said.

For more information on the forum, contact David Didden at 304-728-8416 or david.didden@wv.gov.

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