< Back to all stories

Technical Assistance Helps Whitley County, Kentucky, Gain a New Community Water System

June 21, 2010 |

Location: Whitley County in southeast Kentucky


Problem: Polluted ground and surface water supplies due to mining operations, failing septic systems, and illegal straight pipe discharges of sewage; well water with bacterial and mineral contaminants


Solution: An 80-mile extension of the water distribution line along Highway 92E from the existing water system


Whitley County is economically distressed. Median household income is low, at $22,777, and per capita income is $12,777. Although the coal industry remains in a state of recession and the county has lost industry in recent years, the unemployment rate holds steady at 6.7 percent within the county, as residents travel to other communities, even into Tennessee, to work.


Years of mining operations, failing septic systems, and illegal straight pipe discharges of sewage from homes and businesses have polluted the county’s ground/surface water supplies. Well water is the only source available to rural citizens of Whitley County. These wells have both bacterial and mineral contaminants. Although most homeowners treat their well water onsite with individual water treatment systems, these systems do not filter bacterial contaminants. As a result, drinking well water has continued to be a proven health risk.


County residents believed the previous political administrations received funding for their own water project and spent the funds in other areas of the county. Convinced they had been ignored for years, these citizens rallied together, obtaining petitions and making weekly visits to the newly elected (1998) county judge/executive’s office demanding action. This administration responded immediately to the outrage of the community by hiring both a grant writer and an engineering firm to assist in investigating and documenting for application purposes the dire need for a safe, potable water supply within the southeastern portion of the county. The grant writer was eventually employed by RCAP and worked to resolve this situation as an employee of RCAP.


To assist Whitley County, the Great Lakes RCAP office and its technical assistance providers took action by:

  • Holding a pubic hearing for citizens to explain their needs
  • Obtaining water samples
  • Determining a bacterial contamination rate of 71% and a fecal contamination rate of 15%
  • Identifying and procuring the expertise to carry out critical pre-project and project activities
  • Helping the Whitley County Water District to conduct more than 1,200 door-to-door visits to obtain income surveys, water use agreements, and right-of-way easements
  • Facilitating meeting with the program director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service, the community, and the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection