Got Water? Tapping into the War on America’s Pour

Got Water?

Tapping into the War on America’s Pour

By: Anesha Blakey

Have you had your recommended number of glasses of water today?[1] For some, it’s pretty easy to drink eight or more glasses per day, maybe even before lunchtime. For others, however, it can be difficult to force yourself to drink that much water throughout the day, especially when you’d much rather have a cup of coffee, an adult libation, or your favorite ice-cold carbonated beverage straight out of the icebox. I, unfortunately, fall into the latter group. However, as is customary around this time of the year, myself and many others around the world resolve to drink more water… which is easier said than done, right?[2] But what if this resolution was challenging not because you’re conditioned to prefer artificially sweetened drinks in lieu of water, but because your access to safe drinking water has been cut off by the very county in which you live? Although horrific details from Flint, MI have flooded the news in recent years as residents fight triumphantly to restore healthy water conditions to their community, one of the most recent communities to be affected by unhealthy water conditions is located right here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Beginning in January 2018, residents in Martin County, Kentucky unexpectedly lost access to their water supply for 12 hours per day, between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.[3] For other residents in the county, however, all access to running water ceased for several days at a time. [4] According to the Martin County Water District, the water supply was cut off to residents as a result of water shortages caused by “high water usage, busted meters, etc.”[5] However, Martin County has experienced infrastructure issues for many years, often resulting in water leaks and lower water pressure for its residents.[6] To fix the infrastructure, district officials estimate that the water system requires about $13.5 million in repairs.[7] However, officials for the Martin County Water District posted that as of November 2017, the outstanding debt for the district exceeds $800,000.00.[8] Thus, in an attempt to eradicate this debt, the district prepares Martin County residents to expect their monthly water bill to increase by as much as 49.5 percent.[9]

Another issue plaguing Martin County is water contamination, which forces many residents to purchase bottled water.[10] Two chemicals in particular, trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids, are so prevalent in Martin County’s water supply that warnings about exposure risks are printed on the district’s monthly billing statements.[11]

So, what is the answer? Aren’t there laws in place to protect citizens from living under such inhumane conditions? Well, according to state regulators, water is a “local responsibility.”[12] In Martin County, the water district is under the control of a five-member supervisory board, so “there is no legal mechanism to let the state seize control of a failing water district.”[13] This, however, has not stopped local residents and even well-known consumer advocate, Erin Brockovich, from joining in the conversation. Last week, Brockovich posted on social media encouraging residents to follow up with Matt Bevin, the Governor of Kentucky.[14] The post also brought attention to state and federal laws, which may provide a source of resolution for Martin County: “The Kentucky Division of Water is charged with responsibility to ensure public health protection through primacy of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the provision of potable water. ‘Primacy’ refers to primary enforcement responsibility awarded to the state by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 1977.”[15]

The Safe Drinking Water Act to which Brockovich references in her post, was established in 1974.[16] The Act authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency [hereinafter, the “EPA”] with the power to set minimum standards to protect and ensure the quality of drinking water.[17] The Act also governs the EPA to set forth regulations for the amount of toxins permitted in drinking water.[18] However, many national limits for contaminants have not been modified since 1996.[19] As such, “little has been done at the federal level to set safer limits for older chemicals, assess the health impact of new substances making their way into the water supply, or even monitor regularly for potential contaminants in the drinking water that millions of Americans ingest every day.”[20]

The stories of unhealthy water conditions plaguing Martin County and Flint, MI are sadly, more commonplace year after year. Even Louisville, KY, which is usually well-known for its high quality, top-rated tap water, has had issues as of late with the presence of unregulated contaminants in its water supply.[21] Thus, regardless of the source of the problem, residents must call on their local, state, and federal officials to resolve the safe drinking water issues, so that we can each safely drink the recommend glasses of water each day.

[1] Mayo Clinic Staff, Water: How much should you drink every day?, Mayo Clinic (Sept. 6, 2017), https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256.

[2] Lisa Drayer, A New Year, new food resolution: Water, CNN (Jan. 1, 2018, 12:11 AM), https://www.cnn.com/2017/12/25/health/water-food-resolution-drayer/index.html.

[3] Will Wright, Five days later, these Eastern Kentucky residents have no running water, Lexington Herald Leader (Jan. 12, 2018, 6:07 PM), http://www.kentucky.com/news/state/article194459549.html.

[4] Id.

[5] Kyla Mandel, Kentucky community suffering severe water shortage could now see huge water bill increase, Think Progress (Jan. 25, 2018, 4:43 PM), https://thinkprogress.org/kentucky-water-bill-rate-increase-11397b6c29dc/.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Cory McCauley, Martin County Water District more than 800,000 dollars in debt, WYMT (Jan. 15, 2018, 6:41 PM), http://www.wymt.com/content/news/Martin-County-Water-District-more-than-800000-dollars-in-debt-469426153.html.

[9] Mandel, supra note 5.

[10] Wright, supra note 3.

[11] John Cheves, ‘You can’t drink this crap.’ County’s water can be gray, brown or yellow – if there is any, Lexington Herald Leader (Oct. 10, 2016, 8:52 AM), http://www.kentucky.com/news/politics-government/article106649457.html.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Erin Brockovich Weighs In On Martin County Water Debate, Lex18 (Feb. 2, 2018, 12:54 PM), http://www.lex18.com/story/37414768/erin-brockovich-weighs-in-on-martin-county-water-debate.

[15] Id.

[16] Summary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA, https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-safe-drinking-water-act (last visited Feb. 4, 2018).

[17] Id.

[18] How EPA Regulates Drinking Water Contaminants, EPA, https://www.epa.gov/dwregdev/how-epa-regulates-drinking-water-contaminants (last visited Feb. 6, 2018).

[19] Annie Snider, What broke the Safe Drinking Water Act?, Politico (May 11, 2017, 5:02 PM), https://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/05/10/safe-drinking-water-perchlorate-000434.

[20] Id.

[21]Kezia Snipe, Problems We Found In Louisville’s Drinking Water, Hydroviv (Dec. 28, 2017), https://www.hydroviv.com/blogs/water-quality-report/louisville.