A crisis in Kentucky shows the high cost of clean drinking water

Apr 18, 2019

LOVELY, Ky. — When the well water here turned brown and started tasting salty, Heather Blevins’s parents hooked their property on Dead Man’s Curve into the municipal supply. It seemed like a blessing until new hazards emerged: Today, Blevins says, the tap water smells of bleach, occasionally takes on a urine-colored tinge, and leaves her 7- and 8-year-old children itching every time they take a bath.

“The way the water is now, I’d rather have well water,” said Blevins, 44, who keeps a constant eye on the county water district’s Facebook page to watch for pipe breaks and boil-water advisories. Blevins, who says her water rates rocketed recently from $19 to almost $40 a month, sets aside money from her $980 Social Security check for bottled drinking water and chemical-free baby wipes to keep her allergy-prone children clean.

“It shouldn’t be like that,” she said.

It’s been “like that” for decades here in Martin County, as it has in other pockmarked parts of coal country. The water crisis peaked last year when service to many residents was shut off, members of the water board quit, and the attorney general opened a criminal investigation into allegations of mismanagement. The Kentucky House recently passed a resolution asking Gov. Matt Bevin (R) to declare a state of emergency and free up resources to fix the dilapidated system.

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