McDowell County, West Virginia (WSAZ) – For decades, the people of McDowell County, West Virginia lacked access to clean drinking water due to outdated infrastructure.
In December 2022, Michael Regan, US Environmental Protection Agency Commissioner in Washington, DC, visited the county to talk about clean water and funding to improve the system.
What many take for granted is difficult to achieve in McDowell County. “It’s 2022 now, and this is still happening,” said her Tori Satow, a McDowell County resident. About two-thirds of the people in the county do not have access to clean drinking water.
“I feel like people who live here have learned to accept that, like, ‘Yeah, we don’t have running water at all.’ Hi guys, this is crazy. This is sane.” No,” said Tori Satow. Sato lives in the town of Keystone. The town has received a boiling advisory for him for ten years. “Most mornings I wake up not knowing if there is water in the sink, sometimes weeks without running water,” continued Sato.
A coal company built the original water system, but after the company left the area, no one took over control and the water system deteriorated.
“Your kids are filthy, your plates are piled up, everything is dirty. I just sit there with the filth around me,” Sato said.
Established in 1990, the McDowell County Public Service District has been working for decades to integrate and improve drinking water systems in coal communities. PSD started with 520 customers and now has up to 3,500 customers.
“You can’t raise all the money at once, so you have to get it one at a time. That’s what we do. said Mavis Brewster, McDowell Public Service District General Manager.
The Kimball area water treatment plant is 120 years old. It is still in operation. The plant provides drinking water to about 300 customers, but it is in poor condition.
“There’s a built-in shower in the back so you can see the roof. It holds these up. I’m guessing the pump here is somewhere around 60 years old. Also, it’s outdated, so I’ve decided it’s going to fail.” You can’t always get another pump like that.
Several phases of the project are underway to close the obsolete plant, but the project is time consuming and costly.
“Phase 4 of this Elkhorn project will see four older systems out of service, like Kimball, and a new plant. ,” said Brewster.
With every grant and every project they connect more customers, but each time the water line stops short of those in need.
“People call me and say you stopped by just a mile in front of my house, but we went as far as our funding allowed. It should be another phase of the project.” said Brewster.
When the EPA chief visited McDowell County, he spoke to people trying to find solutions.
“Everyone in this country has a right to access to clean drinking water. Our coal community was the community that helped keep this country as competitive as possible during the Industrial Revolution. Now. , they need federal support and a strong partnership, and we are here to provide that partnership,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan.
Pledging to support the county and connect everyone to clean drinking water, Regan said, “We have historic resources. It’s important to provide these resources to the right communities, and McDowell Communities like counties deserve these resources.”
EPA administrators said West Virginia will receive $83 million for infrastructure improvements. It’s unclear at this time how much funding will be provided to McDowell County.
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