Jessica Lilly Published

Living Without Consistent Water Service: A Northfork Way of Life


Governor Earl Ray Tomblin lifted the state of emergency for nine counties on Friday. It’s been about seven weeks since 300,000 customers lost access to clean water after a chemical leaked into the Elk; a river upstream from the intake to West Virginia American Water’s treatment plant.

But for several towns in rural West Virginia, going without clean water is a way of life.

We’ve followed the story about the folks in Bud/Alpoca, an area of Wyoming County that remains on a boil water advisory that’s been in effect since September. There the water runs different shades of brown that stains clothes.

Across the border in McDowell County you’ll find several more communities coping with limited access to clean water.

Northfork has been on a boil water advisory since July 2013 yet, the situation hasn’t merited much attention or a state of emergency.

Including the active advisory, the town of about 180 customers has been on seven boil water advisories since 2009, some lasting for months. It’s been an ongoing issue for years.

“I know this is not how it’s supposed to be,” Northfork resident Micole Bright said. “This is like a third world country or something.”

Bright welcomes me into her home and explains that the white plastic buckets stacked at the door are for holding water. The family has to be prepared for the next time they go without water.

Another stack of plastic containers are piled in the hallway just outside the bathroom. This stack is to flush the toilets. 

You see- here the biggest challenge is having water at all.

“The water goes off pretty often and it stays off for about last time was 27 days,” Bright said. “It’s real hard with the kids going to school and cleaning and washing clothes and cooking and doing dishes it’s just real hard.”


Credit Jessica Lilly
Micole Bright lives in a Northfork home at the end of the service lines. She loses water service when while other residents don’t. Still the dated water system creates outages for the entire town.

Bright says this time she lost water on January 13 and it remained off for more than five weeks. Bright says she tries not to bother the folks at city hall too much. Bright only calls after the water service has been out for three or four days. Some residents don’t call at all.

The water system operated by the town of Northfork, is outdated, and the filter needs to be replaced. So  employees have to flush the system about every other day, causing the pressure to drop especially for customers like Bright who live at higher elevations.

“It just seems like sometimes when you live in a place like this you’re not heard as well as you would be if you were somewhere else in a different town or something like that,” Bright said. “Here it’s like, OK you’re in Northfork, so what? You’re in McDowell County what do you expect.That kind of attitude.”

Water for Northfork will eventually come from the McDowell County Public Service District but that’s not expected to happen for years.  The PSD is phasing in an expansion of service and Northfork is part of the second phase. Bids for phase one go out this month.

In the meantime, Northfork residents remain without access to clean water and on a boil water advisory.