A coal barge travels down the Kanawha River Friday evening. The recent chemical leak that contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 residents of the Kanawha Valley highlights West Virginia's long history with threats to its streams, rivers and lakes.
The state Capitol looms over the Kanawha River in Charleston. More than 40 percent of the streams in West Virginia, by mileage, are listed as impaired on the most recent West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection report. There is not enough data, though, to evaluate another third of the state's streams.
The Elk River flows past the Charleston Civic Center and into the Kanawha River in the middle of downtown Charleston. West Virginia American Water's water intake is just up the Elk from here, and Freedom Industries, the site of the Jan. 9 chemical leak into the Elk, is another mile and a half upstream from the intake.
Canoers and a kayaker paddle up the Elk River on Jan. 10, the day after the chemical leak was discovered. The paddlers were heading toward Freedom Industries to collect water samples.