‘Families just want to give their kid a bath’
Clean drinking water is essential to life. Yet it is estimated that 1.6 million Americans lack the ability to turn on the tap and have access to clean water. The Water Well Trust, a national non-profit that helps drill wells for rural and low-income homeowners, started out doing work in Northwest Arkansas in 2012. Now they’re back in NWA with a two-year program to help drill wells for more homeowners.
WWT was started in 2010, program director Margaret Martens said. She is also executive director for the Water Systems Council, a national trade association.
“Our members saw a lot of need in our country,” Martens said. “Americans were going to other countries and drilling for water, but no one was doing it here despite there being millions of Americans who don’t have water in their homes.”
The Water Well Trust’s pilot project was on Posey Mountain Rd. between Avoca and Lost Bridge. People in the area had been promised public water 15 years earlier before the water district decided it was too expensive to run lines to rural homes. That meant residents had to haul water in for basic needs such as washing clothes and bathing. And the water wasn’t potable, so they also had to buy drinking water.
James Holland was one of the residents of Posey Mountain Rd. who had to haul water for many years. Holland said in a video done for the WWT that hauling water was not only expensive, but dangerous. Water weighs eight pounds per gallon, so several hundred gallons being carried in the back of the truck makes the truck potentially unstable, particularly on curves and in bad weather. He estimated the cost of buying water, wear and tear on his pickup and gasoline amounted to more than $30,000 over the years. That didn’t include the many hours hauling the water.
Mike Frazee, who also lives on Posey Mountain Rd., had a water well drilled with the assistance of the WWT, and highly recommends the non-profit.
“Hands down I would recommend the Water Well Trust to other people,” Frazee said. “I can’t put it into words how grateful I am for what they have done. People are being helped who otherwise would struggle and not have adequate water.”
Frazee also commended WWT for having experts on their board who knew how to put together a complete package for what they needed regarding hardware and filtration.
Frazee testified in Washington D.C., in front of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife in the summer 2017 about how important the water well program has been to families like his. He was asked to testify by Sen. John Boozman.
WWT is funded by federal grants, and matched by money donated by the Water Systems Council. They did their second round of projects in 2016, providing wells for about 24 families in Northwest Arkansas, as well as for families elsewhere in the country. They have received another $200,000 grant matched by $62,000 in donations from the Water Systems Council, and plan to do most of the work here in Northwest Arkansas.
The system works as a revolving loan fund. Homeowners can borrow up to $11,000, which can be repaid over a 20-year period at one percent interest. The homes have to be owner occupied, a family’s combined income cannot exceed $52,100 per year, and applicants can’t have access to a public water supply.
Martens said it is more expensive to drill in Arkansas than in many areas of the country because of the depth.
“If you are at the top of the hill, it is going to cost you a lot more than if you are at the bottom of the hill,” she said. “With our first project, there were also sulfur issues so we had to put treatment systems on those wells. For the projects between 2014 to 2016, we didn’t have to do a lot of treatment.”
Low-income people pay a much higher percentage of their income for water.
“It is a terrible hardship,” Martens said. “In addition to the cost, they spend an exorbitant amount of time getting water for showers or laundry. When we deal with families with children, it is a real issue with kids getting bullied if they don’t have access to clean water in their home so they can bathe or get their clothes washed. A lot of times families just want to give their kid a bath. So many are excited their children actually get to bathe. We take for granted that water is just available, but there are so many people living without that luxury. When they do get water, it is life changing.”
The Water Well Trust has done five large projects with funding from the USDA. The first project in Arkansas started in 2014. In 2015, wells were drilled in Georgia, in 2016 work was done in South Carolina and New York, and in 2017, wells were drilled in New Mexico. All are two-year projects, and a total of 145 wells have been drilled.
All of the 2018 funds will be spent in Arkansas.
For more information, call (202) 625-4383. You can also fill out a request or make a donation at www.waterwelltrust.org. The Water Systems Council operates an EPA-funded hotline for people who have questions about their wells. Contact the wellcare® hotline at (888) 395-1033.