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Report: 2 Million in U.S. Live Without Running Water, Indoor Plumbing

Many rural areas in the United States still lack access to basic running water, according to a report by the U.S. Water Alliance. (Adobe Stock)
Many rural areas in the United States still lack access to basic running water, according to a report by the U.S. Water Alliance. (Adobe Stock)
December 10, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Some communities are being left behind when it comes to access to running water and indoor plumbing, including parts of rural Appalachia. That's according to a new report by the U.S. Water Alliance, which found more than 2 million people across the country lack these services.

George McGraw, founder and CEO of the water advocacy organization DigDeep, said the problem is more widespread than many people know.

"Part of the reason we're advocating for this to be treated as an emergency or as a crisis is because the problem really is so big,” McGraw said. “We found that at least 2.2 million Americans still don't have running water and a flush toilet in 2019, and they're in every state. "

The report noted Kentucky has been a leader in regionalizing water systems, but said more could be done to pool resources among utilities to ensure all communities have access to clean running water.

McGraw said he recently spoke with one resident of McDowell County, West Virginia, who said her community has no choice but to rely on an outdated coal camp-era water system.

"Those systems which were already pretty rudimentary have really fallen apart,” he said. “A lot of people in her community don't have any running water anymore. Others have some running water from that system but it's intermittent, they get it a couple times a week, and they've been on a 7-year boil advisory."

He said his organization has been experimenting with off-the-grid distributed water systems in communities out west, which include delivering clean water by truck and installing temporary outdoor water tanks powered by solar panels to residents' homes. He said it's a temporary fix until a more permanent solution can be found.

"Our hope is to start an Appalachia water project where we gather communities together in Kentucky and in West Virginia, and we say, OK, talk to us about what you're facing and how we can support you,” McGraw said. “In some cases it might be this truck water program, in other cases I think it'll be advocating for federal and state government to invest in infrastructure."

The report also noted data collected by the federal government tends to underestimate the number of households without running water or sanitation, and said total federal spending for water and wastewater systems has shrunk from 63% in 1977 to just 9% today.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY