Roundup: Youth Fighting for Appalachia

Young folks are trying to revitalize their Appalachian hometowns • Entrepreneurs lean in to Southwest Virginia • California farmers' desperate for water • California rural desperate for safe drinking water • Cabin stolen, found

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The Atlantic reports on the growing trend of young people moving back to Appalachia in an effort to revive their hometowns. The writer, Alana Semuels, leads off with her visit to Whitesburg, Kentucky (home of the Center for Rural Strategies, publisher of the Daily Yonder).

But in the last few years, in places across eastern Kentucky and especially in Whitesburg, young people have started returning. A record store co-op recently opened in town and holds events with musicians. A new tattoo parlor—started by a local man who returned from living in Louisville—draws people from across state lines and even other countries. When the city voted to allow restaurants to serve alcohol in 2007, two new bars opened. Three years ago, voters decided to let stores sell alcohol too. Last fall, the city council narrowly approved a permit for a moonshine distillery that's going to open in a historical building in Whitesburg's downtown.

 “I knew I wanted to be in Whitesburg,” John Haywood, who owns the tattoo parlor, told me in his colorful basement shop decorated with his own artwork on the walls, which he opened four years ago. “There was what was to me a real grassroots movement here, still very early in its infancy, of just a lot of individual people trying to make stuff happen.”

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The Washington Post tells a similar tale, but about small county in southwest Virginia. Pulaski County is seeing a relative influx of entrepreneurs creating businesses and renovating old buildings in the process. New business-wise, the county has been on a roll lately: A stamping and welding company, a farmers market, and a restored mercantile that is home to a restaurant, bakery, and bike shop. As with anywhere, though, there are still things the area is missing.

But Mayor Jeff Worrell is aware of the needs. Nothing is more embarrassing for a mayor courting new industries than sending visitors several miles up the road so they can stay in a proper hotel. Everywhere he goes, he gets an earful: Pulaski needs more restaurants. Pulaski needs more stores. “My answer is always the same,” he says. “We need people.”

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Even though California is in the fourth year of its historic draught, the state still provides over half of the nation’s produce. Some experts are worried about the solutions farmers have come up with to find water for their farms.

But the way that California farmers have pulled off that feat is a case study in the unwise use of natural resources, many experts say. Farmers are drilling wells at a feverish pace and pumping billions of gallons of water from the ground, depleting a resource that was critically endangered even before the drought… began.

In some places, water tables have dropped 50 feet or more in just a few years. With less underground water to buoy it, the land surface is sinking as much as a foot a year in spots, causing roads to buckle and bridges to crack. Shallow wells have run dry, depriving several poor communities of water.

Scientists say some of the underground water-storing formations so critical to California’s future — typically, saturated layers of sand or clay — are being permanently damaged by the excess pumping, and will never again store as much water as farmers are pulling out.

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In other California water news, over a million people, mostly living in rural parts of the state, are without safe drinker water, according to Al Jazeera America. For these residents, the drought is the second most pressing water issue.

Tap water that comes mostly from wells in these communities violated maximum contaminant level standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency at least once in 2012 – the most recent annual compliance report by  the state’s drinking water program.

More than 100 areas with fewer than 10,000 people had arsenic violations. Most are small, poor communities with a predominantly Hispanic population, some of whom are forced to spend up to 10 percent of household income on bottled water.

“A lot of it is aged infrastructure,” said Sarah Buck, rural development specialist with the Rural Community Assistance Corporation. “And it’s very expensive to drill additional wells.”

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Ever gone home but your home wasn’t there? Me neither. But it happened to one family in Springday, Washington. They returned to their cabin (which isn’t their home, but humor me), only to find the home was stolen off its foundation. 

We’re just kind of at a loss right now. Like, seriously?” [family member Chris Hempel] said.

The cabin was found about a day later and only 10 miles away.  

Investigators think that whoever took the cabin was living in it.

 

— Shawn Poynter

 

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