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Accountability must come from water crisis

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The chemical spill and resulting water crises that impacted, and continues to impact, the areas around Charleston serve as a reminder of the ease with which we access clean drinking water. Something profoundly terrifying occurs when you are told that what comes out of your tap could be poison. 

As is often the case with something so basic, we only realize how vital it is once we no longer have it. 

The response to the spill — from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on down — has been laudable. Unfortunately, this state has experienced far too many situations like this in the last few years, and it appears we have learned from those incidents. Chaos could easily have taken hold, but, thankfully, professionalism, rational thinking, determination and engagement won the day. Those in charge should be commended for their leadership. 

We also heard hundreds of stories about neighbors helping neighbors and countless local businesses opening their doors to offer meals or showers. A crisis often seems to bring out the best in West Virginians. 

How do we move forward? As hard as this may be to believe right now, in just a few weeks, this is likely to all be a bad memory. Showers will be hot, food will be cooked and hands will be washed. That sickeningly sweet smell hovering over the Elk River will have dissipated and the word "flushing" will morph into a joke. 

West Virginia is a resilient state with resilient people. Hardships, no matter how debilitating, are overcome. That's a testament to our perseverance, but we must not let our unyielding nature keep us from taking action. 

Those who caused this spill must be held accountable. We need a thorough and complete investigation. If the facts show negligence or failure to do the right thing, then those responsible must be held accountable. And if it is not perfectly clear who has oversight, it must be clarified so everyone knows where the accountability for the safety of our water supply lies.
We also must do all we can to ensure that this never happens again. Our water supply is too precious and the chance for catastrophe is too great to do anything less. Knee-jerk, reactionary politics will not help. We need thoughtful, common-sense legislation that comprehensively addresses the issue. Elected leaders, regulatory agencies, community members and industry need to have a voice in this process, but public safety must be the goal everyone is working toward.

Tomblin said this week that "we need to do what we can to see that this kind of incident never happens again. There's no excuse for it." We couldn't agree more.