Our Water Supply

By: Jessica Stavole, Energy & Built Environment Intern

The recent chemical spill in West Virginia has been catching national attention. The spill left approximately 300,000 people without access to fresh tap water, highlighting for many just how unappreciated our basic water supply can be. 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), the chemical released in the spill by Freedom Industries, is typically reserved for washing coal from rock in liquid tanks, preparing coal for the market. The chemical which was produced by the Eastman Chemical Company, which provided limited toxicology data to those working to ameliorate the damage. Eastman, Freedom Industries (the company who owned the vat containing MCHM and is now seeking bankruptcy), and West-Virginia American Water have all found themselves on the sharp end of a federal lawsuit. The spill has already crossed state borders and appeared in Ohio.  Cities such as Cincinnati, Ohio, shut down their intake of water from the Ohio River, supplying water to the city via reserve tanks until the spill passed through.

National Geographic Picture of Elk River after MCHM spill

Spills like this are worrisome because we have a limited fresh water supply. While fresh water may seem infinite, it is in fact a very finite resource. Water stressed areas like the American southwest, most of Australia, and increasingly parts of China are feeling the squeeze already. With climate change likely to impact the availability of freshwater, its been estimated that water could become the next gold or oil in our lifetime. When chemical spills like what happened in West Virginia occur, they impact an already key limited resource. This makes careful regulation of industries that could threaten our freshwater supply, such as Freedom Industries, all the more important.


In the meantime, conservation is key! According to the US EPA, the average family of four consumes nearly 400 gallons of water per day, with 70% of that amount being used indoors.  Some easy ways to conserve are as follows:

  • Replace leaky faucets, toilets, etc.  A leaky toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water each day!
  • Turn off the faucet while brushing teeth.  A faucet typically runs at 2 gallons per minute meaning that one could easily conserve 200 gallons of water per month.
  • Keep a pitcher of cold water in the refrigerator so as to not waste water when running the tap until it gets cold.
  • Use high-efficiency washers and hang dry your clothes.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Don’t rinse dishes off before putting them into the dishwasher; this could save up to 10 gallons of water per load. 

One thought on “Our Water Supply

  1. I heard this spill was so bad, residents could smell the pollution coming from the Ohio River. And now I’m wondering how this is affecting agriculture in the area.. I don’t know what is more important than protecting our freshwater supply! Thanks for the conservation tips, Jess!

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