Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

2014 WATER CRISIS ; Official Says Company Could Have Closed Intake

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

2014 WATER CRISIS ; Official Says Company Could Have Closed Intake

Article excerpt

West Virginia American Water Company could have closed its Elk River drinking water intake after the Freedom Industries chemical spill three years ago if the company had been producing and storing enough water to deal with increased demand during a cold snap just before the spill, the state Public Service Commission was told Thursday in the first in-person testimony in the PSC's long-delayed investigation of the Kanawha Valley water crisis. Testifying for the group Advocates for a Safe Water System, Fred Stottlemyer, former general manager of the South Putnam Public Service District, said he was "astounded" when he learned West Virginia American had not been producing treated water up to the plant's capacity in the days before the spill.

"The operators did not increase production to meet demand," Stottlemyer testified.

Stottlemyer said that if the company had kept production higher and closer to plant capacity in response to the cold weather - when residents were using more water to let faucets drip and avoid frozen pipes - West Virginia American could have temporarily shut down its Elk River intake pumps to either let the worst of the Freedom spill pass by or at least allow more time to sort out the best way to respond to the spill.

"There was the ability to shut down the intake for some period of time to allow the operators to better assess the situation ... rather than just pumping the contamination out into the system," Stottlemyer told the commission.

The testimony echoed arguments made in court records in the now- settled federal class-action lawsuit against West Virginia American.

Lawyers for residents and businesses who had sued West Virginia American, citing water company records and their own expert testimony, had argued that the Kanawha Valley Treatment Plant's intake could have been shut down while the spill passed by the plant, avoiding the need for a "do not use" order that lasted up to a week for some customers. …

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