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Residents in Several Kentucky Counties Are Without Water

Leaks in service lines have left residents in several Kentucky counties without access to water for cleaning or drinking. Jan. 29 was the eighth day that hundreds of residents were without water in Harlan County.

The treatment tanks at the Martin County Water District in Inez, Ky
The treatment tanks at the Martin County Water District water treatment plant on Turkey Creek Road in Inez, Ky., Wednesday, January 25, 2001.
Charles Bertram/TNS
Several hundred residents in Harlan County, Ky., were without water service Monday as utility workers tried to find and fix leaks in service lines and volunteer fire departments handed out bottled water.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet had received reports of water outages in other counties as well, most notably in Perry and Martin.

In Harlan County, Judge-Executive Dan Mosley said an estimated 400 to 500 residents were without water in communities in the mountainous east end of the county, between Evarts and the border with Virginia.

Monday was the eighth day without water for homes in the area, Mosley said.

He said he had been hearing from cancer patients without water and coal miners unable to take showers.

“It’s awful,” Mosley said.

Mosley said he had asked the state to send a portable treatment system to help produce more water and a portable shower system.

The outage affected customers of the Black Mountain Utility District in communities that included Louellen, Closplint and Holmes Mill.

The system gets treated water form the city of Evarts and distributes it.

Luke Huff, a member of the Clover Fork Volunteer Fire Department, said Monday was the eighth day with no water at his house in Closplint.

He and neighbors put out buckets to catch rain so they could flush their toilets and boil it to use for cleaning.

Several fire stations were giving out bottled water, but it was limited to three gallons per day per household, Huff said.

“We’re living like we’re a Third World country,” he said.

The manager of the water district was not available for comment Monday afternoon, but a recording on the district’s phone number attributed problems to the recent harsh, bitterly cold weather, which caused leaks in waterlines.

The recording said utility employees were working to restore service as quickly as possible.

The city of Evarts said on its Facebook page Sunday evening that workers had found 22 leaks in the system the last few days, with plans to continue checking Monday.

Mosley said leaks caused by the recent cold snap worsened problems that existed before.

One significant issue is that the Evarts system loses 50 percent or more of the water it treats because of leaks in the system before the water reaches the lines of the Black Mountain district, making it hard to meet demand, Mosley said.

Mosley said he has declared seven states of emergency since October 2022 as a result of outages in the system.

The Evarts water system draws raw water from an old underground coal mine and from water wells, but the amount of water available from those sources has declined the last couple of years, said Evarts Mayor Eddie Manning.

The city can also draw water to treat from a river.

However, the river has been muddy recently because of a landslide at a coal mine upstream, and the city’s pumps can’t process that source when it’s muddy, Manning said.

He also pointed to the fact the city loses so much water after treating it, a problem that has escalated in recent years.

“It’s kind of made for a really bad situation for us,” Manning said of the combination of supply shortages and leaks.

Workers have inspected about three-quarters of the city’s system in the last few days, but have not found leaks large enough to account for that high level of loss, Manning said.

Some lines in the city are around 60 years old, Manning said, and the city also needs a new treatment plant.

The county does not control the Evarts water system, Mosley said, but he has tried to help the system find money to upgrade and for a new storage tank.

In Martin County, Ida Goforth said water came back on at her home in the Turkey-Buffalo Horn area about 1 a.m. Monday after being out for seven days.

The water coming out of the tap looked like mud, however. Goforth said she hoped it cleared up enough by Monday evening to take a shower.

While the water was off, she and her husband melted snow and caught rain in buckets to use in flushing the toilet, and bathed the best they could with a sink of water.

After several days, they finally hooked back up an old water well on the property. They couldn’t drink the water but could use it to flush the toilet.

“It’s been terrible,” Goforth said.

The manager of the Martin County Water & Sanitation District was not available for comment Monday.

A notice issued Sunday placed the entire county, with about 3,400 customers, under a boil-water advisory. The Martin County Water & Sanitation district had reported “unsustainably low levels” of water in its treatment tanks.

Service had been restored to nearly all residents midday Monday, according to the state.

The Energy and Environment Cabinet had received reports that as of 1 p.m. Monday, there were 1,772 service connections in Kentucky without water service.

Nearly all those were in Harlan and Perry counties. That number statewide was down from 2,583 on Sunday, indicating progress in many places on getting service restored.

The number of connections without service had gone up in the Black Mountain district in Harlan County from Sunday, however.


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