CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The vast majority of people understand the importance of clean water, but events of the past few weeks have highlighted that fact like never before for many West Virginians. Unlike cases where degradation has occurred over decades and the impacts have manifested themselves slowly over time, we have seen the immediate economic impacts that come from unsafe water.Many residents in rural communities across the Appalachian region already understand the long-term impacts. Without adequate water and sewer treatment it is nearly impossible to draw in new businesses, retain workers, and sustain an economically viable community. Canaan Valley Institute's mission is to ensure our region has healthy streams -- a critical economic engine for rural communities.For too many years, there has been a perceived conflict between efforts to reduce environmental impacts and economic development. It's as if when you support one, then you're against the other. But the rural communities where we have worked for the past 18 years have proven this to be untrue. Restoration and good stewardship of our water resources are keys to sustaining economic growth in the Central Appalachian Mountains. Canaan Valley Institute's approach to restoring streams is particularly important to the economy in our region because we ensure that clean water is available as a vital resource in our quest to attract businesses.The simple truth is that our local, state and national economies are dependent on clean water. If you don't see the direct connection between healthy streams and economies, let's think about components to successful communities. Vibrant communities need basic infrastructure: roads, clean water, and wastewater treatment that are environmentally sound, efficient and effective, and are not in danger of being damaged by flooding, erosion or contamination. This region's amazing array of recreational opportunities, along with the safety and security of small-town living, are attractive to new residents.
Canaan Valley Institute's work directly and positively affects the future of the region. We salute the communities, landowners, businesses, and many nonprofit partners who are working to stabilize river corridors to protect property, infrastructure, and recreational opportunities; remove raw sewage from streams by building basic infrastructure; and engage students in real world learning opportunities by involving them in studying their surroundings. These activities support sustainable development that provides good jobs for people in local communities.In our efforts to improve water resources, we focus on serving the underserved -- rural, low-income, isolated communities. Our community partners have limited funding, staff, and capacity. Even in good economic times, generating funding at the local level from communities with little to no business tax base is very difficult. In challenging economic times, it is nearly impossible. An additional hurdle is the perceived conflict between efforts to reduce environmental impacts and economic development and/or individual freedoms.But people in our region are willing and eager to improve local conditions when improvements have benefits for the environment, education, and economic development.Newland is executive director of Davis-based Canaan Valley Institute, a non-profit organization that works to improve water quality and education initiatives in the Appalachian region.