Pocahontas Water Resource Task Force Wants To Make Sure WV DEP Has Good Data
Marlinton, WV – Lynmarie Knight is passionate about protecting what is arguably Pocahontas Counties’ most precious resource – the water. She was instrumental in getting the counties Water Resource Task Force established and served as the first Vista Volunteer for the group. Although Clay Condon has taken over the Vista position, Knight nonetheless is staying active on the task force.
She gave an update on the groups’ activities during a recent work session with the Pocahontas County Commissioners. The long term goal of the task force is create a water management plan for the county, similar to a state plan to be created by the West Virginia Dept of Environmental Protection. However Knight says the task force can provide much more detailed information about the amount and the quality of the water in the county.
“The DEP – they’re, to be quite honest, just underfunded and understaffed, so they’re looking at both, but they’re not going to collect a lot of new quality data” says Knight. “They’re kind of just compiling data that already exists. DEP definitely has data on water quality; it’s just questionable how sufficient that data is.”
Task Force member Beth Little says the DEP may also be constrained in other parts of the state by resistance from some industries.
The water resource management plan will be tackled in three phases. The first phase, to collect data, is underway and is funded in large part by a $25,000.00 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. The task force contracted with environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies for this phase. Downstream Strategies had previously worked with the Elk Headwaters Watershed Association to put together a plan to protect the Elk River. Knight says the grant will also pay for educational classes such as stream monitoring.
“This data that we collect through our stream monitoring group will be submitted to the DEP” she says. “It’s not obviously going to be data that’s taken from a scientist – in fact, you can come and bring your kids out and they can help collect in the stream. It’s just a really fun and interesting way to engage people in the health of our water resources; to educate our community about how you can tell if the stream is healthy or not.”
The group also received funding from the DEP, most of which went to cover computer equipment and travel. Knight says Pocahontas is the first county in the state to take on a task like this, a sometimes daunting prospect.
“I think it’s terrific for us having a lot of control over that sort of thing and to provide a model for other counties who are working with limited financial resources and empowering small communities to protect their natural resources” says Knight. “I think it’s unfortunate in that we’re a bit behind the times with this project. There are counties in West Virginia who already have significant impairments to their water, and if they had had some sort of document in place; if they’d done some sort of science which assessed their water resources, perhaps they would have seen it coming and could have maybe been preventative and measured.”
Knight says the task force steering committee is working on a job description for a task force coordinator, a part time contract position. She says they’re also looking down the road to phases two and three of the project, which will most likely be put out to bid.
In the meantime, Vista volunteer Clay Condon is working on compiling a list of stakeholders, including farmers, business owners and individuals. Knight says they hope to hold a large stakeholder meeting around the end of April.