BUCKHANNON — In the midst of a climate of increasing political polarization on local, state and national levels, the Upshur County community recently united around one precious resource that none of us can live without — water.
Organized by the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance — the primary sponsor — and held in conjunction with the Buckhannon Rivershed Water Association, W.Va. Rivers Coalition and more, the inaugural event trickled through the riverwalk area between 5:30 and 8 p.m. The central goal of the event, coordinator April Pearson-Keating with the MLPA said, was to raise the community’s awareness about the preciousness of the most critical resource to human life, aside from air.
Numerous groups set up information tables, well-known musician Seth Maynard kept the crowd entertained with live music and a number of politicians from all political persuasions were on hand to deliver remarks regarding the world’s most precious commodity.
Following the event Friday, Keating classified it as a success and said she hoped it would morph into an annual occurrence.
“I thought it was amazing,” Keating said. “It went very smoothly, and it was a very mellow and intimate crowd, and I think the music added to the atmosphere. There were actually more people there than I expected. I definitely want to make it into an annual event.”
Autumn Crowe, program director for the Safe Water for West Virginia coalition and a member of the state rivers coalition, headquartered in Charleston, said the message was simple — to educate people and bolster their knowledge about the seriousness of safeguarding Buckhannon’s water supply.
“We’re just trying to ensure the public understands the importance of water protection,” Crowe said. “Safe water depends on us. Part of what we’re doing with this event is to help the Buckhannon utility board (city water board) stress the importance of clean drinking water.”
“I think we all took it for granted until we had an event in Charleston,” Crowe added, referencing the 2014 Elk River chemical spill. “Our water is not invincible.”
As a result of that chemical spill, municipal water distributors are now required to develop source water protection plans, Crowe said.
“It’s also important that we educate the public about the everyday, simple things they can do to help protect the water,” she added, “simple things like not litter — because when you litter, the rain washes the litter into the waterways.”
Crowe said it’s also key to know how to properly dispose of unwanted prescription drugs, as well as how be smart about properly disposing of electronics, cleaning supplies and things like used motor oil, which is hazardous and can leach into the water supply.
The Water Celebration also hosted an interfaith water blessing with Catholic priest Father Joe McLauglin of Holy Rosary Catholic Church, Daya Masada Wright, Gary McGrew of the First Presbyterian Church and Jeff Allen, the United Methodist executive director of the Council of W.Va. Churches.
In addition, a handful of dignitaries — including Buckhannon mayor David McCauley, State Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, Del. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, and more — delivered a few words about why we should faithfully be responsible stewards of our environment, and specifically source water.
Karnes recalled childhood summer times spent in Ten Mile, enjoying the fishing and recreation there.
“It doesn’t matter which walk of life you come from, the water of life is so important,” Karnes said.
Hamilton, who is challenging Karnes for his State Senate seat, thanked the people who make the water system work, “from the field crews who repair and install new lines and damaged lines to the water plant operators who properly treat our water, making it safe to drink and use, to the water department that provides 2 million gallons each day to Buckhannon and several PSDs (public safety districts).”
Noting that the Buckhannon Water Department has received a numerous awards over the years, Hamilton said, “We in Upshur County are fortunate to have approximately 60 to 70 percent of our residents served, but more work must be done to meet the needs of those who are not so fortunate.”
McCauley observed — as several others did — the “terrific turnout” for the Water Celebration.
“You have my word that we will continue to be as protective as possible of our source water,” he said.