While the area around Charleston, West Virginia recovers from a chemical leak that shut down water supplies for a week, with ongoing concerns about water safety, another part of the state hasn’t had clean water for five months. It hasn’t made a lot of headlines, but then again the town of Bud (population 487) rarely does.
Pulling into town it’s impossible to miss the Coal Miners Memorial dedicated to the men who lost their lives supporting their families and providing coal to the rest of the world.
With a legacy like that, the people of Bud are used to a bit of hardship, and they have a culture of helping their neighbours too. It’s a good thing too, because sometimes the system that’s set up to provide them their most basic needs, like clean water, just isn’t up to the task.
Bud’s family-owned water treatment plant, Alpoca Water Works, has maintained a boiled water advisory since last September. Spokesperson Rhesa Shrewsbury (daughter of owner Patsky McKinney) told West Virginia Public Broadcasting that problems started when the company “lost” its water operator.
Local school Herndon Consolidated has been particularly hard hit by the crisis.
After months of asking the school board for bottled water and watching while 250 families went without clean water, the school’s new principal, Virginia Lusk, reached out to a Charleston organisation to see if they could help — and that’s why we were there.
The school’s drinking fountains are covered with garbage bags, taped to the metal, reminding students the water is unsafe to drink.
While we’re there, one local resident stops by to pick up some bottled water, hoping to get some of the 300 gallons sent by a North Carolina church that day before they’re gone.
The water in the toilets is a dark, coffee coloured brown, and we remove the tank in back to see what’s coming in. It’s not pretty.
The principle is quick to point out that the problem is “no one’s fault,” but that doesn’t get the water flowing.
Our guide promises her that he’ll do what he can to get water trucked down here, nearly two hours from Charleston, and the principal is grateful. She’s concerned about causing friction and says she walked into the problem when she assumed the job last fall. “It’s like I inherited a baby T-Rex,” she says.
Shrewsbury says that the eastern part of the county is stepping in to buy and operate the water plant. “They’ve been working on the water since a couple weeks before Christmas and they say it’s still going to take a couple more weeks.”
The plant is on a hill outside of town, up a steep muddy hill behind posted signs and a handwritten warning that says, “You will be arrested.”
For now….and for the last five months…not only the school but also the many families who live in this community. The only way you can brush your teeth is with bottled water.
Do you want to put your body parts into a bathtub of that water? But what choice do you have really? Would you wash your dishes in it? What choice do you have?
What do you think it would do to your child’s hair? What if you had an elderly mother who forgets she is not supposed to drink the water?
What if you had to decide whether you can buy your child new winter boots or buy umpteen bottles or gallons of water? What choice do you have? You can’t survive without water, which the company is still collecting money for, by the way.
What will you do if disease strikes this community from bacteria in the water? I think you will find out the true meaning of “complicated” then. No one should rest a day while this situation is ongoing. Work out the issues TODAY.. hire a water operator TODAY! Just do it! And by the way, no one in this community has been offered one bottle of water by any agency or group….just sayin.
Even though the water is only good for flushing toilets, residents of Bud and Alpoca say they have continued to pay monthly bills to the utility company.
We part ways and our guide tells us that the people here will do what they’ve always done: rely on each other and hope for the best.
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