Letcher County Man Working To Clean Up Counties Water Supply

By: Amy Walker Email
By: Amy Walker Email

One Eastern Kentucky county is home to some of the cleanest streams in the state, but in that same county, some of the water is running orange. One Letcher County man says he's trying to restore the region's natural beauty.

Much of the water in Letcher County is orange. Evan Smith says if you're not on the city's water system, it could be flowing out of your faucet.

"Not only can you not drink it, you can't do laundry, and there's not much you can do with it," Smith said.

Smith says the orange colored mineral deposits come from water flowing from mines abandoned more than fifty years ago. The cause is not man made. It's a natural reaction with dangerous effects.

"Pyrite or fool's gold that comes in contact with water, and when this happens, pyrite breaks down into sulfuric acid and iron," Smith said.

While one stream looks clear, Smith says the water is so acidic, it would make your hand tingle and when it meets another bed of water, you can see why, aluminum deposits settle down the riverbed.

"Certain levels of iron and other metals that are carcinogens, and pretty scary stuff sometimes," said Smith.

Smith has spent the last year testing streams and creeks throughout Letcher County with the Kentucky Watershed Watch Group. He's found that while much of the water is dirty, some places, like Bad Branch Falls, are among the cleanest in the state. Smith says nature can help more waterbeds join the list.

"We need to figure out how to create systems to keep this pollution from getting on downstream, creating sediment ponds and wetlands and limestone to increase the quality of the water," Smith says.

And with so much water flowing from Letcher County into other Eastern Kentucky counties, getting a cleaner water supply could better the whole region.

WYMT also asked officials from the Division of Abandoned Mines how they deal with water complaints. They say they send inspectors for individual calls, but cleaning up acid mine drainage is a lower priority than more life endangering hazards in abandoned mines.

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