Washington, D.C. – This month, on the two-year anniversary of the federal emergency declaration in Flint, Michigan, the Martin County Judge Executive Kelley Callaham declared a state of emergency because of widespread water outages across Martin County, Kentucky. This rural Kentucky community is experiencing catastrophic failures of its aging water system with chronic contamination of its drinking water supply. Now, on Friday, the Public Services Commission will hold an emergency hearing about whether households in the community—which has a 40 percent poverty rate—will spend hundreds more each year on water service.
“Two years after Flint, Michigan called attention to the systemic water woes hitting our most vulnerable people and poorest communities, the epidemic of water poverty in this country shows no signs of abating,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Now, Martin County, Kentucky urgently needs assistance to address the systemic failure of its water system. The entire community has had water outages for weeks and water quality problems have plagued the county for years.”
The proposed rate increase of 49.5 percent would add $237 a year onto a typical household’s drinking water bill, raising it from $479 a year to $716 a year.
Martin County’s water infrastructure is cracked and leaking, the system is broken, and water resources were polluted nearly two decades ago during a coal sludge spill. The Martin County Water District has 88 water quality violations on record on EPA’s online database, 26 of which were first reported since 2015.
“Martin County needs immediate federal assistance,” said Mary Cromer, an attorney with the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, Inc., who is representing the group Concerned Citizens of Martin County before the state Public Service Committee. “We can’t continue down this path. The county needs urgent federal intervention to have a functioning water system. Raising the rates will not address the long-standing issues and it will be on the backs of people already suffering.”
Amy Guerrieri and Jenifer Howard, co-founders of RAMP, a charitable organization focused on improving the lives of impoverished children and families through hunger and relief programs in the Martin County, noted, “The water system failures in Martin County are affecting the health and education of area children. School is being disrupted because of lack of water in the district, and when children miss school, they miss meals. The systemic water problems have far-reaching consequences and must be addressed immediately.”
“Federal funding for water infrastructure is at its lowest point in decades, which is one of the reasons the problem is so dire,” said Hauter. “This is a war on America’s poorest. Martin County, Kentucky deserves better from our leaders. We call on the area’s elected officials in Congress—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Rand Paul and Representative Hal Rogers—to visit Martin County, speak with the residents, investigate the water crisis and provide an immediate funding solution.”
Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.
Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; [email protected]