Coonskin lake proposed as backup water source

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State and local officials say they will review a proposal to build a new Coonskin Park lake that would serve as a reservoir to provide a temporary backup drinking water source for the Kanawha Valley.

The proposal, circulated late last week, says the project could cost $25 million to $35 million and give West Virginia American Water Co. up to month’s supply of emergency water for the Kanawha Valley treatment and distribution plant, which serves 300,000 people in Charleston and surrounding counties. It would need funding and approval from a variety of government agencies.

“The purpose of this proposal is to present an option for providing the Charleston region with a reserve water supply to assure that a future contamination event will not cause a crisis such as occurred with the Freedom Industries spill in January,” said a nine-page document outlining the proposal.

Fred Stottlemyer, former general manager of the South Putnam Public Service District, worked on the proposal with Joe Mullins, a well-known local sculptor who also served as an urban planner in the Governor’s Office in the 1960s. The proposal calls for a much larger lake than one that was modeled by West Virginia American Water but also projects a much lower construction cost.

The proposal calls for construction of an 800 million-gallon Coonskin Lake that it says could provide West Virginia American with a 16- to 28-day reserve supply. It says the lake would also “enhance recreational opportunities at Coonskin with a new 65-acre lake by providing boating and fishing.”

The lake would be similar to a reservoir that has provided much of Putnam County with “a safe and high-quality water supply for over 20 years,” the proposal says.

The proposal calls for construction of a 150- to 160-foot earthen dam to create a lake that would be 1,000 feet wide and 3,200 feet long. It would be located near the present entrance to Coonskin in an area that, once a new bridge and park entrance are completed, would become the rear of the park, close to the West Virginia National Guard headquarters.

Water would be pumped from the lake to the treatment plant through a nearly 4-mile-long pipeline that would run through Coonskin and along Barlow Drive and Slack Street, the proposal says.

“While, as with every project, there will be obstacles to overcome, if all the participating agencies make a cooperative effort to overcome such obstacles, the Charleston region can move quickly to have a reliable, safe water supply which will meet the needs far into the future,” the proposal says.

Stottlemyer and Mullins propose that the lake be a public-private project that could be built with leadership from the Kanawha County Commission, and help from the West Virginia Water Development Authority, West Virginia American Water Co. and other local groups. They urge Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to jump-start the project with a grant from the governor’s contingency fund to pay for “the necessarily preliminary engineering and geotechnical studies.”

“The Charleston water crisis has been a very negative experience for the area’s residents and businesses, and decisive improvements are needed in the water system to reassure the people in the region,” the proposal says. “Improved state regulations on siting and monitoring storage tanks are a good step, but the fact remains that West Virginia American’s Charleston water plant does not have an alternative water supply to meet the residents’ needs in the event of a future contamination event.”

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said the county was given a copy of the Stottlemyer-Mullins proposal on Friday and officials have not yet had time to fully examine it.

“It’s an opportunity that should be carefully explored,” Carper said. “The idea of building a lake and all that — I just haven’t had a chance to look at it.”

Jeff Hutchinson, director of the Kanawha County Parks Commission, said that the proposal would have to be looked at more carefully, but that the idea of a backup water supply combined with additional recreation opportunities at Coonskin is appealing.

“I’m all for having an alternative water source,” Hutchinson said. “And you can never have too much recreation.”

Officials in the Tomblin administration are also looking into the proposal.

Walt Ivey, director of the environmental engineering division at the state Bureau for Public Health, plans to meet with Stottlemyer and Mullins, said agency spokeswoman Allison Adler.

Laura Jordan, a spokeswoman for West Virginia American Water, said that the company has received a copy of the proposal “and will consider it as part of our ongoing evaluations of raw water storage and second intake options” for the Kanawha Valley water system.

“We are including in our analysis potential site options, technical feasibility, and both construction and operational costs, among other factors,” Jordan said Monday.

Legislation passed after the Jan. 9 leak at Freedom Industries, which contaminated the water company’s Elk River source, requires water providers in West Virginia to complete source water protection plans that, among other things, must include study of alternative supply options. Those plans are due to the state by July 2016.

The proposal for the Coonskin lake says construction of the reservoir would require temporary closure of some parts of the park. Some hiking trails in the Coonskin Creek area would be eliminated but would be replaced with several miles of lakefront trails, the proposal says. The proposal includes “mitigation” of the loss of 65 to 70 acres of forested land through the purchase of about 100 acres of wooded lands adjoining the park.

The proposal also includes acquisition of a railroad right of way that has not been used for 30 years, a move Stottlemyer and Mullins say “will further enhance the park by removing a conflicting use and eyesore thus making additional land available for park use.”

“Also, this acquisition will provide the opportunity for the development of a five-mile hiker-biker connection from downtown Charleston directly to the park,” the proposal says.

The Stottlemyer-Mullins proposal would provide a 28-day water supply for what West Virginia American has said is its average water usage from its Elk River plant, about 28 million gallons per day. It would provide a 16-day supply, assuming the plant’s maximum capacity of 50 million gallons per day.

In documents submitted to the state Public Service Commission, West Virginia American Water outlined an alternative for a 250 million-gallon reservoir that would provide a five-day water supply at the Elk River plant’s maximum capacity.

But West Virginia American estimated that that project would cost $125 million to $187.5 million.

The water company did not specify a potential location but said its alternative for a reservoir would require about 110 acres of land and that the closest “empty land looks to be about two miles away.”

Stottlemyer and Mullins said that their much lower cost projections “are preliminary and offered as a guide for those considering the project’s feasibility.” More study is needed “to provide a more accurate cost estimate,” their proposal says.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

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