The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

February 21, 2014

After questions, Senate holds up water bill

Issues about surface and groundwater, common law vs. constitutional law and potential liability caused the Senate’s Committee on Finance to lay over a bill that would place ownership of the state’s water resources with the people of West Virginia. The bill would allow voters to decide if the state should claim that ownership in the constitution instead of only in statute as it now stands.

The bill’s author, Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said the bill would protect West Virginia from another state building a pipeline and taking water from the Ohio River, for instance. Unger said when this state seceded from Virginia, it claimed the land, but not the water. Western states are having such issues in light of severe droughts. He said a constitutional amendment claiming the waters for the people of the state is part of a three-pronged approach to ensuring the waters cannot be claimed by other states. The waters must also be inventoried and then managed, Unger said.

Senators were afraid that private wells, because they were not specifically excluded, would become the state’s property.

“The water underground has no boundaries,” said Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton “You do not own the water under your land. There’s a right of capture.”

Facemire said once a landowner drills a well, that person can pump all the water he or she wants to from the underground source, without regard for whoever else may be tapping into the same source.

Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, an attorney, said Facemire was correct. Chafin said a constitutional amendment will trump that common law and “every drop that you can imagine” will be claimed by the state. Every time anyone has a dispute about the water, the state will be involved in the suit from the federal courts on down, because it is the first party in interest, Chafin said.

He suggested having the bill studied by constitutional attorneys before it is sent to the Senate floor.

Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, referred to the recent chemical spill in the Elk River, which put some 300,000 state residents without the use of their tap water for more than a week for drinking, bathing and cleaning. Wells wanted to know if the state would have liability if it claimed to own the water constitutionally.

“Would it be our problem?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” Chafin said. “Everyone who wanted to sue would turn around and sue the State of West Virginia.”

Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said he thinks the intent of the bill is good.

“I believe the concept is the right one,” Blair said, “but it can be construed in a multitude of ways.”

— E-mail:

Text Only
Local News
  • Human remains found near White Sulphur Springs

    Law enforcement officials are investigating human remains discovered by a local resident near White Sulphur Springs on Friday afternoon, according to Greenbrier County Sheriff Jan Cahill.

    April 20, 2014

  • knine Beckley officer and K-9 partner Ciro win award from WVPCA

    They say every dog has his day, but a local pooch and his handler have had about 365 days of success.
    Cpl. Jamie Blume of the Beckley Police Department and his K-9 partner Ciro have won the 2013-2014 Officer and K-9 of the Year award from the WVPCA, according to a press release from the Beckley Police Department.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Shooting at Quality Inn injures one

    A shooting took place at the Quality Inn in Beckley on Friday night, according to Raleigh County dispatchers.

    April 20, 2014

  • Area 911 dispatchers report several fires

    Fire departments from all over Raleigh County and its surrounding areas dealt with fires Friday night, according to dispatchers.

    April 20, 2014

  • High court overturns Raleigh ruling

    An audio recording between a confidential informant and a Beckley attorney accused of selling cocaine will now be allowed into evidence, according to a West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruling.

    April 20, 2014

  • Calendar — Sunday, April 20, 2014

    April 20, 2014

  • State agency announces new WIC income guidelines

    The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Office of Nutrition Services has reported new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) income eligibility guidelines for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

    April 20, 2014

  • mthope Good Friday scene

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Service workers want voice in choice in Raleigh County Schools superintendent hiring

    The president of the Raleigh County School Service Personnel Association has asked Raleigh County Board of Education members to choose a school superintendent who will hear the concerns of service workers in the school system and involve them in the decision-making process.

    April 19, 2014

  • Two internal candidates will interview for superintendent position Monday

    Two current administrators at Raleigh County Schools will be interviewed for the position of superintendent Monday, Raleigh Board of Education members verified Friday.
    Raleigh Schools Director of Secondary Education Miller Hall and Raleigh Schools Assistant Superintendent David Price were chosen from a pool of six applicants, BOE members said.

    April 19, 2014