The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 12, 2014

Counting blessings


“Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.”

 — Rime of the Ancient Mariner




The past week proved to be a test of endurance as well as patience for West Virginians.

First, the cold punch of temperatures on the minus end of the thermometer, and dealing with the frustration of burst water pipes, then the widespread problems created by the chemical spill in the Elk River.

We were struck, and a little proud, after watching the videos of those affected. The burst pipes and, in particular, the widespread disruption caused by the chemical spill brought out a wry sense of humor and calm resignation in most of the folks we saw interviewed.

There were some who were angry, and who could blame them? But most of the people our reporters and photographers talked to seemed to take it all in stride, and tried to do what they could to help, not just neighbors, but strangers, too.

It was a reminder that we West Virginians are a tough and resilient people, as well as charitable. Some of us may not have much, but we’re willing to share what we have, even if it’s just showing our good nature in the face of adversity.

We also thought that state and local officials, in particular Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, acted decisively and properly as the scope of the chemical spill disaster grew apparent.

Some, with the perfect clarity of hindsight, may say officials and the governor overreacted. But we need to remember that nobody really knew much about the consequences of contamination of a water supply by 4-methylcyclohexane methanol.

We feel the governor and other officials acted prudently given the unknown nature of the effects of the chemical.

In addition, we believe some sympathy is in order for West Virginia American Water Co. The company and its officials are an easy target for criticism, but at this point we see nothing they could have done differently to prevent or limit the impact of the spill.

That may change, of course, as we learn more about exactly what happened. But we hope a sober investigation into the disaster will yield more than accusations, and become an educational experience on not just how to prevent a similar accident, but also something that changes the way we prepare for one.

No doubt many of you, as are we, are giving more thought to preparedness and stocking up on water and other emergency supplies. Maybe, in some ways, the bitter cold and the spill will prove beneficial in dealing with whatever nature or man throws at us in the future.

We also began thinking some about our access to clean, pure water. Granted, in southern West Virginia, we have our regular aggravation known as a “boil-water advisory,” but compared to what occurred last week, we think we have a better perspective on that inconvenience.

We mostly take good, drinkable water for granted. Around the world, that is not necessarily the case. In fact, water scarcity or drinkable water availability is a chronic problem for an estimated 2.8 billion people.

The blame game is about to begin, and we understand it is inevitable following an incident such as we’ve experienced around Charleston. Yet today, we’re going to set aside some time to think about having clean water, and heat, a roof over our family, and the kind of neighbors who care enough to offer a hand when it counts.

In other words, we’re going to count our blessings.