So writes James Salzman in Slate. He writes, we must guard against three threats to our water supply - natural contaminants, acts of terror and mishaps like the recent one in West Virginia.
In many respects these are the most difficult to plan for because there are so many potential contaminants. The MCHM [a coal-refinement chemical] passed directly through the treatment plant into water mains because the plant was not designed to deal with this chemical. It’s not supposed to be in our water. Nor are the thousands of other hazardous chemicals stored and transported around the country. Many tanks are located near a river or lake intentionally, to make transport cheaper. But accidents happen—tanks can leak, trains can derail. Hence the challenge for water suppliers is how to protect against low-probability/high-impact events.
Jedediah Purdy casts blame on the West Virginia disaster:
The entire crisis is a tableau of abdication: years of privatization and non-regulation followed by panic. It is an emergency, not least because inaction has insured that no one knows enough to say that it is not an emergency. The response thus far—issuing no-use orders for the water supply and mobilizing the national guard to distribute household water—is one of minimal government. A government that could have avoided the emergency would have to be much more confident and better resourced—just the kind of government the coal and chemical industries, and much of the state and national political establishment, have been dedicated to blocking and tearing down.