"At some point you can't expect folks to do more with less," said Kessler, D-Marshall.
He noted that the state Division of Corrections has been exempt from recent budget cuts.
"Why? That's because they perform such an important governmental function to keep us safe. We need to make sure the murderers aren't roaming the streets. And it's the same with the water," Kessler said. "If the water has the potential to harm our families and our children and our people, we're going to fund it appropriately so that they can do their jobs."
Following the Jan. 9 chemical leak, the state relied heavily on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information on the coal-processing chemical, Crude MCHM, that contaminated the Elk. The CDC quickly developed the 1 part per million threshold for Crude MCHM that is considered safe in drinking water. After several days of silence regarding questions about its standard, the CDC backtracked and said that pregnant women should not drink the water until there is no Crude MCHM in it.
The CDC's budget in fiscal 2013 was its smallest since at least 2010. Adjusted for inflation, the CDC's budget in fiscal 2013, which ended Sept. 30, was more than $1.1 billion less than it was in 2010, a decline of more than 15 percent. (Federal fiscal years run on a different calendar than state fiscal years.)
The CDC's budget will rise in 2014, but in both nominal and inflation-adjusted terms, it will still be smaller than it was in 2010.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry operates within the CDC. After the chemical leak, the state consulted with ATSDR to develop protocols for flushing contaminated water out of home plumbing (although the state generally disregarded ATSDR's recommendations).
The ATSDR saw its budget decline every year from 2010 to 2013. It will see an uptick in 2014, as most sequester cuts expire, but still will be funded below 2010 levels.
In 2013, the CDC gave $160 million less to state and local public health offices than it did in 2012, according to an agency fact sheet. It also cut $33 million from state and local programs to respond to natural and manmade disasters.
"We do less," said Debra Lubar, a CDC financial official, when asked the results of cuts. "What our director has often been quoted as saying is that threats are not going down and so it is concerning to not be able to grow with the public health threats."
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has said that it is working closely with the DEP and other agencies to address the Elk River contamination and to get the water system back to normal.
For a variety of technical reasons, Freedom Industries does not seem to fall under the EPA's jurisdiction, but the agency says it is examining its programs to see if they apply.
The EPA's budget also declined every year from 2010 to 2013. As a result, the agency had nearly 1,400 fewer employees in 2013 than it did in 2010.
In an email statement sent Friday, the EPA wrote that water quality monitoring is generally conducted by states, but with the support of federal grants that do things like help control pollution and support water quality management.
"The 2013 sequestration reduced federal support for state water quality programs," EPA officials wrote in the statement. "These cuts have made it harder for states to maintain their monitoring programs."
In a letter to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee written last year, former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson wrote, "Reductions under sequestration would limit assistance provided to states and tribes to ensure safe and clean water, including ... protecting rivers and streams from industrial and municipal pollution discharges."
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., was the lone member of West Virginia's congressional delegation to respond to a request left Friday evening for comment for this article.
"There's no doubt that mindless budget cuts in recent years have taken their toll on agencies responsible for emergency preparedness and response," Rahall said in an email statement. "These cuts have had a real impact on our people and have unquestionably hurt our businesses and economy."
Reach David Gutman at david.gut...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.