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Beneath the Surface — Drinking Water Inside Appalachia

Cierra Coleman holds her 9-month-old son, Keaton, in her mother's Gary home. The Colemans bathe Keaton in bottled water.
Cierra Coleman holds her 9-month-old son, Keaton, in her mother's Gary home. The Colemans bathe Keaton in bottled water.

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. 

Jessica and Tim Taylor of Martin County collect water in buckets to deal with long water outages that have plagued their family.
Credit WILL WRIGHT / LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER
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Jessica and Tim Taylor of Martin County collect water in buckets to deal with long water outages that have plagued their family.

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.

https://youtu.be/95wbs6KUNvg

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.Loading...

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.

Music in this show was provided by Dinosaur Burps, Spencer Elliott, Blue Dot Sessions and Ben Townsend.

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.

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Copyright 2019 West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Eric is a native of Kanawha County and graduated from Marshall University with a degree in Journalism. He has written for newspapers and magazines throughout his career. After completing the certificate program with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, he began producing documentaries includingRussia: Coming of Age,For Cheap LobsterandWest Virginia Voices of War.
Jessica Lilly
Jessica Lilly covers southern West Virginia for West Virginia Public Radio and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning, the station’s daily radio news program and during afternoon newscasts.
Roxy Todd
Roxy Todd is a reporter and co-producer for Inside Appalachia and has been a reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting since 2014. Her stories have aired on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Marketplace. She’s won several awards, including a regional AP Award for best feature radio story, and also two regional Edward R. Murrow awards for Best Use of Sound and Best Writing for her stories about Appalachian food and culture.