CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Water access issues in parts of West Virginia are included in a new national report, “Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States,” now out from DigDeep, a nonprofit focused on clean water, and the U.S. Water Alliance.

“The fact is that most Americans take our water and sanitation access for granted because we do have a great system in this country, but we’ve left over two million people behind and they are invisible,” said George McGraw, founder and CEO of DigDeep.

See the full report HERE.

For the report, “We had researchers all over West Virginia but specifically focused on McDowell County and, honestly, what we found there was pretty shocking,” McGraw said.

In O’Toole, the report touched on hauling that residents have regularly done to access water.

“Some residents that we interviewed cut their daily water use to just five gallons; others showered under rain gutters during a downpour,” the report said.

Cited also was Mile Branch where water from private wells “comes out cloudy or brown,” a change that’s happened in just the past couple of years.

In Keystone, water was listed among lost or quickly fading municipal services.

Those communities, the report said, represented water challenges prevalent throughout Appalachia: lack of household water access, poor water quality and lack of wastewater services.

In the absence of a national response to improve baseline conditions for reliable running water and safe sanitation for all, many community and faith-based organizations have stepped in to try to help residents.

At McDowell County’s Five Loaves and Two Fishes Food Bank, for example, bottled water has become the most-requested item.

“It has become the defacto drinking water source for residents that lack access,” the report said.

The food bank has been involved in developing solar technology to possibly pull drinking water from the air in the future to provide residents another water source, according to McGraw.

“As we turn a blind eye to this problem, more and more people are falling through the cracks,” McGraw said. “One of the biggest findings in our report was that this problem is actually growing in six states and Puerto Rico.”

Other findings included the following:

– Federal data doesn’t accurately measure the water access gap;
– Race is the strongest predictor of water and sanitation access;
– Poverty is a key obstacle to water access;
– Water access challenges affect entire communities.

Along with West Virginia, additional areas highlighted in the report included the Navajo Nation in the southwest U.S., Alabama and California’s Central Valley.

The action plan portion of the report recommended developing alternatives to traditional infrastructure, building a domestic water, sanitation and hygiene sector and supporting system consolidations that benefits communities.

“This report is the first sort of national attempt to measure this problem and to provide an action plan for how to fix it and, unfortunately, that gap that it fills is pretty big,” said McGraw.