Thursday, October 04, 2018

NPR cites E. Ky. district as example of bad water systems; U.S. News says it's in worst majority-white county for health

Gary Ball, editor of the weekly Mountain Citizen, has been reporting on water issues in Martin County for nearly two decades, prompting the state to open the first investigation into the local water district. (Photo: Rich-Joseph Facun for NPR)
"You take it for granted until you don't have it," meaning clean water, BarbiAnn Maynard told NPR, as she cleaned a plastic jug used to fetch cooking water from a spring because the water system in Martin County, Kentucky, is so lousy. "I think that's the attitude of a lot people right now, but I don't think they understand how close they are to it happening to them."

Kat Lonsdorf of NPR reports, "Americans across the country, from Maynard's home in rural Appalachia to urban areas like Flint, Mich., or Compton, Calif., are facing a lack of clean, reliable drinking water. At the heart of the problem is a water system in crisis: aging, crumbling infrastructure and a lack of funds to pay for upgrading it. On top of that, about 50 percent of water utilities — serving about 12 percent of the population — are privately owned. This complicated mix of public and private ownership often confounds efforts to mandate improvements or levy penalties, even if customers complain of poor water quality or mismanagement."

Martin County, Kentucky (Wikipedia map)
In Martin County, the main problem is leaky pipes that allow contaminants to enter the system. Also, the Martin County Water District has relatively little accountability to any government. The local weekly newspaper, the Mountain Citizen, has been reporting on the district's problems since 2002 and prompted the first state investigation of it. The district board's resigned, "and new leadership was brought in," NPR reports, "but the fixes all require money, and the utility is more than $1 million in debt — and it will need millions of dollars to upgrade the system. That's money Martin County simply doesn't have."

Appalachian Citizens' Law Center attorney Mary Cromer told NPR, "This isn't just confined to Appalachia. We have dilapidated infrastructure all over this country. And so, if you're going to have rural areas that are going to survive, much less thrive, you've got to pay attention to these critical infrastructure needs." And health is an issue, too; U.S. News and World Report ranked the county the nation's worst predominantly white county in health performance, citing water as one reason.

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