Many of the residents in Martin County, Kentucky, have a story about their water. Sometimes it has a weird color, sometimes it smells bad, and sometimes the water isn’t there at all: during a cold snap earlier this month, the county shut off water to most of its customers night after night.

All Martin County residents are aware that the water chronically violates the Safe Drinking Water Act, because they get notices of violation on their water bills. The notices tell residents that long-term exposure to the water could cause certain types of cancer. Residents have been getting regular notices like this for over 15 years.

In fact, at a recent hearing, a Kentucky Public Service Commissioner said that the Martin County Water District was “by far the worst water district…in the state of Kentucky.” The PSC is the agency that regulates public utilities.

The problems – and their solutions – come down to politics and economics. The Martin County Water District continually pleads poverty, while local leaders act like nothing is wrong. In response, local citizens have formed the Martin County Concerned Citizens, and are working to organize and put pressure on state and local leaders to do something.

The Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center is helping Martin County Concerned Citizens try to find solutions to this slow-moving crisis. ACLC provides free legal representation to the citizens before the PSC. We also help the citizens’ group advocate for strict enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act standards, as well as transparency from the water district and the state regulators.

As our attorney Mary Cromer recently said, “[Martin County] needs urgent federal intervention to have a functioning water system.” This urgency is greatly increased by the water district’s recent request for a 50% rate hike from its customers, a move that would greatly burden the taxpayers of Martin County without giving them anything other than bad water – or no water – in return.

We’ve compiled a list of media resources that have done a good job detailing the situation in Martin County, and ask that you spread these stories far and wide. The people of Martin County deserve better, and it’s up to us to help make their voices heard.

“Drinking Water Problems Still Plague Eastern Kentucky,” by Tarence Ray, The Appalachian Voice, 6 May 2016

“Troubled Waters: A Coalfield County Loses Trust in Water and Government,” by Benny Becker, Ohio Valley ReSource, 27 January 2017

“No Way to Bathe, Flush. District Shuts Off Water For Many, Struggles to Restore It,” by Bill Estep, Lexington Herald-Leader, 10 January 2018

“Editorial: Martin County Must Fix Its Failing Water System at the Ballot Box,” Lexington Herald-Leader, 20 January 2018

“Kentucky Community Suffering Severe Water Shortage Could Now See Huge Water Bill Increase,” by Kyla Mandel, Think Progress, 25 January 2018

“These Kentuckians Had No Water for Weeks. Now Officials Want to Raise Rates by Half,” by Will Wright, Lexington Herald-Leader, 25 January 2018

“Kentucky’s ‘Worst’ Water System Might Be Only Weeks From Collapse,” by Will Wright, Lexington Herald-Leader, 26 January 2018

“Why One County Has Avoided Drinking Its Water for 18 Years,” by Alexandra Miller, Newsy, 8 February 2018

“A victim of official abuse, Martin County says ‘time’s up’,” by Nina McCoy, Lexington Herald-Leader, 11 February 2018

“Rural America’s Drinking Water Crisis,” by Sarah Jones and Emily Atkin, New Republic, 12 February 2018

“The water runs milky and can feel like fire. In this impoverished county, Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan may not help,” by Jenny Jarvie, Los Angeles Times, 12 February 2018

“Business manager of Kentucky’s ‘worst water district’ retires amid financial crisis,” by Will Wright, Lexington Herald-Leader, 13 February 2018

“Emergency 28 percent rate hike ordered to prevent collapse of Kentucky water district,” by Will Wright, Lexington Herald-Leader, 16 March 2018

“Kentucky’s rural water disaster could get worse before it gets better,” by Lyndsey Gilpin, Scalawag Magazine, 20 March 2018

“The Kentucky county where the water smells like diesel,” by Nadia Kounang, CNN, 30 March 2018

“Troubled Kentucky water district fails to comply with state order after raising rates,” by Will Wright, Lexington Herald-Leader, 11 May 2018

“Their water district mismanaged money for years. They want Beshear to investigate,” by Will Wright, Lexington Herald-Leader, 1 June 2018

“Beshear answers citizens’ plea. He will investigate troubled Kentucky water district,” by Will Wright, Lexington Herald-Leader, 4 June 2018