Last Saturday (12-22), as many people were hanging out with family and preparing for the Christmas holiday, Tyler Childers was at the Roy F. Collier Community Center in Inez, Kentucky in a Carhartt coat and toboggan to personally deliver 500 cases of water for residents of Martin County. The area has been affected by an ongoing crisis with the community’s water supply, with some residents unable to get clean water, and an estimated 75% loss of water throughout the system due to aging infrastructure.
After finding out about the crisis, Tyler Childers from nearby Lawrence County, Kentucky, decided to take matters into his own hands, partnering with the LeSage Natural Water company in West Virginia to deliver water to residents, as well as to help stockpile reserves for future needs. He also performed an acoustic set for folks. What started out as a simple idea and an Instagram post, quickly escalated into a national drive to help the residents of Martin County, Kentucky with their ongoing water issues.
When asked if LeSage Natural Water had experienced a similar response to a call to action, LeSage sales manager Matt Muller told Saving Country Music, “No. Nothing like this. Tyler’s got fans all over the place. I was blown away. Buffalo, Denver, Lexington, Baton Rouge, South Bend, Indiana from a guy that works at the University of Notre Dame, Ohio, Atlanta, Seattle, Columbia in South Carolina, Johnson City, Tennessee, Joliet, Illinois. I mean all over the country, people have called.”
Along with the 500 cases of water Tyler Childers delivered last Saturday, country music fans from around the United States pledging their support were able to purchase an additional 30 pallets, or 36,000 more bottles of water for the cause, and counting. But beyond the bottles of water themselves, Tyler’s efforts are going to a greater cause through his partnership with LeSage Natural Water.
“We are actually a non profit,” explains Matt Muller of LeSage. “We’ve been here for over 50 years. And the whole purpose of this place is we provide jobs and training for folks with developmental disabilities. We are part of what’s called the Green Acres Regional Center, and we are totally unique in the United States in what we do here, bottling water from the aquifer that sits underneath us, and the folks that are doing the work have varying degrees of developmental disabilities. And on top of that, our water has won a gold medal in the biggest water competition in the world. It’s a double benefit when folks order this water from us.”
Jimmy Don Kerr, chairman of the Martin County Water Board, was also elated about the results of the Tyler Childers event. “It was very successful. There was so much water, I don’t even know what the count is. We received so much, we were having problems storing it. It was awesome to be able to partner with Tyler on the event. He’s a fellow eastern Kentuckian. He comes from the same place we do. With the success he’s achieved and to still think about home is a big deal. He was great, and incredibly down-to-earth. Very accommodating to his fans who were at the show.”
After many issues with the Martin County Water Board, Jimmy Don Kerr and others assumed new positions of oversight in January of 2018, and have been working on resolving the systemic water issues in the county ever since.
“The landscape is such that it makes it difficult to get water to everybody,” says Kerr. “You’ve got people living up in hollers, up in the mountains. There was some definite mismanagement of the system over the years, and we’ve been able to correct the financial part for the most part. When we took over, we were losing money like we were losing water. Our infrastructure is our true problem. The Division of Water says that we produce some of the best water in the state of Kentucky. But something happens when it gets out in our system.”
It is difficult for many people around the United States to comprehend that in 2018, there are still places that do not have reliable water supplies. But as Jimmy Don Kerr explains, years of mismanagement have put Martin County in this position.
“When people in our government get money, it’s not sexy to put it into the ground because you can’t see it. They build soccer fields, and football fields, and buildings because that’s nice, you can see it. We had all those years of coal severance money coming in where it wasn’t reinvested in our infrastructure the way that it should have been. And now there’s no more coal severance money, and our infrastructure has failed to the point where we’ve got 75% water loss.”
The work by Tyler Childers won’t just be limited to delivering bottles of water to help alleviate the issue in the short term.
“We will be talking with him and his manager next week, and we have some plans to work on some things in the future to truly help to address the issues that we have,” says Jimmy Don Kerr. “The water donation is great, and we need it especially around Christmas time and with the winter coming. But we’re going to be talking about some tangible things that will actually fix our system. As I told Tyler, I’m not looking for a hand out, I’m looking for a hand up.”
Kerr says that Tyler Childers is in a unique position to not just understand the water problem, but to help be part of the solution in the long-term.
“He’s one of us. If you listen to his music, he’s a brilliant songwriter, he’s from here, he’s got a good heart. A lot of people make fun of us in Martin County. They’ll tell you we’re a bunch of ignorant hillbillies. But Tyler is one of us. It was very easy to work with him from that standpoint. And he has a passion for the water, and the opioid epidemic in eastern Kentucky. So it’s something we can partner on together, and I think we can do some things moving forward that will shine the light in order to get the money that we need to fix our system.”
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Folks who would like to donate water can continue to do so by going to the LeSage Natural Water Website, or by calling 844-453-7243 (844-4LeSage).