For many families in parts of eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, the absence of clean, reliable drinking water is part of daily life.
Blaine Taylor, a 17-year-old resident of Martin County, Kentucky, struggles to manage basic hygiene when his water comes out with sediment in it.
“I had to use a case of water last night just to get enough water in my bathtub just to get myself cleaned up for today at school,” he said. “It’s rough.”
This episode is the culmination of a six-month Report For America (RFA) project by Molly Born from West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Caity Coyne from the Charleston Gazette-Mail and Will Wright from the Lexington Herald-Leader. The RFA initiative is a national service program in rural Appalachia with support from the Galloway Family Foundation.
The three reporters spent six months working in central Appalachia to understand why so many residents lack access to reliable drinking water. The series, called Stirring the Waters, was recently named a finalist for a Livingston Award for Young Journalists. The awards honor the best reporting and storytelling by journalists under the age of 35 across all forms of journalism.
They discovered West Virginia would need $17 billion to connect hundreds of systems across the state to update crumbling water and sewer systems, according to the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council. By the end of 2017, only $8.5 million dollars were secured for the projects — just more than 1 percent of the necessary funds.
In 2015, Inside Appalachia reported that water districts in central Appalachia struggle to perform routine maintenance, which leads to problems for water customers. Sometimes, districts are understaffed and underfunded. The repairs they do make are often inadequate — and fail to address the long-term problems of water loss and service lines in need of repair.
A special thanks to Report for America corps members Caity Coyne and Will Wright, and former corps member Molly Born, as well as the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Lexington Herald-Leader and GroundTruth staff members who made the Stirring the Waters project possible.
Our host is Jessica Lilly. Roxy Todd is our producer. Molly Born guest-produced this show. Eric Douglas is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. He also edited the show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens.
You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.