Officials fear a Western Kentucky town is running out of water

·4 min read

MARION, Ky. — Response has been swift since a severe water shortage in the town of Marion caused Gov. Andy Beshear to declare a state of emergency on June 18.

While local civic and business leaders express confidence in the steps taken and progress made, there is still a sense of anxiety over what might happen if the water pressure goes from low to zero.

"This is a small town, mostly below poverty level," said Shanna West, president of the Crittenden County Chamber of Commerce and co-owner of H&H Hardware. "We need our businesses to stay open. People depend on their paychecks. We can't let things come to a standstill."

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The town has about 3,000 residents.

The problem began April 27 when a breach was found in a levee on Lake George, the primary water source for the town. Two days later, the leak had become a sinkhole. With the levee becoming more and more compromised, officials made the decision to do a controlled breach, trying to contain the damage.

In the process, 83 million gallons of water were lost. Since then, a lack of rain and a heat wave have caused the water shortage to become critical as the remaining water supply is being lost to evaporation.

On Friday, National Guardsmen from the 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade began moving water from the Cumberland River to Old City Lake, which serves as the city's backup water supply. The Guard will move 80,000 gallons of water to the reservoir, while also distributing potable water to residents at the Old Marion Armory, 131 Rochester Avenue. That is expected to continue for at least seven days, and as many as 30 days.

However, city administrator Adam Ledford said the volume of water taken from the river "wouldn't come close" to replacing what was being used; consumption for the town averaged around 500,000 gallons per day before people started conserving.

An inch and a half of rain has helped stave off some of the most immediate concerns. Still, Ledford estimates the city has only about five days' worth of treated water on hand, and somewhere between seven and 12 days' worth of water yet to be treated. That's no more than 17 days before the water runs out, if supply doesn't increase.

"We're working to help people, handing out bottled water and all that," he said. "We have some efforts to make connections with other water suppliers and that's starting to bring in a small amount of water, but it's not as simple as turning a few switches. There's a lot of chemistry and engineering needed. It's a long-term process."

Carl Hatfield, who along with his brother Jason owns Marion Pit Bar-B-Q, said several people on his staff said they have been losing sleep over the situation. He has, too.

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"The idea we've built this business and we may not be able to operate it in eight to 12 days, or at least not operate as normal for the next six months ... who knows how long it will take?" he said.

Hatfield said they didn't have a lot of information about the shortage at first, but a meeting he attended last week to inform people about the situation opened his eyes.

"That meeting was terrifying," he said. "We didn't really understand how bad it was until just the last week or so.

"But I do think we've got some good things happening and I think we'll find a plan that works."

West said a lot of local businesspeople are considering the "worst case scenario" and are trying to figure out how to provide their own water.

"We have people buying big tanks and coming up with some creative plumbing solutions," she said. "We have a lot of businesses — restaurants, salons, things like that — that depend on water coming out of their faucets to stay open. People are conserving and preparing."

Meanwhile, Lake George remains essentially dried up. Ledford asked that people continue to conserve water while state and local officials look for a more permanent — or at least stable — solution.

"All we can do is advise people to conserve," Ledford said. "Please don't use water for nonessential purposes and seek out resources and tips for conserving from the state extension office or local library."

This article originally appeared on Henderson Gleaner: What is going on with the water shortage in Marion Kentucky?