More than two months after a flash flood killed at least 24 people and devastated more or less 1,200 homes, West Virginia is now seeing the harrowing effects of cutting back budgets on infrastructure and the slow efforts on rehabilitation and replacement of decaying public utilities.
Flooding has become common in the mountainous counties of West Virginia. Civil engineers and environmental scientists have been issuing red flag warning regarding the flooding issues for decades now.
Back in 2004, the state has ordered a study on the flooding problems but has basically not responded with the recommendations and has not also implemented any state-wide anti-flooding plan or even stormwater infrastructure management strategies.
Reports also showed that even though the state formed a task force to implement the plan, eventually it disbanded and so was West Virginia’s future for better infrastructure.
The main reason why it was not implemented was that it will cost time, resources, and money, that could be apportioned to more pressing matters. Since the recommendations would cost the state billions of dollars, it was decided that funding could be sustained in the annual program of expenditures.
But despite the repeated flooding issue, authorities even imposed cutbacks to the meager infrastructure management budget of the state.
And the budget cuts not only affected public utilities – it also cost other people their jobs. To bring the state service to a thin minimum, 37 forest employees were laid off.
This means fewer people to impose the Logging Sediment Control act which is a proactive stance on averting environmental damage and illegal logging in watersheds.
The Early Warning Flood system’s budget was cut by 11% in the past three years. And if that is not enough, another $25,000.00 will be slashed off from its funding next year. There are more budget cuts for the next fiscal year.
The West Virginia Conservation Agency, on the other hand, which manages 170 flood control dams, will have a $450,000.0 budget reduction while the Bureau of Public Health, which supervises local water systems, will suffer a $4 million decrease in funding.
After the flooding incident in June, experts reiterated that West Virginia’s infrastructure should get the much-needed funding it deserves.
And the problem is not just in the stormwater infrastructure – it’s the whole public utility assets.
The state needs to invest in better school facilities, water treatment plants, roads and highways, and other public assets in order to reverse the long history of underspending and utter neglect of its aging infrastructure.
And since West Virginia’s communities are basically flood-prone, even environmental scientists and infrastructure asset management experts would agree, that improving the state’s anti-flooding systems is the first step towards creating lasting benefits for the citizenry through solid public utilities.