SIGHTLINE stories are collections of resources, references, and articles published by The WV Independent Observer to inform community discussion on key issues. This SIGHTLINE covers topics surrounding the waters of Jefferson County:
- What is karst topography
- What agencies and regulations are responsible for maintaining water quality
- Industrial activity and water quality
The connection between groundwater quality and surface activity is undeniable but often underappreciated. After every hard rain, every winter snowstorm, every spring flood surface contaminants, like car oil on roads, pesticides and fertilizer runoff, and industrial contaminants, are washed away. But they have to go somewhere.
In the Shenandoah Valley, recognizing this connection between surface contamination and groundwater contamination is even more relevant because of the prevalence of karst topography.
Industrial Development and Water Quality
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) is responsible for overseeing programs meant to protect water resources from pollution and degradation. Ideally, the WVDEP is able to balance sustainable development with practices that ensure the preservation of water quality or current and future use. Relevant programs include those overseeing stormwater management.
In Jefferson County, some residents have expressed concerns that WVDEP’s oversight is insufficient to protect the water underlying their property from the threat of pollutants from the nearby Rockwool factory. In early 2021, a group of local residents hired experts to test their water to establish a record to use in possible future legal action.
The water quality monitoring program organized by local residents revealed signs of potential water contamination in late 2021. Tests of an Elk Branch spring in September 2021 showed a 20-fold increase in aluminum that month compared to prior months, according to reports shared with government officials in Harpers Ferry, Bolivar, and the Jefferson County Health Department. Elks Run and its tributary, Elk Branch, are the primary source of drinking water for Harpers Ferry and Bolivar. Aluminum’s health effects have been widely studied and associated with neurological disorders.
The Harpers Ferry Water Works has indicated that it plans to start testing for aluminum at the water system intake near the mouth of Elks Run. This testing is scheduled to begin in November and will be a part of its regular quarterly testing schedule going forward. This source-side testing would be in addition to the testing that the Water Works already performs to the water leaving its treatment plan to ensure that its own processes are not putting aluminum into the raw drinking water.By Staff Contributor