Today, Martin County Concerned Citizens and the Appalachian Citizens Law Center published a report showing that drinking water is unaffordable for nearly half of households in Martin County, Kentucky. The analysis finds that water is currently unaffordable for over 45.8% of Martin County households, based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s water affordability standard. The report is available at https://tinyurl.com/martincountywater.
While Martin County is one of the poorest counties in the state, it currently boasts the eighth highest water bill out of water districts regulated by the Kentucky Public Service Commission, based on a typical household usage of 4,000 gallons per month. Water bills have already increased by 41.5% since January 2018 in Martin County, but another rate increase is on the horizon, as the District has been ordered to hire an outside management company to take over management and operation of the system. According to water board members, hiring a company will require increased revenue and have suggested that it might result in a $10 rate increase. If that increase were to go into effect, Martin County would have the highest typical water bill in the state.
“Like so many others in Martin County, I’m on a fixed income,” says Timmy Smith, a lifelong resident of Martin County profiled in the report. “I can’t afford another rate increase – I can hardly afford the water now. If rates go up again, I’d have to decide between buying enough groceries or paying my water bill. Nobody should be forced to make that choice.”
The report offers suggestions to local, state, and federal officials to mitigate the affordability crisis, including the following:
Prevent further rate increases for Martin District customers
Direct funding from grants toward the most immediate needs of the Martin District – including fixing service and main water lines
Appropriate funds in the 2020 state budget toward Martin County’s water infrastructure needs and assistance for low income water customers
Establish forms of low-income assistance to support the most vulnerable customers in the Martin District
Explore alternative rate structures that could alleviate the burden of high water bills for the most vulnerable customers
Consider affordability when setting rates for public utilities
On the steps of the Kentucky state capitol building Nina McCoy, chairperson of the Martin County Concerned Citizens, spoke to a group of supporters gathered. “We are not here to ask the state legislature for a handout,” she said. “We are here to ask for a ‘paying back.’ For many years this commonwealth benefited greatly from severance taxes obtained from the digging, blasting and bombing of some of the poorest areas in the state, including Martin County. During the 1980’s, Martin County was the second largest producer of coal in the nation, behind Pike County. Half of those severance taxes went to bicycle paths and pet projects far from our tattered homeland and across this whole state. It is not too much to ask that the legislature assure that our people have clean, safe, reliable, drinking water that they can afford.”
Read the full report here: https://tinyurl.com/martincountywater.
Martin County Concerned Citizens is a grassroots community organization based in Martin County, Kentucky. Formed in 2017 by local residents to address the water quality crisis in the county, MCCC ensures that citizen voices are heard in determining the future of Martin County.
The Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center is a nonprofit law firm that fights for justice in the coalfields by representing coal miners and their families on issues of black lung and mine safety and by working with grassroots groups and individuals to protect the land and people from misuse and degradation caused by extractive industries.