Stirring the Waters

For many families in Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia, the absence of clean, reliable drinking water has become part of daily life.

They buy bottled water rather than drink what comes from the faucet. They collect rainwater in buckets, fearing there won’t be any running water at all the next day. They drive to natural springs on the sides of highways and backroads to fill up jugs for cooking and making coffee.

What should be a fundamental right has become a luxury for some in Central Appalachia, where residents are sometimes denied the dignity of a warm shower and fear the health effects of drinking discolored water. Now, those residents are Stirring the Waters, demanding that officials fix their long-failing infrastructure.

This series is part of a collaborative effort by the Lexington Herald-Leader, Charleston Gazette-Mail and West Virginia Public Broadcasting that was coordinated by The GroundTruth Project and its new initiative, Report for America, a national service program made possible in rural Appalachia with support from the Galloway Family Foundation.

Read more at kentucky.com, wvgazettemail.com and thegroundtruthproject.org.

'Who's Going to Pay for It?': No Easy Answers to Resolve Water Issues

Dec 7, 2018
F. Brian Ferguson / Charleston Gazette-Mail

BRADSHAW -- Local officials in McDowell County called a meeting in the town of Bradshaw to talk about broadband internet in West Virginia’s poorest county. But the first question from a resident focused on something more basic.

“Eleven years ago someone knocked on my door and promised me I could get city water. I still don’t have any city water, and I’ve never heard from them since -- not once,” Sandra Roberts said. “Will you be like that? When is the next time we’re going to see you all out this way?”

Search for Central Water System Proves Futile For One Family

Dec 7, 2018
Craig Hudson / Charleston Gazette-Mail

BRANCHLAND -- In Southern West Virginia, reliable access to clean water doesn’t just mean getting what you pay for. Sometimes, you don’t have the opportunity to pay for it.

Allen Adkins has been trying for years to get water lines extended to his Lincoln County home. Without that, he and his family are left to depend on a set of wells that leaves them uncertain how long water will last each day.

In Southern W.Va, Days Without Water Are a Way Of Life

Dec 7, 2018
F. Brian Ferguson / Charleston Gazette-Mail

GARY -- Each morning Tina Coleman turns her faucet, she waits to see what color the water will be when, or if, it flows out.

Some days it’s blue or green -- earthy tones that could be comforting in a river bed surrounded by trees, instead of filling the porcelain tub she uses to bathe her 9-month-old grandson. Other days, the water looks like different shades of rust: deep, coppery reds and browns. Sometimes it’s white and cloudy, as if a powder, thoroughly stirred, is about to dissolve.

Alex Slitz / Lexington Herald-Leader

HARLAN, Ky. -- David Wilburn stood in the kitchen of his Harlan County home and filled a gallon jug from the faucet and held it up to the light.

“It might be clear right now, but that’s just until they have another leak,” Wilburn said as he looked for any discoloration or sediments floating to the bottom.

When service lines break near his home, Wilburn said the tap water can be muddy for days at a time. Those periods have left him questioning the quality of his water, which he doesn’t even like to use for bathing.

Alex Slitz / Lexington Herald_leader

Jimmy Kerr sat in his real estate office near Pikeville and talked of a looming crisis in Eastern Kentucky.

Kerr is treasurer of the Martin County Water District, a utility that’s made national news amid reports of poor water quality and long outages that have left hundreds of families without running water for days at a time.

Many in Eastern Kentucky Can’t Count on Clean Water. Here are 5 Ways to Fix That.

Dec 7, 2018
Alex Slitz / Lexington Herald-Leader

Everyone deserves reliable access to clean water for drinking, cooking and washing, but that’s often not the case in mountainous Eastern Kentucky.

As the Herald-Leader reported this series, Stirring the Waters, in recent months, we spoke with dozens of residents, industry experts, state regulators and local officials about how to improve this fundamental, life-sustaining service in Appalachian Kentucky. These are their suggestions.

Will Wright / Lexington Herald-Leader

HUNTLEYVILLE, Ky.-- Jessica and Tim Taylor’s prayers seem to have paid off.

The rain came. It filled the buckets that lined the outside of their home. It filled the small plastic pool by the barn they use to water the animals. But not knowing how long the rain will continue makes them anxious.

“It’s beyond stressful,” Jessica Taylor said.

In Southern W.Va., Residents Wary of Water's Health Effects

Dec 6, 2018
F. Brian Ferguson / Charleston Gazette-Mail

Joanna Bailey remembers crowding around the kitchen table with her family, carefully sticking stamps on the corners of her neighbors’ monthly water bills. Her dad managed water service in Glover, an old coal town along the Guyandotte River in Wyoming County.

Stirring the Waters: Investigating Why Many in Appalachia Lack Reliable, Clean Water

Dec 6, 2018
F. Brian Ferguson / Charleston Gazette-Mail

For many families in Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia, the absence of clean, reliable drinking water has become part of daily life.

They buy bottled water rather than drink what comes out of their taps. They collect rainwater in buckets, fearing there won’t be any running water at all the next day. They drive to natural springs on the sides of highways and backroads to fill up jugs for cooking and making coffee.

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia Public Broadcasting reporter Molly Born, Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Caity Coyne and Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Will Wright have been working on a series of stories about water infrastructure issues in the southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky coalfields.