Before the Freedom Industries chemical leak in January, the Charleston Area Alliance concentrated on water resources and innovation as part of its 20-year economic development plan, Vision 2030.
Along with key industries in our region, such as chemical, energy and tourism, Vision 2030 focuses on water as an economic commodity and a job creator, spurred by the research and commercialization of clean water technologies.
The January chemical leak accelerated Vision 2030’s focus on the state’s water resources.
West Virginia is one of the most water-abundant states in the country. It’s a key natural resource that’s centric to the state’s economy.
That’s why the Alliance, along with several strategic partners, formed the Water Sustainability Institute (WSI).
The mission of WSI is to develop and commercialize innovative technologies to maintain, improve and protect water supplies throughout the state. Located at the West Virginia Regional Technology Park, it will be a center of innovation for water cleanliness and sustainability.
One key education partner in the WSI, West Virginia State University (WVSU), is working to educate our area’s schoolchildren on the importance of water as a critical natural resource.
Earlier this month, WVSU was awarded a $400 grant from the American Chemical Society (ACS), which will help educate elementary school students in the Kanawha Valley about the importance of water. The grant will provide resources and materials needed for the construction of science boxes that will include a variety of experiments.
These kits are designed to encourage elementary school students to learn more about the properties of water, including surface tension, density and solubility of various compounds. The science boxes, which will include nonhazardous materials, will be placed in all of the schools that were affected by the January chemical spill.
“The West Virginia State University student members of the American Chemical Society have and will continue to work to build professional skills and community outreach work on the topics that they are passionate about. This grant will allow them the opportunity to share their knowledge of chemistry with elementary schools throughout the Kanawha Valley region,” said Dr. Micheal Fultz, WVSU Assistant Professor of Chemistry.
Activated carbon, sand, fine gravel, filter paper and funnels will be purchased for water purification labs. Pipets, pennies and soap will be used to demonstrate the surface tension of water. Soap, magnesium and sodium salts will be incorporated into the boxes to illustrate hard water and soap scum.
WVSU alumni have also offered to help pay the costs of extra materials needed beyond what the grant covers.
“Providing this experience to students is immensely important to the future of the area’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics education (STEM),” said Matthew Ballard, President and CEO of the Charleston Area Alliance.
“These are the students that will be the area’s future engineers and scientists. They are the future employees of our water utilities and our natural resource extraction companies that require water testing and innovative solutions. It’s important to expose them to this type of hands-on experience early on.”
Other partners in WSI are the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Chemical Alliance Zone, the West Virginia Regional Technology Park, Marshall University, Marshall University Research Corporation and the Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center (MATRIC).
Examples of the Institute’s work include:
- Commercializing technologies that reduce hazards to fresh water sources
- Commercializing technologies for rapid identification of water contamination
- Developing custom solutions to water quality and quantity issues
- Testing and evaluating technologies that maintain the integrity of the entire water distribution system
- Providing independent assessments and reviews of potential hazards, technologies, contingency plans, and related water quality issues
Currently, WSI partners are completing market research and defining roles relative to the Institute. Many of the existing partners are currently engaged in work that meets the goals of the Institute.
MATRIC spin-off companies are now working in the space and higher education institutions are conducting research on several ongoing activities.
With our recent challenges in West Virginia, droughts in California and China’s mounting water insecurity, water-related challenges are pervasive. Pairing this with the critical nature of water to both life and business increases the complexity of these issues.
Access to clean water will become the defining challenge of this century.
The WSI brings new life to West Virginia’s natural resource economy. It addresses global challenges and utilizes the principles of the triple bottom line, which is balancing the impact to people, profit and planet.
By solving local and global challenges, the WSI is poised to be an important economic driver for West Virginia.