In eastern Kentucky, a rural county struggles without a steady supply of clean water

Sometimes they get no water.
I don’t even feel safe bathing in it."
But experts say it is unlikely the federal government will invest in rebuilding the kind of infrastructure that has become a public health hazard in impoverished, out-of-the-way communities like Martin County.
The issue is, who’s going to pay for it?"
As residents in this sparsely populated pocket of Appalachia struggled — some boiling rainwater to bathe and melting snow to flush toilets — local schools canceled classes for three days and volunteers fanned out to deliver bottled water to the sick and elderly.
Local officials have sought to reassure residents the water is drinkable and that discoloration is not necessarily a sign it is unsafe: cloudiness, for example, can occur when air becomes trapped in water, and does not typically affect water safety.
State officials, however, say the county has a long way to go, especially with its finances.
At a hearing last month for the district’s request for an emergency rate increase, Michael Schmitt, chairman of Kentucky’s Public Service Commission, described Martin County as "by far the worst water district" in the state.
Back then, residents complained of skin rashes, nausea, and headaches, which they suspected were caused by contaminated water, but the county’s water district reported that its water intake on the Tug Fork River was closed for maintenance before the disaster.
A Department of Health and Human Services report concluded the water district did not take any slurry materials into the water treatment system and the county’s drinking water was not contaminated by the spill.

Learn More