I know a lot of us have been overwhelmed with information (good and bad) over the last few weeks. The question keeps coming up, but what can we do. Well Nailah and I attended an awesome meeting put together this evening by CAPE (check them out at https://www.facebook.com/pages/CAPECitizens-Actively-Protecting-the-Environment/235844596588703) and a few other groups. The panel was helpful in explaining the basics of lobbying as a concerned resident and provided a few examples of how we can do a direct action to help the cause of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of all in our community. I know we are all busy, but here are a few things you can do over the weekend that can make a difference and won’t take much time. I have written this after listening very attentively to others, so the commentary herein is my own. I do not mean to impose my views on any particular individual or group. With my background in City and Regional Planning and Law, my ears have been burning. I just wanted to share some thoughts. I plan on getting the kids involved as well, it’s a civics lesson in action! Besides our “leaders” needed to hear from all their constituents young and old.
1. Stay informed. I know there’s a lot of information floating around, and some disagreement about what is the “truth.” Well the truth is relative. But be aware of at least the basics. Know what the issues are, who are the major and minor players, and find out about next steps. Things are moving fast. An informed citizenry is one of our strongest tools to ensuring our safety, health, and welfare.
2. Contact your Delegate and attend the public hearing Monday at 5:30 in the house chambers on Senate Bill 373. if you wish to speak you need to be there closer to 5pm to sign up. Prepare a brief (no more than 2min) statement. Anecdotes of this experience are good. They need to know the human impact. You can also submit a written statement which will be added into the record. This is the bill that passed the Senate this week. Note: This bill directs DEP to take certain actions that actually are within the purview of DHHR under the Safe Drinking Water Act (See below). Send an email or call your delegate if you cannot attend. Look them up on Facebook or twitter, and make sure they hear your voice. It is called public service for a reason…they work for the people. Most have been great about listening and taking feedback. Also, let them know if you think they are doing a good job and that you support them. Change is not easy, and our Delegates need to know we support them. To steal a line from High School Musical…we are all in this together.
3. Contact the West Virginia Public Service Commission and file an informal complaint regarding your issues with West Virginia American Water. Whether it is poor quality of service, drinking water quality, or issues with rates and charges, this is an agency which may be of some help. You can submit a comment here or file an informal complaint I attached a document below that I received tonight with lots of great information about the informal complaint process and why this is important. I know some are planning to boycott but the Public Service Commission is an agency that can take action regarding WVAMW and its failure to provide quality drinking water. As with your landlord (if you rent) legally you cannot just simply stop paying. I’m not sure if there is an escrow capability of the PSC, where they collect our fees until WVAMW remedies the situation, but definitely contact them and file a complaint. WVAMW needs to be held accountable, from rude and uninformed customer service agents to their technicians giving people conflicting information depending on the time and day you call.
4. Contact our US Representatives and Senators. On Tuesday the Committee on Environment and Public Works’ water and wildlife subcommittee will hold a hearing. Scheduled to testify are West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman, Natural Resources Defense Council official Erik Olson and Putnam Public Service District General Manager Michael McNulty, among others. Senators Manchin and Rockefeller need to hear from us. Even though Senator Rockefeller is retiring he has been a key advocate for the valley in this matter. Also, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold its counterpart hearing in Charleston on Feb. 10. The committee includes two West Virginia members. They are the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Nick Rahall, and Republican Shelley Moore Capito. THEY NEED TO HEAR OUR VOICES!!!
5. Going along with #3 and #4, request an investigation into DHHR’s failure to adequately enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act. WV DHHR’s Environmental Engineering Division is the primary agency designated to carry out the provisions of the federal “Safe Drinking Water Act,” and for assuring that the state’s 2,000 public drinking water supplies provide a reliable supply of safe drinking water to approximately 1,387,000 individuals. We are 22% of there constituency…nearly a quarter of the state has been without potable water for three weeks. For whatever reason, the Governor and DHHR seem to defer to WVAMW. Federal Law does not allow for our state government to abdicate its responsibility to protect us by enforcing. We need to request proper funding for updated surface water assessments as well as source water protection plans with adequate community input and participation. REGIONAL PLANNING AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT IS A MUST!!! FEMA has required the state to shoulder 75% of the cost of distributing water because of the “safe” determination. The water company is not the final arbiter of what is “safe.” The water company did not close its intake valve nor has it changed the carbon filters despite all of us changing the filters throughout our homes. We have questions, and we need answers. It has been reported that it will take up to four months for them to change the filters. Did I mention the backup carbon filters were overwhelmed during the spill?(See ) Something needs to be done so that this does not happen again. Many of our local representatives are getting up to speed, this is another thing to bring to their attention.
6. Join a group, attend a meeting, or just show up. There’s a town hall meeting Monday night at 7pm at First Baptist Church – 432 Shrewsbury St, Charleston, WV 25301 I know we are all busy with work, family, etc. but there’s strength in numbers. Yes the water may be getting back to normal for some, and eventually this too shall pass, but we need to be vigilant to ensure that such a colossal mess does not occur again. We the people also bear some of the brunt of this epic failure…we need to make sure people are asking the right questions and findings solutions that are sustainable and provide a holistic approach instead of putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. We have to keep the people elected to lead…honest.
This is just my list of things to do. Other ways to get involved include water donation drives. And making sure schools have materials they need during this crisis. Our children are critical to our future success and growth. They are the greatest investment we can make…we need to make each school has enough water, hand sanitizer, bleach wipes etc. Contact your local PTA to see if there is a needs list for the water crisis or in general