CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The city of Charleston might need a better plan for residents who lose access to potable water, a city official told members of the East End Community Association last week.
The city has a public water emergency plan developed with the Kanawha-Putnam Emergency Planning Committee, but the plan addresses incidents in which isolated areas would be left without access to water -- not a widespread area, as was the case with the Jan. 9 chemical spill into the Elk River near West Virginia American Water's treatment plant.
The chemical spill left about 300,000 people in nine counties without water. Residents were told only to use water for flushing toilets and putting out fires.
"We did not really have a good, detailed plan as far as if we lost the plant partially or totally and still had to maintain all of the services that we were providing here," Grant Gunnoe, the city's homeland security and emergency management services director, told the East End group.
Part of the city's plan, developed more than a year ago, addresses a mass loss of access to water in the event the Bluestone Dam should break. If that happened, Gunnoe said, downtown Charleston would be flooded and West Virginia American Water's treatment plant taken out.
But that plan assumes that the area would be evacuated, Gunnoe said.
"Whether you have water for them or not would not be a big issue," Gunnoe said.
The Bluestone Dam is located on the upper New River and was built to prevent flooding in Charleston and the rest of the Kanawha Valley. For more than 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers has been making upgrades to the dam, which was found to be below its most recent standards.
Charleston Deputy Mayor Rod Blackstone said emergency preparations for both those kinds of situations gave responders tools to respond to the spill.
"To the extent that there is preparation for those two, we got something that was in the middle of that," Blackstone said. "I don't know that anybody had a game plan for a chemical contamination."
After every emergency, officials reevaluate their preparedness plans. While the dam preparedness plan estimated the number of people potentially affected, the chemical spill brought it to light, Gunnoe said. The city, along with the committee, will have to take more into consideration for its water plan, Gunnoe said.
"We do not have detailed plan for this large of an event, for it to affect nine counties," Gunnoe said. "It could have been much worse. If the water supply would have been totally cut off to where you had no sanitation or fire protection, you'd have more to deal with."