John Kaiser of Dunbar has been without water since Thursday. No dishes, no laundry, no shower just like 300,000 other West Virginians.
But Sunday, you could say, was a better day for Kaiser. Sunday one of his three Kanawha County restaurants—a Steak Escape connected to a gas station on Corridor G—was allowed to reopen.
“You had to submit a plan to the health department of how you would meet their standards,” he said. “We did that and they came out (Saturday) night, did a walk through, did an inspection and they approved us.”
Kaiser said his restaurant brings in about three to four thousand dollars on the typical Saturday, but this week he lost that revenue. And he’s not alone.
Hundreds of businesses in nine counties have had to close up shop since a chemical leak contaminated the drinking water supply Thursday and spread through the entire West Virginia American Water System.
“The numbers overnight have trended the way we expected them to,” said Col. Greg Grant as he updated the media Sunday afternoon.
He heads a team of National Guard chemist who, with the help of 16 teams, have collected hundreds of samples throughout the distribution system.
Samples tested at 10 labs in West Virginia plus one in Ohio and another in Pittsburgh show less and less of the chemical is present in the water, getting customers one step closer to life as usual.
West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said the green light has not been given to begin flushing the system, but when it begins, crews will flush it out in zones.
Zones that include hospitals and the highest population densities are the top priorities to get back online, but McIntyre said it will still be a difficult process for customers to understand.
“They’re done by pressure zones so they will overlap zip codes, they will overlap county lines, they will overlap city lines because they’re based on our system pressure zones,” he explained.
So, McIntyre and his team have set up a website where customers can simply type in their address and a virtual map will show you if you’re in a zone that’s been given the all clear.
A hotline to check on your clearance will also be set up and automatic calls will be made by the company when your home is in the green, but the phone number and web address are not being released until the first zone is ready to begin flushing.
Governor Tomblin warned customers to heed the directions of water officials and not start their own part of the flushing process early.
“This is still a state of emergency. Please don’t jump ahead,” he said Sunday. “That green light has not been given yet.”
Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Karen Bowling said detailed protocols on how to deal with cleaning will be dispersed when flushing starts as well. Those protocols will include dealing with pipes, hot water tanks, appliances, anything that has come in contact with the contaminated water.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman said there has been no reported impact to neither animal nor aquatic life since the leak. No fish kill has been reported, which he said was a concern.
Freedom Industries is reportedly working closely with DEP teams to clean up the site as quickly as possible.
DEP Emergency Response Director Mike Dorsey said they’ve dug trenches to collect chemical leaching in the groundwater and have set up booms on the riverbank to prevent any additional chemical from getting into the Elk River.
Tomblin added, however, he thinks the company should have offered more assistance in the water recovery effort.
“As we found out, most people did not know a whole lot about this particular chemical,” he said. “As you saw, we had to do a lot of research internally very quickly to find out what effects it may have.”
“I think perhaps they could have been a little more forthcoming and offer their assistance on what problems this particular chemical could have caused.”
Tomblin said regulations will be a top priority as the legislative session continues. He plans to work with DEP Secretary Huffman to figure out how to regulate such storage facilities.