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Events to Commemorate Anniversary of Water Crisis

Dan Heyman and Public News Service

Events on Friday, Jan. 9, will commemorate the one-year anniversary of the tap water contamination crisis in West Virginia – just as the legislature gets ready to revisit the issue.

Workshops, receptions, public meetings, a vigil and a film will be held Friday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. in and around the Culture Center at the state Capitol in Charleston.

Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, says her organization is hoping to hear from lawmakers and leaders because the Elk River chemical spill was a historic event.

It left people terrified and furious when they realized how vulnerable their drinking water was.

"Every one of us affected by the contamination event on Jan. 9th will never forget that day,” she says. “We'll never forget where we were when we got the message that the water was unsafe to use."

The annual legislative session is about to start. A second look at the water safety law passed during the crisis last year is high on the agenda.

All the commemorative events Friday are free and open to the public.

New tank safety and drinking water protections are still being implemented.

Rosser says the incoming Republican leadership at the Legislature has said it may want to change some parts of the new law.

"There is intention to reopen Senate Bill 373,” she says. “So we do expect the bill to be reopened, reconsidered, and that's very important for us to keep an eye on and to keep citizens informed."

Rosser stresses the law was written to have a great deal of public involvement, in part because people were so upset during the crisis.

She points to the requirement that drinking water systems look at possible threats to their water supplies and describe how they might deal with problems.

All of the state's water systems are required to have those plans done this year. And Rosser says the public was written into how that's to be done.

"To be involved in the planning process, as well as be notified of these public hearings,” she adds. “So we will be seeing approximately a 120 to 140 of these plans in the next 18 months."

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