Lack Of Public Water Plagues Rural Tennessee

Tammy Blatt washes dishes outside near the drums of water that she and her husband, Wayne, must buy and haul twice a week, at considerable expense, since their well went dry in April. The Blatts live on a farm near Carthage in Smith County. (SHELLEY MAYS / THE TENNESSEAN)

Jason Thompson of Sumner County holds a glass of water taken from his spring. The water, which contains high levels of iron and bacteria, is not drinkable, and they have to haul water. (SHELLEY MAYS / THE TENNESSEAN)

Tina Pearson wipes tears from her face after talking about how her children might have drunk contaminated water from her well. (SHELLEY MAYS/THE TENNESSEAN)

Eva Shachno discusses the retaining pond her family uses to hold water from a creek. Her husband built a pump system to carry water to their trailer for bathing and washing clothes. (SHELLEY MAYS/THE TENNESSEAN)

Lack Of Public Water Plagues Rural Tennessee
Sunday, 07/15/07

Lack of public water plagues rural Tennessee
Cost to connect all is $1.7B; some use risky sources

Staff Writer

Eva Shachno inspects the half-submerged pump humming quietly in a creek near her home in northern Sumner County.

A long, green garden hose snakes from the pump to a hand-built retaining pond and then into her trailer, where she uses the untreated water for bathing and washing clothes. She fills up gallon jugs at the dog kennel where she works to use for drinking, cooking and brushing her teeth.

The Shachno household is among an estimated 112,000 across rural Tennessee that don't have public water.

But extending water lines to every rural home in Tennessee would cost an estimated $1.7 billion, and local officials say money is in short supply. The state has no organized plan to extend the lines or to aid those who, like the Shachnos, have no water. Some legislators say that needs to change.

"The irony to me is, we are talking about an hour's drive from downtown Nashville, in the eighth-largest county in the state, in 2007,'' said state Rep. Mike McDonald, a Democrat who represents northern Sumner County.

In many cases, the well or spring water they use is perfectly fine. But in others, it is contaminated with bacteria, foul-smelling sulfur or other pollutants, putting the occupants at risk of illness. Some have no water at all, resorting to systems like the Shachnos have devised.

Residents in Sumner, Marshall, Clay, Warren, Overton and other counties have asked for help. In the case of the Shachnos, a Portland city water line ends just a few hundred yards away — they've been waiting six years for it to be extended to their home. In the interim, Eva's husband, Mike, devised the pump-and-hose system.

"I just think it's ridiculous, living in this day and time, paying taxes like everybody else, we cannot have water," Eva said as she gave two county commissioners a tour of her jury-rigged water system last week. "It's just not fair."

The Shachnos could get city water this year. Their road is on a list for a water line — if grant money comes through. County Executive Hank Thompson said he's optimistic.

Many others will still be waiting.


Water is dirty, smelly

Wayne and Tammy Blatt rolled snake eyes after moving to a farm near Carthage in Smith County a year and a half ago. After spending $3,000 to sink a well some 220 feet into the ground, it went dry in April.

They have been hauling water ever since. And it gets costly.

Every three days or so, they run their pickup truck into town with a half-dozen 55-gallon drums in the back. They fill up at the utility district in Carthage, paying $8 each time. They just paid $600 for a 1,500-gallon drum they will use to feed their house and $300 for a 250-gallon drum they can haul behind the pickup on a trailer to get even more water in each haul.

"It's been a real pain trying to get water," Wayne Blatt said.

Those lucky enough to hit water often find it smells like rotten eggs from the high sulfur content, making it impossible to drink.

"It makes your skin crawl,'' said Wendy Greer of the sulfur well water she bathes in at her home in Marshall County. Her 90-year-old father's well is even worse, she said.

Likewise, water from the well at Brenda Mandrell's Sumner County home drizzles into her sinks in smelly, yellow streams if she doesn't pour bleach down the well every other day. She's afraid to drink the bacteria-contaminated water or use it for cooking, so she buys bottled water instead.

"I have a $4,000 water treatment system in there that I had to cut off because it wasn't doing any good,'' Mandrell said.

The lack of rain is making it worse, she said, a point echoed by Thompson, the county executive, who said the underground water level has dropped as more people have moved to the area and as rains have refused to fall.

Those without good water say they fear for their health and that of their families. But neither the state Department of Health nor Environment and Conservation conducts routine tests of private water sources to ensure their safety, officials in those departments said.

end of excerpt.

No, this isn't a remote village in Africa or South America, this is Tennessee, in the United States of America. I am posting this because it appears that so many people really don't seem to care about water issues because they believe it doesn't affect them. They think it is only something relegated to stories of tribal families in far away places. Well, it isn't. Many Americans who live in rural areas right here in America have little or no access to water as politics, economics, and environment stand in their way. And to me it is a travesty. The cost to connect these people is what we approximately spend in Iraq in a week's time. Where is Tennessee's money going if not to then benefit its citizens?

When I read stories about Kenya, Niger, Peru, and other areas of the world where the poor have little or no access to potable water which causes famine, disease, and death, it shakes my soul because I believe NO ONE in this world should have to go without potable water. No child should have to deal with the fear of wondering if the water they are drinking is killing them instead of nourshing them. And that is true regardless of where they live in this world.

Therefore, if after reading this you are as incensed as I am regarding this total lack of caring on the part of the state of Tennessee in providng potable water to all of their residents, you can contact the state government in Tennessee to voice your opinion on this and urge them to do what is morally right for their people:


Governor's Office
Tennessee State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243-0001

Phone: 615.741.2001
Fax: 615.532.9711


Chan said…
I know some of these people in this post and have witness this, and its ridiculous. Everyone should have clean pure water to drink and should never run out. Water is life, and every aspect of our life has water in it. You couldn't go a day with out it or your life would be dirty, scummy and dehydrated. Good blog!!