What comes in, also comes out.
Lately, the West Virginia American Water has pumped out 40 million gallons of water each day from its treatment plant in Charleston, officials say. The water kept flowing from the plant, even after an undetermined amount of crude MCHM leaked into the Elk River in early January.
A "do not use" order was issued for nine counties in West Virginia. More than 93,000 customers were affected by the spill. Some people waited more than a week before they could use their water again.
The president of West Virginia American Water, Jeff McIntyre, has said shutting down the system just wasn't an option. Water was needed for fire emergencies and for sanitation purposes.
So the plant has churned on. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Water can move through the plant in approximately two hours.
The water enters the plant through one intake on the Elk River. The water mixes with polymer that sticks to sediment; runs through a clarifying system to remove that sediment; travels through a carbon filter; then is pumped from a clear well to distribution tanks.
Workers also add chlorine at the plant, then at additional sites throughout the system, depending on the line's location. One worker in the laboratory is always testing the water that comes through the plant. These experts tests mainly check for changes in turbidity and PH levels, according to Tod Reedy, a senior maintenance specialist.
The treatment plant sits downstream of Freedom Industries, the place where crude MCHM leaked from its storage container. Water flows into the plant from one intake on the Elk River. Many experts and politicians lamented the idea of a single source in the days and weeks following the spill.
WVAW spokesperson Laura Jordan said the company applied for a second intake more than 40 years ago, two years before the plant went online. The intake would have been located on the Kanawha River, upstream of Belle.
Jordan said the proposal was rejected by the state Bureau of Public Health and the Public Service Commission in 1970.
The plant's 16 carbon filters have also generated buzz. Jordan said the company will wait until spring to switch the filters, unchanged since the chemical leak. Typically filters are changed every four years; every year, employees replace four filters every year.
Changing the filters now could impact how the company gets water to the community during winter, its busiest season, according to Jordan.
"There's 85,000 chemicals listed ..." Jordan said. "We really rely on any upstream potential contaminant sources to provide that information to us and that's the important lesson learned in all this."
Early on the day of the leak, the company thought filters would stop the crude MCHM, Jordan said. On the afternoon of Jan. 9, they realized so much chemical had entered the plant, it had overwhelmed the system.
"I think that amount is to be determined," Jordan said. Officials with the Dept. of Environmental Protection estimate at least 10,000 gallons escaped from a storage tank at Freedom Industries.
Water samples at the intake have shown "non-detectable" levels of MCHM for nearly a month. Jordan indicated the filters' carbon will be tested to see how much MCHM it absorbed.