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DEP wants more tools for water management

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia regulators want lawmakers to give them more tools to help understand how the state's water is used and to protect the state's abundant supply.

The state Department of Environmental Protection says it needs changes in state law to improve data collection and eliminate water use reporting loopholes. The DEP also wants adequate funding for stream gages and new money for digital mapping that would help with flood control and other preventative measures.

DEP officials included the recommendations in its first-ever statewide Water Resources Management Plan. The plan was submitted to lawmakers late last month.

Brian Carr, program manager for water use in the DEP's Division of Water and Waste Management, briefed lawmakers on the plan during legislative interim meetings this week.

The plan has been nearly a decade in the making, and is part of the follow-up efforts from state laws in 2004 and 2008 intended to help West Virginia protect the quantity of water in its rivers, streams and lakes.

Among the new recommendations from the DEP:

  • Amend state law's definition of "large quantity" water user to lower the threshold for water-use reporting from 750,000 gallons per month to 300,000 gallons per month.
  • "Having information about this broader universe of water withdrawals would aid the state in water resource management planning and better equip decision makers should drought-driven withdrawal or conservation restrictions become necessary," the DEP said in its report. The DEP noted the Legislative Auditor made a similar recommendation in 2011.

  • Rewrite the law to eliminate variances that allow large water users to avoid reporting annually their water withdrawals if they certify that the figure for a given year varied no more than 10 percent from the previous year.
  • The DEP said the variances have resulted in 20 percent errors in total statewide water use. "This wide discrepancy complicates database calculations, and results in less-than-desirable survey accuracy, which hampers the DEP's efforts to study, develop and protect the state's water resources," the agency said.

  • Continue adequate funding for stream gages and amend state law to require notification to the state Oversight Commission on Water Resources if any partner agency becomes unable to continue its share of funding so that alternative money can be found. "The only way to determine the total quantity of water in the state is through calculations based on the data provided by the stream gaging network," the DEP said.
  • Provide $1.2 million in new money for light detection and ranging (LIDAR) mapping for the 70 percent of the state that hasn't been analyzed in this manner. LIDAR is remote-sensing technology that measures distances using reflected laser light.
  • Statewide LIDAR coverage would enable scientists and engineers to produce accurate flood plain modeling and precise runoff calculations, identify mine portals, delineate wetlands, calculate slopes of valleys and stream beds, among other uses, the DEP said.

    Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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