charleston — West Virginia American Water completed a series of tabletop exercises last week simulating responses to source water contamination events affecting its systems.
The exercises brought together key stakeholders in source water protection and related emergency response efforts to practice the company’s contingency plan and the associated multi-agency response for a source water contamination event. These important drills, over the course of four days in Beckley, Huntington, Charleston and Sutton, introduced hypothetical scenarios affecting the water sources for each of the company’s eight water treatment plants.
“Tabletop exercises are incredibly important opportunities to gather key utility, regulatory and emergency management personnel to discuss their roles and responses to simulated emergency situations in a stress-free environment,” said Mark Nelson, principal and senior hydrologist at Horsley Witten Group, who served as the tabletop exercise facilitator and has worked extensively with source water protection planning in West Virginia.
In each scenario, participants worked through water quality monitoring, investigative steps, risk assessment, operational contingencies, environmental response, public notification, laboratory testing, water system recovery and more, while discussing timeframes, resources, staffing and communication. Participants included representatives from West Virginia American Water, WVDHHR Bureau for Public Health, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Public Service Commission of West Virginia, U.S. EPA Region III, West Virginia National Guard 35th Civil Support Team, ORSANCO, U.S. Coast Guard, county and city emergency management, 911 centers, municipal utility and fire departments, local health care providers and disaster relief agencies.
“This week’s tabletop exercises were extremely valuable in practicing our contingency plans for responding to events that we hope never happen. However, the risks are very real to water systems that rely on West Virginia’s streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs to provide clean drinking water to communities,” said Erica Pauken, source water protection state lead for West Virginia American Water. “Our most valuable takeaways were the need for constant communication between responders and the challenges of communicating with the public in a dynamic event with incomplete and developing information. We also gained greater awareness of the limitations of testing equipment capabilities and associated timeframes to identify and measure levels of contamination in water.”
Pauken added that West Virginia American Water’s continuous source water monitoring panels and water quality laboratory equipment are more advanced than any other water utility in the state. The company developed and installed source water monitoring panels at each of its water treatment plant intakes in 2015 as part of the company’s source water protection planning program. The company’s Charleston and Huntington water treatment plant laboratories also have highly advanced analytical equipment and trained laboratory technicians to perform in-house, immediate water quality testing, whereas other water utilities must rely on commercial or state labs for testing that can take longer to provide results.
Learn more about West Virginia American Water’s source water protection program activities, including source water monitoring and event response protocols, at https://amwater.com/wvaw/water-quality/source-water-protection/ongoing-program-activities.