Many of the current water systems in parts of the West Virginia coalfields were installed in the early 1900s by coal companies.
When coal operators, people and jobs left the area, remnants like some beautiful buildings, coal tipples and water systems were left behind. The crumbling infrastructure that followed was not reliable, which meant living without consistent, clean tap water for many coalfield communities.
Residents in Keystone in McDowell County had been on a boil water advisory since 2010 while the neighboring town of Northfork has shared that challenge since 2013.
But soon, phase two of a water project in southern West Virginia will change all of that. After 11 years without consistent access to tap water, most Northfork residents are connected to a new water system.
Phase one of the Elkhorn Water Project began in 2015 and has connected 494 homes or businesses to a new system. This phase included a new water plant and a new 400,000 gallon water storage tank on Elkhorn Mountain. The large storage capacity of the tank allowed McDowell Public Service District to install a line that connected the communities of Anawalt, Jenkinjones, Pageton and Skygusty.
New lines and meters still need to be installed in those additional communities. The project also installed new lines, meters and fire hydrants for Maybeury, Elkhorn, and Switchback. This includes about 270 additional customers.
Phase two will connect about 450 residents including those in Keystone and Northfork, to the new system. The McDowell County Public Service District said in an email that contractors are currently connecting water service to resident’s homes.
While the boil water advisory is still in effect as of Tuesday, McDowell PSD says it can be lifted when all the homes are connected and the old system is taken offline.
Rates increased by 4% for phase one after a USDA loan and grant program. There will be no rate increase with phase two after receiving federal grants from Economic Development Administration (EDA), USDA Rural Development and local funding $50,000 each from McDowell County Commission and McDowell County Economic Development Authority (EDA).
McDowell PSD has submitted funding applications for phase three.