Expansion of water service a Ky. success story

August 18, 2014 

  • David Duttlinger is executive director of the Bluegrass Area Development District.

  • At issue: Aug. 5 Herald-Leader article, "Couple are not alone in their water woes; State has 93,600 households not on public systems"

Kudos to the Herald-Leader's Greg Kocher for his Aug, 5 story about water-unserved areas of Kentucky.

The fact that Kentucky currently has only five percent of its population without access to public water while the rest of the nation as a whole has 14 percent without public water is a testament to former Gov. Paul Patton's 2020 Vision and the efficacy of regional planning.

The Bluegrass Area Development District was commissioned to complete a regional water and sewer plan in 1973. At that time the population of the 17-county region was 385,218, and the percentage of households without access to public water was 22.5 percent.

The census year 2010 regional population was 770,404 and the percentage without access to public water in the Bluegrass Region was 0.13 percent.

Since its inception in 1971, the Bluegrass ADD has worked hard to identify and quantify areas that need community water service, to identify the most cost-effective water utility to tackle the job, and to bring together the necessary financing — often consisting of federal, state and local funds.

Recent figures compiled by the ADD show that fewer than 500 homes in the 17-county region lack community water access today. Those households remaining without access to community water are for the most part scattered in the more remote sections of the region. No longer are there hundreds of potential water customers located in densely settled pockets. Four of the 17 counties in the ADD report absolutely no homes lacking community water access.

Today public policy — good public policy, it might be argued — plays a more important role in providing service to the few remaining unserved areas than does the engineering or the funds required to get the water there. Patton's 2020 Vision of water service to 100 percent of Kentucky households, should be more appropriately interpreted as 100 percent cost-effective service.

If someone chooses to live eight miles from the nearest public water line, and if water line extensions cost $50,000 per mile, is it in the best interest of public policy to provide $400,000 of public funds to serve a single household?

These type of public-policy questions are openly debated at the Bluegrass Area Water Management Council hosted and staffed by the Bluegrass ADD. Cost effectiveness, operation and maintenance procedures, topographic/geologic considerations, subsidies, legal diversion of funds, regionalism, economies of scale and many other considerations are debated and reported to the Bluegrass ADD Board of Directors so that wise decisions can be made for the use of scarce public dollars.

Water, and the subsequent need to treat the wastewater, are only a small serving of the policy questions reviewed, staffed and discussed on a daily basis at the Bluegrass ADD. In addition to engineers working on water and wastewater issues, the ADD employs 97 other professionals with degrees in public administration, planning, social service, education and economics — all working to solve complex public policy issues.

The topics serviced include infrastructure and community planning, economic development, aging services and work-force development.

The Bluegrass ADD is one of 15 area development districts statewide and one of 540 regional development organizations that exist nationwide.

Authorized by the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act of 1968, regional development organizations were created to conduct specialized service, provide facilities essential to the administration of governmental activities and avoid the unnecessary duplication of any of these special service functions.

Whether debating water service, aging service, economic development or work-force development, Kentucky's area development districts play a vital role in good public policy formulation and in governance to benefit their regions.

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