Elk River

A chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston, above, affected about 100,000 water customers, or 300,000 people total. Residents of the nine affected counties were warned not to bathe, brush their teeth or wash their clothes.

The WVU Institute for Water Security and Science has received a grant to help West Virginians better understand their water through testing and community engagement.

“It’s important that we have effective drinking water in West Virginia for many reasons”, said Jason Hubbart, director of the Institute for Water Security and Science. “One is to bring people that drink water, which is about all of us, peace of mind that the water they’re drinking is safe and secure.”

Hubbart, who is also a professor of hydrology and water quality, said that a way to talk to and educate people is through testing, as it can give quantitative evidence about the quality of their water.

“I very much believe that the way to encourage water safety and security in our state, but elsewhere, is through education,” Hubbart said. “So really this is all about what WVU does best.”

WVU received the $150,000 grant through the Equitrans Midstream Foundation and will host their community workshops where the corporation conducts its natural gas operations.

The program will expand over three years, with the first year of the program focusing on Marion and Harrison Counties and the second year focusing on Tyler and Wetzel Counties. For the third year, the team will work with Doddridge and Ritchie Counties.

Participants in these countries will be equipped with a drinking water test kit and will be able to interpret their results.

According to Hubbart, they are going to be initially testing for dissolved solids, conductivity, hardness, E. Coli, sulfate, calcium, magnesium, iron, fluoride and pH.

“I want there to be flexibility about the whole thing, so that we can adjust to meet the needs of the population — the needs of the people,” Hubbart said.

Hubbart said that they are currently working on more grants to help spread their program across the state.

Due to COVID-19, the testing and workshops may be delayed to later this year.

“It is so much less about science and the numbers and publishing, and so much more about the people and giving something of value to our citizens — taking care of our people and making sure that they have safe water,” Hubbart said.