News Feature | June 26, 2014

Feds, West Virginia Fighting Over Water Funding

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Water officials in a West Virginia county are fighting the federal government over money for new water infrastructure. 

It all started when locals in Preston County decided they wanted to switch from well water to city lines, according to Metro News. 

"In 2010, the state Department of Environmental Protection told the public service district it would get almost all the money for the water line project from the Federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s (OSMRE) Abandoned Mine Land (AML) program," the report said. 

After receiving state approval, the county moved ahead with engineering work, spending over $1 million.

But in March, the feds notified the county and the state that the project was not approved. 

"Federal regulators have rejected six proposals to fund drinking-water projects with money from the Abandoned Mine Land program, saying West Virginia officials haven’t shown that those projects are really aimed at remedying water supply damage caused by coal mining performed before passage of a 1977 strip-mining law," the Charleston Gazette recently reported

“While OSMRE understands the crucial need for these types of projects, it is necessary to examine the application documents for each proposed project to determine whether the project meets the legal requirements and is eligible for AML funding,” the federal agency said, per the Gazette

The county was not pleased with this decision. "It’s far too late for the Office of Surface Mining to take this action,” said service district Chairman Al Bailey in the report. 

“The District received binding commitment letters for Abandoned Mine Land grant funds from DEP in July 2010 for the project, based upon a study which DEP commissioned, reviewed, and approved,” Bailey said. “Now, nearly four years later, the Office of Surface Mining says that study is flawed.”

Preston County is not the only area facing these frustrations. 

"OSMRE just recently began taking a closer look at the applications for federal funding through the Abandoned Mine Land fund for water projects throughout the state. The agency says it has found 'irregularities' in a number of the projects that 'make it impossible' to approve funding. OSMRE is asking for more information on 29 West Virginia water line projects," the report said.

The consequences of this conflict may fall on customers.  

"Caught in the middle are thousands of West Virginians hoping they were finally going to get decent water," the report said. 

The state is trying to help the county out of this jam. 

"The DEP said it's working with local water systems, consultants, and the OSM to provide additional data for the projects that were rejected," The Republic reported.

Image credit: "Water water everywhere," kyz © 2008, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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