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University of Minnesota

Pretty Big Trouble in a Pretty Small Place

January 27, 2014Patrick NunnallyRiversComments Off on Pretty Big Trouble in a Pretty Small Place

Most of us here in the Midwest don’t think a lot about West Virginia.  It’s over there in the east somewhere, kind of hilly, got lots of coal, right?  I used to have a friend from West Virginia who regaled us with the challenge to “Name five Famous West Virginians.” (As I recall, Jerry West, Mary Lou Retton, Don Knotts, and Soupy Sales made the list.  I forget who else.)

But West Virginia made plenty of water news earlier this month when it was discovered that a chemical used to clean coal had spilled into the Elk River, near the largest water treatment plant in the state.  Tap water was cut off for nearly a week to some 300,000 people.  No drinking water, no water for cleaning, for bathing, for cooking.  No water. Period.  Except for bottled water and water trucked in from elsewhere.  Although the national news attention has mostly died down (short attention span as we know), the stories that are continuing indicate that life is far from back to normal.

It shouldn’t take a major spill and crisis to remind us of the importance of rivers, as sources of drinking water as well as all the other benefits they bring.  It’s probably not surprising that it does, though.  West Virginia is in the Mississippi River watershed, so nominally this story is “our business,” but it’s not a story that is central to understanding the state of waters and the Mississippi River right here where we live in Minnesota.  So, given that this crisis occurred while school was out for the semester break, and in the spirit of ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), here are some links to online sources you should track to learn more.  And in the spirit of our mission of teaching and learning, I’ll give you an idea of where we picked up the link.

A story from Mother Jones published shortly after the spill was discovered highlights the connections between this incident and a lax system of state and federal laws governing some dangerous chemicals.  @AmericanRivers was our source for this particular piece.

@highlyanne (Anne Jefferson) tweeted a link to a New York Times article addressing the same basic theme: lax regulations governing dangerous chemicals.

Finally, Mark Gorman (@NEMWIUpperMiss) a policy analyst for the Northeast-Midwest Institute in Washington DC posted a link to this story in the Washington Post about West Virginians’ reluctance when told they could finally use their water again.

My point with this post is not to offer exhaustive or complete coverage, but to indicate some sources, in addition to careful Google searches and the like, where additional information on a complex national story like this can be found.  We’ll post coverage like this from time to time, especially on issues where we don’t have particular expertise but can link readers to additional sources.



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