Protect our water

February 18, 2014

George Everett, director of environmental and legislative affairs for Duke Energy, told state lawmakers including Sen. Gene McLaurin during an oversight hearing on Monday in Raleigh that the company apologized for its massive coal ash spill into Dan River.

Sometimes, “sorry” isn’t good enough. Not when the potential impact threatens lives.

How long could you last without clean water?

Modern technology has given us many conveniences but, so far, nothing has been able to replace water.

Sure, we could do without dish washing machines. History books indicate the advent of daily showers are relatively recent; we could go back to once a week, or even less often, showers or baths. We would adjust. After all, daily showers are, truth be told, a relatively new addition to the personal hygiene regimen.

Can you imagine life without access to clean water?

Nearly 300,000 people near Charleston, W.Va., don’t have to imagine it. They are living the nightmare right now. On Jan. 9, some 10,000 gallons of a little-known chemical called MCHM leaked out of a corroded storage tank and into Elk River.

To date, officials still disagree on whether or not the water is safe to drink — instead using words such as “usable.”

A little closer to home in Eden, the U.S. Justice Department is investigating the relationship between Duke Energy and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources after a coal ash spill resulted in into Dan River resulted in an estimated 39,000 tons of coal ash mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water.

The result? A warning to avoid contact with the water. Gov. McCrory has reportedly said the water is safe to drink despite tests by the state environmental agency that have found arsenic, copper, iron and aluminum at levels above state standards for surface water quality.

Last week, the Sandhills region received a taste of what might happen if residents lost access to clean, affordable water. During winter storm Pax, thousands of people — including more than 3,500 homes in Richmond County — were without power. But the length of time — for many it was only a few to several hours — pales in comparison to what the people in Eden and Charleston are experiencing.

What would happen if the Pee Dee River, a major source of our area’s water supply, were to be contaminated? Imagine brushing your teeth, taking showers and washing dishes with bottled water on a constant basis — and to be sure, bottled water would be in high demand at local retail stores which, inevitably, would drive up prices.

All too often, government is accused of being either too business-friendly and allowing lax standards or anti-business and adopting standards too strict for companies to make a profit. Usually, lawmakers try to find a balance between the two sides, but on this issue we implore legislators to give safe, clean water the highest priority.

The head of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources promotes a “customer-friendly” environment, which seems to lean pro-business. But if that agency isn’t looking out for state residents and consumers, who is?

“Nobody is,” McLaurin said.