In the last number of years we have seen numerous examples in America where citizens do not have access to clean water. Clean water is foundational to a healthy life. Without clean water people are drinking contaminants that very often harm their bodies and may lead to severe illnesses such as cancer. Clean water should be a right that every American has access to and is guaranteed. Flint, Michigan, is an example of how the water infrastructures throughout America can fail communities. Across the country, many other communities have similar safety issues with their water, but have not made the news. Over the years, Kentucky has been no stranger to this struggle for clean water. While Kentucky has seen efforts to ensure clean water for all, such as the Logan Todd Regional Water Commission, much still needs to be done to ensure clean water for Kentuckians for years to come.
In 2017, the National Resources Defense Council found that 53% of Kentuckians were getting their water from utilities with at least one violation of federal safety regulations. This means that more than half of Kentuckians are receiving water in their pipes that is not clean and thus not safe for them to use. In severe instances, such as in Martin county, the water smells like chlorine, or worse, and can even irritate people’s skin when bathed in. The only place ranking higher in violations was Puerto Rico at 69%.
Many counties in Kentucky have to pay for their water bills, while also paying for a brita filter or bottled water. In Martin county, around 96% of residents are buying bottled water because of how bad the tap water is. To save money, some residents are trekking out to mountain streams to fill buckets and bottles with water that they find looks and tastes better than what comes through their pipes. As repairs are made to the old water system, residents often see dramatic increases in utility costs, which only adds strain on families already struggling just to ensure their families have enough clean water to drink. In many areas Kentuckians are terrified of their tap water, yet they are still paying high prices but not seeing progress on ensuring clean water for their families.
Environmental challenges have added to the water crisis in Kentucky. In Martin county, much of today’s clean water crisis was caused by a spill from a local coal company in 2000 that contained arsenic and mercury. While various steps have been taken in recent years to bring clean water to Martin county, residents are still wary of the water and need to see updated water pipes and treatment plants throughout the county to ensure access to clean water.
All this, and more, paints a clear picture that we need change in Kentucky so that our people can be assured of clean water. We need to replace old pipes and renew our infrastructure so that Kentuckians feel safer, spend less money, and are able to ensure their children are not getting poisoned by tap water. Smaller, rural counties tend to have the most violations in their public water. Rural communities do not deserve to suffer just because politicians are leaving them behind.
Yet, the practicalities of seeing change are daunting. It is estimated that updating water infrastructure in Kentucky will cost over $8 billion dollars. This is a key and practical area where Kentucky can benefit from the infrastructure bills being discussed in Washington. I believe that if we do not begin now to spend the time and money to update our water infrastructure, it will only continue to deteriorate and take more time and money in the future to fix and update. However, while updating infrastructure is vital to ensure a better tomorrow, it is not something that will happen overnight. Because of this there are two steps I believe we can take now to seek to ensure all Kentuckians have access to clean water.
Work to ensure all communities are provided clean water. This may involve out-of-the-box solutions such as bringing in clean water in trucks from other locations. I believe that Kentucky can come together to think of how we can ensure all our people have access to clean water. It may take more work on our part, but all Kentuckians deserve to have access to clean water.
Some communities in Kentucky have already been successful in water consolidation efforts. This is where small communities that are not able to afford their own treatment plants are consolidated into one area that are then serviced via one water treatment plant. This means that the cost of running the treatment plant is then split across more families meaning that costs stay down while the plant brings in enough to continue producing clean water.
As we seek to ensure that America remains a leading nation in the world, I believe we must ensure our citizens have access to basic human rights, such as water. Updating our water infrastructure will take time and money, but it is worth it as doing so will save lives, protect the health of people throughout America, and ensure that for years to come people will not have to worry about having clean water to drink.