Safe Supply

Oct. 29, 2014
Nonprofit group helps homeowners fund well-drilling projects

About the author: Margaret Martens is executive director of the Water Systems Council. Martens can be reached at [email protected] or 202.625.4387.

Having access to clean, safe drinking water in their homes is something most Americans take for granted; however, for approximately 1.7 million Americans, this basic need is unmet. 

It is estimated that more than 1 million U.S. households do not have access to safe drinking water. The Washington, D.C.-based Water Systems Council recognized this need and was determined to do something about it, so it founded the Water Well Trust in 2010.

To date, the Water Well Trust has raised more than $150,000 and completed three water well drilling projects in Arkansas and Georgia.

Rogers, Ark.

Six families near Rogers, Ark., had been hauling water to use in their homes and buying bottled water for drinking and cooking for more than 15 years. They originally believed their homes would have access to a public water supply, but the lines were never built. The cost to extend public water service, an estimated $1.2 million, was prohibitive for both the families and water suppliers.

Resident James Holland had been without access to safe water for 17 years, and estimates he hauled more than 1.1 million gal and drove close to 32,000 miles to get the water he needed, spending almost $31,000 to pay for the water, gas and trucks needed to haul the heavy loads.

Homeowner Marge Frazee decided there had to be an answer to the lack of safe water supply for her family. In the summer of 2010, she contacted U.S. Sen. John Boozman’s office to ask for assistance. Boozman’s staff told Frazee to contact the free wellcare hotline operated by the Water Systems Council, which offers answers to questions about wells, well water and source water protection.

At the time Frazee contacted the hotline, the Water Systems Council was in the process of launching the Water Well Trust. Frazee and her neighbors were just the kind of people the Water Systems Council had envisioned working with through the new nonprofit organization.

Frazee was patient but persistent. It took another nine months to secure sufficient funding to get the drilling project off the ground, with funding provided by contributions from Water Systems Council members. The residents qualified for loans and/or loan/grant combinations to finance their new wells, and drilling began. One family put it this way: “Thank you for all your hard work, time and endless effort to get us water. This is amazing and truly life changing.”

Today there is clean, safe drinking water flowing in each of the homes. “I thank God for the Water Well Trust,” Frazee said. “I truly believe this is part of God’s plan and an answer to prayer. Thank you for all your effort in helping us and others in this area.”

The final cost of this project yielded a 94% cost savings for the community.

Jones County, Ga.

For 10 years, residents of Jones County, Ga., had been working to get safe drinking water to their rural unincorporated community. The county health department had determined that their wells were contaminated and unsafe, but could not afford to bring clean drinking water to them.

The problem was brought to the attention of the Water Well Trust by Water Systems Council member and local well contractor Jarrell Greene, who also involved Jones County Administrator Mike Underwood. Underwood contacted the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to get its assistance.

Over the next year, the Water Well Trust, Georgia DCA and Jones County collaborated on a plan to finance the construction of new wells for these residents. Through the Water Well Trust, the residents qualified for loans and/or grants to cover the costs of their new wells. The loan portions were financed with Community Development Block Grant funds from the Georgia DCA through Jones County. The funding for the grants came from contributions to the Water Well Trust by Water Systems Council members. Once financing was in place, drilling began.

Today there is clean, safe drinking water flowing to these homes. “The new well is tremendous,” said one resident. “I don’t have to worry about the water being contaminated. I can take a shower and not worry about running out of water. I don’t worry about the drinking water being safe because it is no longer polluted. It changes everything.”

Ben Hill County, Ga.

Georgia welcomed the Water Well Trust back for a second well drilling project in 2014, this time in Ben Hill County, where the existing public water supply infrastructure was failing and the county could not afford the $600,000 price tag for repairs.

Based on the success of the Jones County project, the Georgia DCA recommended the Water Well Trust to Ben Hill County Administrator Frank Feild to provide a more economical solution for supplying 12 rural households with a safe water supply.

For this project, the Water Well Trust provided financing for drilling eight new wells to serve the 12 owner-occupied homes. The National Ground Water Research and Educational Foundation also awarded the Water Well Trust a $10,000 grant for the project. In addition, the county covered the cost to drill wells for two area churches and five rental homes owned by the churches, which are located in the same area. The project provided an 86% cost savings to the county and local residents.

A Continuing Need

The Water Well Trust currently has a waiting list of more than 50 potential clients from all over the U.S. who have heard of the organization’s work and need help bringing clean water to their communities.

In October 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a $140,000 grant to the Water Well Trust through its Household Water Well Systems Grant program for a project to increase potable water availability to rural households in northwest Arkansas and Oklahoma. At least 19 wells will be drilled or rehabilitated, including shared wells.

“With mounting costs associated with replacing aging infrastructure nationwide, it is imperative that local communities weigh all options when developing plans for providing new water supplies and assessing existing water service delivery,” said Steve Anderson, chairman of the Water Well Trust. “Choosing wells to provide drinking water in lieu of requiring households to connect to expensive centralized systems can save federal, state and local governments millions of dollars.”

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About the Author

Margaret Martens

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