This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has nearly $6 billion to award in loans and grants for water and wastewater projects across the nation.

Nowhere in West Virginia is more deserving of a portion of that funding than a regional water project that would serve Wyoming, McDowell and Mingo counties through R.D. Bailey Lake.

That area needs $115.3 million to bring potable water to a three-county area that would include the municipalities of Pineville, Oceana, Welch, Iaeger, Gilbert, Hanover and Justice, including more than 3,000 customers in McDowell County where the new federal prison near Welch is expected to double the city’s daily water consumption once it opens next year.

Once operational, the treatment plant would serve more customers than the city of Charleston.

The USDA Water and Environmental Program, thanks to additional help from the Federal Recovery Act, will be helping to fund some 3,000 projects around the country. This is certainly one project the grantors need to strongly consider.

Quality water is the most valuable resource any area could have, and many areas in this region have been living without it for far too long. At risk have been their health, safety and economic prosperity.

One proponent, Dr. Sam Muscari Sr., who is also a Wyoming County commissioner, attributes many of the Hanover area’s health problems to the drinking water. One could easily argue the same regarding economic problems. What employer would want to locate in an area that can’t offer its employees potable water? And even fire safety has been a concern, with a lack of the water necessary to stop fires from spreading.

This could be an even more expensive project if proponents weren’t thinking of it in regional terms. But, thankfully, they are, and spreading it across the three counties will lower construction costs per customer and, eventually, water bills. As a bonus, the tri-county effort makes the project more appealing for those federal and state agencies which would provide such funding.

The state is already on board, and it appears a small portion of the funding could come from federal Abandoned Mine Lands money. It is our hope that the organizers of this most necessary project will take advantage of the federal government’s current situation and seek this federal water project funding now.

“I think we should strike while the iron is hot. This opportunity may never come again in our lifetimes,” said Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming.

He’s a absolutely right. Let’s not wait until the federal well runs dry before we seek to fulfill our most dire needs. This is certainly one of them.

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