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Clean drinking water should be priority

When I was a kid, my mother had our well water tested, and we discovered that while it was alright for bathing, cooking and washing clothes and dishes, it was not safe for drinking.

After that, we had to take plastic jugs to our relatives in town and fill them with water. I didn’t think much about it at the time but eventually rural water service became available, and it made a huge difference.

Sadly, and probably in the eyes of many Ohioans, shockingly, there are people today living in the 17th Senate District and other rural parts of the state who still do not have access to clean drinking water. In some cases, these families do not even have water to use for washing and cooking.

Water is a basic need that must be met.

While expanding broadband service is important for the future of our region, and something that I support very strongly, ensuring that all Ohioans have access to clean and potable drinking water must be a primary focus.

One of the most frustrating obstacles I have encountered during my career in the Legislature is trying to help constituents secure water service in remote parts of the district.

Often, the people who do not have access to water live on orphan roads, where the water company had to stop laying pipe and building other infrastructure because of the cost of going that extra mile or two.

I have worked with county commissioners and water companies many times in an effort to bring clean drinking water to those who need it.

Unfortunately, because high costs, we have not always been successful.

There are residents of one small community, for instance, who have been working to get water service for 11 years. They had relied on well water for decades, but for whatever reason, it went bad.

A number of public officials at the federal, state and local level have worked over the years to help bring clean drinking water to rural communities in Ohio, and while progress has been made, there is still a long way to go.

Many Ohioans are not even aware that some residents of our state do not have access to a safe water supply.

I will introduce legislation in the near future that would create the Water Access To Every Residence (WATER) Taskforce to map the areas of Ohio that do not have access to clean drinking water, while working to develop strategies for bringing water service to those who need it, including ideas for how to finance water infrastructure projects.

There is currently no centralized data on water access in Ohio or a comprehensive state plan to address the issue.

The taskforce would be chaired by the Director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia and include representatives from the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, the Ohio Townships Association, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, the Ohio Rural Water Association and the Ohio Small Communities Environmental Infrastructure Group, as well as a member from both the Ohio House and Senate.

While it is probably not realistic at this point to think that we can get safe drinking water to every community that needs it, it is critical that we continue to work to make progress on this very important issue.

The WATER Taskforce would serve as a forum to help raise public awareness and bring key stakeholders to the table to research the problem and discuss and develop possible solutions.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.