Clarksburg Water Board: Government agencies issue ‘confusing and thoughtlessly demanding’ orders

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Clarksburg Water Board officials reject claims by the DHHR and EPA that timely notifications were not made when lead was discovered in the water system. On WAJR’s Talk of the Town, water board president Paul Howe said the Bureau of Public Health conducted lead testing between June and September of 2020, but waited until May of 2021 to notify health officials who relayed the findings to water board officials.

State health commissioner, Dr. Ayne Amjad told WAJR News the testing was conducted after children with higher than normal lead levels were discovered as part of the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

“West Virginia Bureau of Public Health did this test back in September of 2020,” Howe said,” For some reason they waited nine months before they notified our regional health department which relayed the message to us that we had found three issues in our system.”

Howe said for the last several years it has been procedure to replace service lines when watermains are replaced or lead services are found during normal repair and maintenance. When the water board was notified about the problem the reaction was swift because of the procedures in place.

“We were notified on a Friday afternoon about 3:30 and by Monday afternoon we had gone to all three properties, dug into the street, identified the lines being lead and removed all three of them,” Howe said,” To remove any potential lead contamination from those lines, those homes.”

Water system testing by the DHHR, EPA and the Clarksburg Water Board has continued since the May notification.

On July 2, 2021, the DHHR issued an administrative order calling for the Clarksburg Water Board to conduct additional sampling, increase the frequency of monitoring, install a corrosion control system and an alternate source of drinking water and/or point of use filters for homeowners where elevated lead levels are known from sample results and where known or suspected lead service lines exist.

The administrative order was followed by a Notice of Violation on July 14, 2021 saying the efforts of the water board were not timely enough. The order carries a penalty of $5,000-per-day until the water board is in full compliance.

On July 15, 2021, The EPA issued an order to the water board echoing the content of the July 2 administrative order from the DHHR. The EPA order also calls for an alternate source of drinking water and/or point-of-use filters certified for lead removal for homeowners where elevated lead levels are known or where suspected lead service lines exist.

Both the EPA and DHHR say the Clarksburg Water Board has not complied with the July 2 administrative order.

Howe calls that order “confusing and thoughtlessly demanding,” but says they have complied. One area of contention is the corrosion control system. Howe says they have years of data to prove the water does not meet corrosive standards and has invited government officials to inspect their lab and review the data, but they have declined.

“If it was so important now, why wasn’t it important enough nine months ago to alert our system so we could have started this program earlier,” Howe said.

Howe said they have developed a written plan and have implemented it. He says the water board has taken this issue very seriously and acted quickly to correct problems.

“To say that the water board is not communicating with them is erroneous at best,” Howe said,” Their agency has been unsupportive and indifferent to the many challenges the water board is being presented with right now and our efforts to comply with this order have been 100-percent.”

Howe said the actions of regulators will hurt customers of the Clarksburg Water Board. The Clarksburg Water Board serves nearly 40,000 people in communities from Bridgeport, Stonewood to the Hepzibah PSD.

“This is just going to cost our rate payers a lot of money because now we have to deal with a federal agency instead of our local representatives,” Howe said,” It’s really troublesome.”

Howe assured residents the water is monitored, tested regularly and is safe to drink.

The water board has retained the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson to appeal the orders. The board has 45 days to file an appeal.