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Kentucky Drinking Water Remains Low Priority Despite Needs

Nicole Erwin / Ohio Valley ReSource

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 Trump has mentioned the need for a one-trillion-dollar 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 said he believes upgrading the William H. Natcher parkway to interstate standards is one of the most important projects to boost commerce in Kentucky. He said federal dollars are key to the state’s road plan.

Credit Will Craft APM reports
Projects Kentucky submitted for President Trump's infrastructure plan. Data on infrastructure projects was gathered by American Public Media reports through public records, press releases, and social media accounts.

“Every region of Kentucky is tuned in to road projects, no question about it. That’s one of the functions 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 said.

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 said more than 95 percent of Kentuckians depend on the public water systems. He said 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 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. The primary funding agency for water infrastructure is the USDA, who had some uncertain funding earlier this year. He said 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.  

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