Better Water for Our Appalachian Neighbors

By Alison M. Jones

Clean water is a vital and existential need. Many say it is a human right. It is certainly critical to good health. However, not all Americans are guaranteed access to clean water.  NWNL recently read about serious contamination of Eastern Kentucky’s drinking water.

In 2013, NWNL documented this eastern edge of the Mississippi River Basin. Appalachia is filled with misty hollers. Old men rock on front porches, waiting for the warming morning sun to peek into their yard.


Drinking water for rural Appalachian residents should be as sparkly clean as the tumbling waters in their Cumberland River.

But Eastern Kentucky’s water supplies are contaminated by sewage and years of coal and gas extraction.  Coal processing is never far from rivers. In the rain, unprotected piles of black coal leach into the ground and then nearby bodies of water.

The health of residents in Appalachia’s Tennessee and Ohio River Basins is not only impacted by coal’s direct pollution of rivers and groundwater, but also by black carbon – polluted particulate matter spewed from coal-fired power plants. According to the Earth Institute of Columbia University, black carbon particulates are “especially dangerous to human health because of their tiny size.”  This fine soot is “formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass.” It fills the air folks breathe and then drops, polluting land and drinking water supplies below.


Such pollution damages the health of thirsty children and their elders, as well as wildlife and fish. “Breathing in particulate matter of black carbon’s sulfate, nitrate, ammonia, sodium chloride and mineral dust poses the greatest health risks because these particles find their way deep into lungs and the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and premature death.” Black carbon also affects visibility; harms ecosystems; reduces agricultural productivity and exacerbates global warming.

While still debating continued use of coal, U.S. politicians indicate they want to update infrastructure, including rural water delivery and waste-water systems. That should give hope to Eastern Kentucky residents who need federal support for such infrastructure, since public/private funding in Appalachia is minimal.

While shiny new bridges provide visible evidence of federal support, new underground water tanks and pipes are invisible. Human health needs should be recognized as a top priority. Clean water will reduce illness and health care costs in Eastern Kentucky. Providing clean drinking water to all Americans is as important as new bridges.


“If only civilization did not bring with it pollution.” Children’s mural in Ericeria, Portugal.

RESOURCES for this blog


Becker, Benny. “Kentucky Community Hopes Trump Infrastructure Plan Will Fix Water System,” NPR: March 13, 2017.

Cho, Renee. “The Damaging Effects of Black Carbon,” Earth Institute of Columbia University. |March 22, 2016.

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. “What is Black Carbon?


Celebrating World Wildlife Day!

By Christina Belasco

Today we celebrate World Wildlife Day. Acting to preserve our planet’s treasured biodiversity is more important now than ever. To honor our beloved creatures we share with you all today photos from our African and North American case study watersheds! We can never forget that these animals all depend on healthy, clean fresh water so we must protect our watersheds as well. Each animal, no matter how big or small, plays a critical role in the ecosystem and are all worthy of love and conservation. This reminds us all that no action we take in conservation is too small. We thank local environmental stewards everywhere for standing up for their ecosystems.



Kenya, Maasai Mara National Reserve. Elephants are a flagship species of the Maasai Mara Reserve. They are a key indicator species, and are in danger due to illegal poaching for their ivory.


Tanzania, Lake Manyara National Park. An Olive Baboon (papio anubis) eats a kigelia nut in groundwater forest. The baboon’s greatest threats are habitat loss due to deforestation as well as human hunting.


Kenya, Maasai Mara National Reserve. An Impala Herd grazes at sunset. Impala are an important food source for many predators in the African Savanna, and are a very adaptable species.


Tanzania, Lake Manyara National Park. A Lioness is perched in an Acacia tree. Lionesses hunt for the pride. These predators of the Savanna are in danger because of habitat loss and poaching.


Tanzania: Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The annual Wildebeest migration is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, when over 1.5 million Wildebeest trod in an enormous loop through Tanzania and Kenya.

North America:


Columbia River Basin, Greater Yellowstone. The Buffalo was once the great icon of the heartland of the United States, and are sacred to the Native Americans of the plains who relied on Buffalo for centuries as their source of food, material, and ceremony. As the settlers came, the Buffalo was nearly hunted out of existence. Thanks to recent conservation efforts, especially in Yellowstone National Park, this giant creature is making a slow comeback.


Washington, Columbia River Basin. Chinook Salmon are critical to river ecosystems in the Northwest. The single most damaging threat to the Salmon are dams, which block their ability to migrate downstream and into the ocean where they need to go to complete their life cycle.


New Jersey, Mountainville (Raritan River Basin). Atlantis fritillary butterfly feeds on the bloom of a bush. Butterfly are not only beautiful, they help pollinate flowers and are a key indicator species.


Louisiana, Atchafalaya Basin. The Alligator in the Atchafalaya Basin is a critical predator. It faces a multitude of threats including habitat loss, immense pollution, and human hunting.


New Jersey, Upper Raritan River Basin. Honeybee populations all over the world are facing an enormous crisis due to pesticide spraying and climate change.