CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin wants West Virginia American Water to provide bottled water to the nine counties where tap water was contaminated by the Elk River chemical leak earlier this month.
Tomblin wrote to Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American, Thursday afternoon, after a clean-water protest at the state Capitol.
Following the protest, Tomblin and his staff met privately with five protesters to discuss the need to continue delivering bottled water to rural communities affected by the chemical leak.
Tomblin's letter requests that water be provided even though all "do not use" orders have been lifted and tap water has officially been declared safe.
"To date, more than 17.5 million bottles of water have been distributed to residents in the nine affected counties, at an estimated cost of $889,575 to the state," Tomblin wrote. "My staff continues to receive calls from constituents and organizations requesting bottled water be made available in their communities. To help address this need, I have asked West Virginia American Water Company to make available potable and bottled water to West Virginians in the affected areas."
The water company said it is complying with the governor's request.
"At the time this letter was received, West Virginia American Water had already committed to procuring 20 additional tractor-trailer loads of bottled water, at the request of the governor via a phone call earlier today," spokeswoman Laura Jordan wrote. "This will bring the company's total bottled water contribution to 33 truckloads at a cost of approximately $132,000."
Jennifer Sayre, Kanawha County manager, said Thursday evening that Tomblin's office had told her four truckloads of bottled water would arrive by Friday morning.
Earlier this month, the water company drew criticism when it distributed at least two tankers of water filled from the contaminated Charleston-based system.
Tomblin recently sought aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration. The Governor's Office announced Thursday evening that the SBA request had been granted.
A week ago Monday, Tomblin said it is a personal decision to use or not use tap water. Since then, he has made almost no public appearances connected to the water crisis.
The statement about water usage didn't sit well with the protesters, who noted there is significant time and money involved in getting bottled water, especially in poorer, rural areas.
"That personal decision involves an expense," said Rob Goodwin, a volunteer with the West Virginia Clean Water Hub. "We were very clear that, as long as it's a personal decision for people to drink the water, as the governor said, folks that cannot afford to buy bottled water are going to need water brought to them."
The Clean Water Hub sprang up after the Jan. 9 chemical leak to try to help continue water distribution to communities in need.
Goodwin said the group has been focused on getting water to smaller communities, such as Van, Mammoth, Paint Creek, Prenter and Cabin Creek.
The protest was organized by WV Citizen Action for Real Enforcement (CARE).
Johanna de Graffenreid, a CARE coordinator, said the meeting with the governor was very productive and that they've requested an additional meeting, to discuss "the longstanding lack of regulatory enforcements and lack of access to clean drinking water here in the state."
De Graffenreid presented Tomblin's office with a petition asking the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to take over mine inspections from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Chuck Nelson, a retired underground coal miner from Glen Daniel, said the DEP is not doing its job protecting water sources from mining.
"You live out in the coalfields, you're [forgotten] about, you're not going to see the DEP come, and they don't do anything anyway," Nelson said. "We're fed up with it. We've been living with it too long, and we're the ones that've got to pay the price."
The three-pronged protest began Thursday morning outside the Charleston Civic Center, where about 35 people protested the West Virginia Coal Mining Symposium, which was taking place inside.
The symposium, sponsored by the West Virginia Coal Association, was closed to media this year, for the first time in recent memory.