Bay Journal

Topics: Conservation + Land Use

Thirst for protecting water supplies drives WV partnership

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Jan. 9, 2014, was a watershed day in West Virginia history.

That’s when 10,000 gallons of chemicals used in processing coal spilled from a storage tank into the Elk River, the drinking water source for 300,000 residents in a nine-county region, including Charleston, the state’s capital and largest city. The contamination forced the temporary closure of schools, businesses and the state’s highest court.

Six years later, the spill and the uproar it caused have dissipated. But in a far corner of the state that was spared from the incident’s effects, an environmental group is trying to make sure that what happened to the Elk River doesn’t repeat itself elsewhere.

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About Conservation + Land Use

Since colonial times, no change to the Chesapeake ecosystem has been greater than the alteration of its landscape. A vast expanse of forest once absorbed most of the rainfall and held most of the sediment in place.

Over time, the forests have been replaced with farms and development, all of which have greatly increased the amount of runoff and pollution reaching streams and the Chesapeake Bay. While forests still comprise the greatest land use in the region, they have been greatly altered, consisting of smaller trees and lacking many of the species — such as American chestnut — that were common in the past.

The rapid rate of development in recent decades has accelerated the spread of impervious surfaces such as roads, roofs and parking lots, dramatically increasing runoff and degrading stream health throughout the region. Conservation efforts are underway to identify, and protect, some of the high priority landscapes and resources that remain.

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