There are no water intakes directly downstream from where the spill took place.
Laura Jordan, a spokeswoman for West Virginia American Water, issued a statement to reassure the public the slurry spill would not impact the company's regional drinking water plant in Charleston -- which is located about a mile upstream from where the Elk River empties into the Kanawha.
"We have been in contact with the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, which concurs that they do not anticipate any impact to our plant on the Elk River," Jordan said.
This is at least the third slurry incident since 2010 at the Kanawha Eagle cite. In late November, black water was discharged into South Hollow Stream, and ended up in Fields Creek. The company was fined $663.
In October of 2010, there was a slurry line break that discharged into Spicelick and Joes Creek, impacting about 3 miles of stream. The company was fined $22,400.
On Tuesday, Huffman said fines alone were not enough of a deterrent to prevent spills.
"A some point companies will just pay. We have to do more than that, we can't just send them a bill and say you have to pay this to continue operating, there have to be fundamental changes made at a facility that's had multiple incidents," Huffman said. "Maybe there needs to be a top down review of all their processes. Maybe there's a cultural change within that company that needs to take place that has more of an emphasis on safety, environmental controls, things like that."
He mentioned increasing the size of secondary containment and requiring alarms to be certified as possible steps to be taken.
Coalfield citizens have for years complained about blackwater spills and worried about the dangers of coal-slurry impoundments and the potential consequences of injecting coal slurry underground.
A little more than four years ago, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement issued a report cautioning the DEP was not taking strong enough enforcement actions to cut down on blackwater spills from mining operations.
"The team found that existing policies and procedures are not effective in reducing or preventing blackwater spills," said the OSM report, issued in October 2009.
DEP officials rejected the OSM's suggestion the DEP re-examine its rules and policies on blackwater spills, arguing the incidents were on the decline.
"The violation rate for blackwater spills is going down," Tom Clarke, then the DEP's mining director, said at the time. "The figures show it's a declining problem."
After a series of blackwater spills from 2001 to 2003, OSM had launched a review of how well the DEP was policing such incidents.
Among other things, the 2009 OSM report found it hard, using DEP inspection reports and databases, to definitively quantify the number of blackwater spills. When spills occur, state inspectors cite companies for violating different regulations, and inspection narratives don't always explain clearly what happened, OSM said.
The lack of clear data may lead some operators to face less-serious enforcement action than they should and may hurt the DEP's ability to cite companies for a "pattern of violation," which can lead to operations being shut down and operators being blocked from receiving new permits.
OSM investigators also found that other strategies -- including settlement agreements with mine operators and federal criminal prosecution -- don't always work in stopping future blackwater spills.
"It appears that the consequences for violating the law, even when the violations are intentional, willful and blatant, are not significant enough to be a deterrent," the OSM report said.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.
Reach David Gutman at david.gut...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.