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one way or another, we all live downstream


Photo of the Keels

James and Mattie Keel used to cross their fingers every time a heavy rain fell. Polluted water from a backyard stream often flooded the Keels’ yard and sometimes their home, leaving mud and debris that took weeks to remove. Their property was too small for a septic field, and city sewage wasn’t an option. For the over 50 years they have lived in Millstone, Kentucky, there hasn’t been a workable solution. Like their neighbors, they made do with a make-shift plumbing system—a pipe that dumped sewage straight into the creek and does serious harm to water quality and human health. This form of plumbing is a legacy from the coal companies that built many homes for workers throughout the region.


Then they heard about the North Fork Clean Water Project and its grant and revolving loan program. Designed for households with limited income, the fund helped James and Mattie find and install the best system for their property—a concentrated peat medium. The Keels were the first family in Kentucky to receive a permit for this alternative treatment system.


MACED joined concerned citizens with the North Fork Clean Water Project (NFCWP) to help communities within the river basin reduce the problem. The NFCWP estimated that Letcher County had about 3,000 straight pipes that drain into the North Fork—a river that supplies water to many eastern Kentucky communities before flowing into the Kentucky River.


MACED knew from the beginning that a problem of this magnitude couldn’t be resolved single-handedly. So we made sure NFCWP efforts brought statewide attention and inspired other initiatives. Soon the Letcher County government passed an ordinance requiring that new-home owners secure a wastewater system permit from the health department before electricity is switched on. The county also formed the state’s first county-wide water and sewer district. This district allows communities to cooperate on specific water and wastewater issues without fear of annexation.


Success encouraged replication. The state passed a law requiring property owners to obtain health department approval before electricity is connected.