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Kentucky Drinking Water Needs Low Priority Despite Needs

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The impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is reigniting talk about national infrastructure needs. Parts of southern Kentucky recently saw flooding after Harvey moved inland. 

Kentuckians are facing billions of dollars in water infrastructure needs, and uncertainty on a federal infrastructure spending plan. President Donald Trump has mentioned the need for a $1-trillion national infrastructure investment, but no details have come out. Most of the projects on Kentucky’s infrastructure wish list deal with highways and roads, not water.

That list includes replacing the Brent Spence Bridge connecting northern Kentucky and Cincinnati and finishing the I-69 corridor, which will run from Evansville through parts of western Kentucky. Republican state Senator Joe Bowen of Owensboro says he believes upgrading the William H. Natcher parkway to interstate standards is one of the most important projects to boost commerce in Kentucky. He says federal dollars are key to the state’s road plan.

“Every region of Kentucky is tuned in to road projects, no question about it," Bowen said. "That’s one of the major functions of state government, is to make sure we take care of the roads and highways and secondary road needs of the state.”

Bowen says clean drinking water is another one of the essential needs for every community across the commonwealth. He says coal severance dollars have previously helped to provide funding for shoring up water infrastructure needs and upgrades.

Gary Larimore is the executive director of the Kentucky Rural Water Association in Bowling Green. He says more than 95 percent of Kentuckians depend on the public water systems. He says the youngest water systems in the state have been around for about 50 years. That means they’re nearing the end of their design life or have already passed it.

“If we’re going to do an infrastructure bill or if we’re going to infuse money into infrastructure, let’s don’t forget about one of the basic needs that we have out there, and that’s water and sewer, which is the primary foundation of all economic development,” Larimore said.

Larimore says the primary funding agency for water infrastructure is the USDA, who had some uncertain funding earlier this year. He says it was disturbing when President Trump proposed eliminating a lot of that funding in his budget. Congress approved continuing funding for the USDA’s rural development grant program, although at a slightly lower level from the previous fiscal year.

Becca Schimmel is a Becca Schimmel is a multimedia journalist with the Ohio Valley ReSource a collaborative of public radio stations in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio. She's based out of the WKU Public Radio newsroom in Bowling Green.
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