DHHR may need more money for water safety, lawmakers told
As the state Department of Health and Human Resources moves to implement the state’s new drinking water safety legislation, agency officials are telling lawmakers they may need additional funding to do the job.
“If we’re really going to do this program and do it right, it’s going to cost money,” said Ann Goldberg, director of public health regulations for the DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health.
Goldberg appeared Tuesday before an interim meeting of the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Water Resources to update lawmakers on the bureau’s work writing new rules to implement its portion of SB373, the bill passed to toughen regulations on chemical storage tanks and improve protection of drinking water following the January spill at Freedom Industries in Charleston.
Under the law, the bureau must oversee the creation of new source water protection plans by water systems across the state. Those systems must also update their protection plans every three years.
Goldberg said that lawmakers set aside $1.5 million for the bureau’s work, but that the agency’s current thinking — subject to approval by DHHR’s hierarchy and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin — is the first year of the program will cost nearly $1.9 million. Projected costs could come down to less than $1 million in future years, once the initial protection plans are filed and reviewed by the agency.
To try to ease the agency’s work, Goldberg said that the bureau plans to propose dividing the state by watershed groups and having plans filed on a staggered basis, rather than all at once by the legislative deadline of July 1, 2016.
“The good news is that once we’ve gone through this process once for all these water utilities, they will have a very good foundation with which to do their every three year updates and that will make it much less costly” for the agency in reviewing the plans, Goldberg said.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at email@example.com or 304-348-1702.