Quick Takes

Eastern Kentucky city restoring water service amid ongoing water shortage

By: - January 11, 2024 4:06 pm

Much of Eastern Kentucky is under a “moderate” to “severe” drought. (Getty Images)

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear says all customers of an Eastern Kentucky city’s water system should have water service restored as of Thursday as the city has faced an ongoing water shortage spurred by drought. 

Beshear in a Thursday press conference said some customers in higher elevations of Fleming-Neon’s water utility in Letcher County could still experience “irregular service due to low water levels in storage tanks.” 

Ricky Burke, the mayor of Fleming-Neon, declared a local state of emergency on Jan. 5 due to low water levels in the city’s freshwater well, with Kentucky Emergency Management officials providing 22 pallets of water to the city of less than 1,000 the same day. Beshear declared a state of emergency for the city Wednesday after the city requested more drinking water. 

“This is a lot of work, especially from the local officials but also from the state to make sure that, again, this is as short of a state of emergency as it can be,” Beshear said. 

Burke recently told TV station WYMT a lack of rainfall had led to low water levels for the city’s water utility and that the utility was “limping along” for a couple of weeks prior to the local state of emergency. The U.S. Drought Monitor has much of Eastern Kentucky in a “moderate” to “severe” drought. 

John Mura, spokesperson for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, said in a statement that the city’s water plant is processing an average 300,000 gallons of water a day but that water leaks from aging infrastructure and flood damage from July 2022 have “exacerbated the situation.” Fleming-Neon was one of a number of Eastern Kentucky communities devastated by deadly flooding during the summer of 2022.

Fleming-Neon’s water utility is also purchasing about 150,000 gallons of water a day from nearby water utilities according to the cabinet. The amount of combined water supply is “sufficient” to maintain water supply to the utility’s customers but not enough to fill the utility’s water storage tanks. 

Beshear pointed to appropriations in his two-year state budget proposal to continue investments in the state’s water infrastructure, specifically $500 million for grants to water and wastewater infrastructure, in light of the situation in Fleming-Neon. 

“There is a lot in my proposed budget that tries to get us to a better day where we don’t face some of these challenges,” Beshear said. “But we believe that we’re getting the Fleming-Neon situation under control and that the citizens there are going to see regular water as we move forward.”

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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.

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