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water help needed, county says

March 08, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission voted unanimously Thursday night to send a letter to West Virginia's two U.S. senators outlining the county's dire water situation and the need for federal assistance for the funding of alternative water sources.

The Berkeley County Public Service District informed the commissioners that in order to implement the Public Service District's five priorities designed to alleviate the effects of the drought situation facing the county the Public Service District needs an estimated $6.8 million.

The letter informs U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., about the extreme water shortage facing the county and the need for help. It also requests a meeting to be set in Washington, D.C., between district officials and the two senators.

The Public Service District has already requested assistance from U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Bill Alexander, water board chairman, said the county has moved from a severe drought status to an extreme drought status, according to the drought monitor map published by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Alexander said the area needs 15 inches of rain in the next three months to reverse the effects of the drought on the county's water supply.

"It's pretty bad. Droughts are very sly and insidious," he said.

Paul Fisher, executive director of the water district, said if the Baker Heights, W.Va., quarries dry up before the Public Service District has access to the alternative water source, the southern end of the county will be in Stage 3 of the drought contingency plan. Stage 3 includes rationing water and charging surcharges to customers who use more water than normal.

"We are hanging on by our thumbs," Alexander said.

He said if the area does not receive rain the county may have to ask Gov. Bob Wise to declare a state of emergency for the South Berkeley area.

"This is the worst water crisis in recorded history," Berkeley County Public Service District board member Bill Stubblefield said. "We're sitting on the edge of a very serious problem."

The Public Service District has reactivated a well located on W.Va. 9. The water does not comply with the Health Department's safe drinking act because it is a surface water source that may contain harmful bacteria. The district has to inform about 6,000 users south of W.Va. 45 by letter that the water is out of compliance, Fisher said.

He said the district only pumps 50 gallons a minute out of the well. The water is treated but not filtered, which is a requirement for all surface water sources.

The district has asked Maryland for an increase in the intake of water taken from the Potomac River by the district. The increase would allow the county to take 4 million gallons a day rather than 2 million out of the river.

The district also has increased the amount of water it purchases from the city of Martinsburg. The amount of water it can purchase now depends on the water supply in the city. The city implemented voluntary water restrictions for all city water users this week.

The district hopes to find new water sources through a hydrogeologic study.

The county is under mandatory water restrictions which prohibits all nonessential water use by county water users.

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