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Kentucky water issues reviewed by state lawmakers

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Nov. 8, 2013) — More than $850 million has been appropriated by the Kentucky General Assembly between 2000 and 2010 for Kentucky water projects, a water association official told state lawmakers Thursday.

“We would not be able to accomplish what we have and be able to serve the unserved, and underserved, people if it had not been for your input as the General Assembly,” Kentucky Rural Water Association Executive director Gary Larimore told the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Environment.

Much of the funding that has helped expand safe drinking water to rural areas has come from coal severance and tobacco settlement dollars, he said. Kentucky also receives considerable funding from the federal government—especially the USDA, which Larimore said is “primarily the funding agency for rural water utilities in Kentucky.”

Kentucky is served by over 410 public water systems in the Commonwealth, according to Larimore. Kentucky’s five largest systems, including Kentucky American Water (which serves half a million people) and Louisville Water Company (which serves around 850,000 people), serve most of the state with water from surface water sources like rivers, reservoirs, and lakes, based on data from the Southern Regional Water Program. Another 1.53 million Kentuckians use mostly groundwater as their water source, according to the state Division of Water, while around 415,950 Kentuckians use private wells or springs as a water source.

“So many times, I think we take some of the basic essentials that so many of us have for granted,” said Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resource and Environment Co-Chair Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea. “Kentucky has always had issues with water (so) throughout the interim we think of opportunities to talk about crucial issues for Kentucky, and water is one of them, so we wanted (this update).”

Larimore was one of several who testified before the committee on water and wastewater issues facing Kentucky. Also testifying were representatives from Kentucky American Water, which mostly covers the Lexington-Fayette County area, Louisville Water Company, the Kentucky Municipal Utility Association, the Public Service Commission, Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, and the Kentucky Division of Water.

During testimony from Kentucky American Water’s Cheryl Norton, Sen. Chris Girdler, R-Somerset, asked if she is aware of water systems being part of public/private partnerships. Norton said yes — specifically in Florida where American Water (her parent company) entered into a public/private partnership to help with a desalination project in the Tampa area.

Projects that receive private support received positive feedback from Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington.

“I think it’s worth noting that in this time of tight money and tight taxes…when private industry can step forward…we ought to be going that way,” Lee said.

Commenting on the use of coal severance dollars to pay the cost of many water projects in the state, Rep. Fitz Steele, D-Hazard, cautioned officials and others at the meeting that the next state budget cycle will be rough for programs that have traditionally received that funding.

“When it comes up $200 million to $300 million or more short because there’s no coal severance money there, there are going to be a lot of programs getting cut. It’s coming—within two months it’s here…” said Steele.