- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A West Virginia panel is starting to review a state law aimed at protecting drinking water supplies.

On Monday, the Public Water System Supply Study Commission held its first meeting. The 12-member group has to submit annual reports on the new law to a joint legislative committee by Dec. 15, starting this year.

The committee will task six subgroups with studying various parts of the law. Topics include source water protection plans, the effect of the new law, funding options to help provide alternative water sources and recommendations for infrastructure improvements.

One group will look at the federal Chemical Safety Board’s suggestions to prevent chemical disasters.

A 2008 Bayer CropScience explosion that killed two workers and injured eight others prompted the recommendations, but West Virginia officials have never adopted them. The new state law requires taking another look at the board’s suggestions.

The new law responds to a January chemical spill that tainted 300,000 people’s water for days. A Freedom Industries tank in Charleston leaked chemicals into the Elk River, which West Virginia American Water uses for its water supply a mile and a half downstream.

Commission officials said the subgroup meetings will be not be subject to open meetings law.

The law includes a variety of registration and inspection requirements for aboveground storage tanks, and additional plans for public water systems to protect their supplies.

Board members include Kanawha County Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta, Kanawha state Delegate Nancy Guthrie, and top state health, environmental, homeland security and Public Service Commission officials.

A hydrologist, engineer, public health expert and citizen representative are also on the board. The state Rural Water Association and Municipal League also have board representatives.

State Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Jimmy Gianato said Monday that the Dec. 15 report would help the Legislature decide if changes are needed during the 60-day lawmaking session, which starts in January.

Gianato’s department is setting up a website with updates from the commission.

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