Letter Re: Charleston West Virginia’s Drinking Water Crisis

Mr. Rawles,
I noticed your reference to the water situation in the Charleston, West Virginia (Kanawha Valley) area. As of Saturday when I’m writing this, the water is suitable for flushing toilets and fire fighting but that is all. The town I live in (St. Albans) has their own independent supply, but most of the surrounding area is fed from the centralized West Virginia American Water Plant in Charleston. One plant serves a very large geographic area. I know when I first finished mechanical engineering school I could only find a job working for a small civil engineering company. We had to survey a water line expansion in Boone county near the small towns of Van, Twilight, and Bandytown. Fairly deep in the southern coal fields but not nearly as deep (feels kind of like a different world being raised near the valley) as McDowell county and the low volume coal fields. I could not believe the West Virginia American plant in Charleston was going to serve that far away from the city.

St. Albans has lines out the door at the laundromat and restaurants,. Even the Krogers [grocery store] was stripped bare, even of the toilet paper. The parking lots of the stores remind me of Christmas time when I was a kid in the late 1970s, prior to many of the strip malls being built and taking business from the business districts.

If the water had been cut off completely, unfortunately it probably would have very quickly required deployment of the National Guard. I passed one water relief station where they were giving out bottled water and it had a sheriff eyeballing everyone that went by even if you did not stop for water.

Making large complex systems helps for economies of scale, but a single point failure makes them far from robust. – Paul in West Virginia

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