Trust in the System

March 30, 2017
Nonprofit helps Americans gain access to safe drinking water

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

According to U.S. Census data from 2011 to 2015, more than 508,997 U.S. households do not have access to safe drinking water, meaning this issue affects more than 1 million people in this country. Since its creation in 2010, Water Well Trust (WWT) has made its mission to bring safe water to families through the construction of wells.

WWT provides wells to U.S. families that do not have access to a safe drinking water supply in their homes by rehabilitating existing wells or constructing new ones. These wells provide safe drinking water to low-income and minority households, usually in rural areas or where wells are the affordable and sustainable choice.

To date, WWT has completed well projects in Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Texas, in addition to pending projects in Georgia, New York and South Carolina. Recently, the organization completed 24 water well projects in 10 Arkansas counties funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Household Water Well Systems Grant program.

Arkansas Projects

In 2014, USDA awarded a $140,000 matching grant to WWT to increase potable water availability to rural households in five Arkansas counties—Franklin, Benton, Madison, Marion and Crawford—as well as Sequoyah County, Okla. Five additional Arkansas counties—Carroll, Johnson, Logan, Searcy and Washington—were added in 2015.

A total of 24 water wells were drilled or rehabilitated, providing clean drinking water to 73 Arkansas residents, including 31 children and four veterans. One recipient of a new well, who preferred not to provide his name, explained how the project changed his family’s life.

The 55-year-old man lives with his wife and five young children on a 40-acre property in northern Arkansas they purchased in 2009. “We made a choice to live on the property even though no one ever had,” he said.

The property did not have a well or any other water source, so for five years, he hauled water in with his SUV. “Pulling a trailer carrying a 3,000-gal cage up a quarter-mile-long, steep, washed-out dirt driveway after an hour-and-a-half round-trip drive wasn’t easy or cheap,” he said. Maintenance costs for his vehicles and trailers grew, and bad weather often prevented him from making “water runs.”

“I had considered selling family heirlooms, taking on another job, asking my wife to do the same, even giving up and selling out,” he said. “Making the simple phone call to the Water Well Trust changed our standards of living and overall well-being beyond measure. With absolutely no red tape or delay in qualification, we were able to contract services and submit invoices with no trouble or out-of-pocket expenses whatsoever. We literally had running water within 30 days of our initial phone call. This opportunity we were blessed with is nothing shy of a miracle to us.”

Georgia Projects

In 2015, WWT received a second USDA grant to drill new water wells or rehabilitate existing wells in 13 Georgia counties: Colquitt, Grady, Hancock, Hart, Jones, Macon, Monroe, Murray, Twiggs, Warren, Washington, Wilcox and Worth. That grant is being used to fund at least 22 wells.

“The residents of Hitchcock Road came to the Jones County board of commissioners about some contamination with their wells,” said Michael Underwood, administrator for Jones County. “Our engineer looked at this project and determined it was going to cost $100,000 to run that line and connect all these citizens. The Water Well Trust got involved and provided the homeowners with a well system that will be their [new] well system. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs looked at this project and has decided that [it] could use this as a model for the rest of Georgia.”

South Carolina & New York Projects

WWT received a third USDA grant in 2016 for water well projects in 13 South Carolina counties—Darlington, Lee, Marion, Marlboro, Sumter, Clarendon, Williamsburg, Orangeburg, Laurens, Cherokee, Kershaw, Spartanburg and Union—and three New York counties—Delaware, Rensselaer and Columbia.

Matching funds of 31% ($43,400) for the USDA grant were donated by members of the Water Systems Council at its 2016 Annual Fall Meeting Golf Tournament and WWT Auction. WWT has opened the application process for qualifying households in South Carolina and New York.

USDA grant funds are used to provide long-term, low-interest loans to applicants seeking new or improved water wells. Funding is limited to a maximum of $11,000 per household. Loans have an interest rate of 1% with terms of up to 20 years.

To be eligible to receive a WWT loan, applicants must be the owner and occupant of the home as their primary residence. In addition, the applicant’s household income must not exceed 100% of the median non-metropolitan household income for the state in which the applicant resides. The income criteria apply to both the applicant and all other occupants of the home. Prospective applicants can download the application form and instruction letter from the WWT website at under “Apply” at the top of the home page.

Water Technology Clearinghouse

The Water Systems Council established WWT to provide clean, sanitary drinking water to Americans who lack access to a reliable water supply and to construct and document small community water systems using water wells to demonstrate that these systems are a cost-effective solution for delivering safe drinking water to rural households.

On Dec. 16, 2016, President Barack Obama signed into law the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, which includes provisions of the Water Supply Cost Savings Act championed by the Water Systems Council and the water well industry. One of those provisions calls for the development of a technology clearinghouse on the cost-effectiveness of innovative and alternative drinking water delivery systems, including wells and well systems.

Data from the WWT projects will be provided to USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to populate the drinking water technology clearinghouse database. This information will be disseminated to the public, communities and not-for-profit organizations seeking federal funding for drinking water delivery systems serving populations of 500 or fewer. 

About the Author

Margaret Martens

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