Growers In W. Va. Cope With Contaminated Water Supply

Goff headshot
Matt Goff of Gritt’s Midway Greenhouse

A water crisis started in West Virginia last month after a chemical used in coal processing spilled into Elk River, affecting thousands of people and causing complications for local growers.

The chemical leaked from a Freedom Industries plant, contaminating water and resulting in a state-issued water ban for many areas of the state.

“The spill happened really close to the water intake out of the Elk River for the state’s largest water provider,” says Bobby Barnitz of Bob’s Market and Greenhouses, located in Mason, W. Va., more than 60 miles from where the spill occurred.

“It has impacted nearly 300,000 folks and really caused a hardship for all,” Barnitz says.

Matt Goff of Gritt’s Midway Greenhouse, located outside of Charleston, said the spill affected the operation’s water source, but luckily, it doesn’t do much watering this time of the year.

“We did have to apply some water from the tap because that was all we had at the time. You could smell some of the contamination in the city water, so we stopped watering,” Goff says.

Goff said it would be a week or two before the operation learned if there is any damage. After the spill, Gritt’s switched to water it had in a holding tank, before turning to an old well pump.

“There is not enough water in the well to supply the place if it was full and weather was hot, but right now we are holding our own,” he says.

Gritt’s hydroponic vegetables have a holding tank for city water, which was full of good water before the chemical spill occurred.

“We isolated the fill valve after learning of the leak. This tank holds about 15,000 gallons, so we have plenty to supply our veggies now because they are not taking much water at this stage. We would have likely lost these crops if this was later in the season with warm weather,” Goff says.

The ban was lifted in for some parts of Charleston, W. Va., starting on January 13, four days after the spill.

According to Julie Robinson of the West Virginia Nursery & Landscape Association, state officials announced on January 13 that wildlife and plant material would not be affected by the spill.

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