Ben­ton County man tells law­mak­ers about life with lit­tle wa­ter

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - FRANK E. LOCKWOOD

WASH­ING­TON — Life is “stren­u­ous and stress­ful” when you don’t have run­ning wa­ter, Ben­ton County res­i­dent Mike Frazee told law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill on Thurs­day. He de­scribed the chal­lenges peo­ple face when they don’t have a well and their homes aren’t con­nected to mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter­lines.

Mem­bers of the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works Sub­com­mit­tee on Fish­eries, Wa­ter, and Wildlife were at­ten­tive as the 41-year-old con­struc­tion worker spoke.

“I live in ru­ral North­west Arkansas, an area of great nat­u­ral beauty, but where ac­cess to ba­sic ser­vices like drink­ing wa­ter can be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult,” he said. “My dad, who is a dis­abled vet, spent much of his life haul­ing wa­ter to our home. My mother was con­stantly stressed out about how much wa­ter we had.”

Two per­cent of all Amer­i­can res­i­dences — nearly 2.7 mil­lion hous­ing units — have in­com­plete plumb­ing, ac­cord­ing to U.S. Cen­sus Bu­reau 2011-15 Amer­i­can Com­mu­nity Sur­vey 5-year es­ti­mates.

They lack hot and cold run­ning wa­ter or flush toi­lets or a bath­tub or shower — or a com­bi­na­tion of the above.

The fig­ure is higher in Arkansas: 3.6 per­cent.

Ben­ton County, which is in­creas­ingly ur­ban, ac­tu­ally fares bet­ter than the na­tional av­er­age — only 1.5 per­cent

of its house­holds lack com­plete plumb­ing.

But in re­mote, ru­ral ar­eas and places with rugged ter­rain, the fig­ures are higher.

“In my part of the world, peo­ple drive every day, thou­sands of miles a year, to haul wa­ter from a coin-op­er­ated wa­ter ma­chine to their homes, and if their wa­ter sta­tion is broke or there’s bad weather con­di­tions, you might have to go sev­eral days with­out wa­ter,” Frazee said.

Frazee and his par­ents have homes off of Posy Moun­tain Road, about a mile from Beaver Lake and less than 10 miles from Rogers.

Although there’s a wa­ter treat­ment fa­cil­ity nearby, wa­ter­lines were never ex­tended to his land, he said.

Af­ter haul­ing wa­ter for years, Frazee’s mother de­cided to ask U.S. Sen. John Booz­man’s of­fice for help. He put her in touch with the Wa­ter Sys­tems Coun­cil, the wa­ter wells in­dus­try’s trade as­so­ci­a­tion.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s new char­i­ta­ble group, Wa­ter Well Trust, agreed to help.

In 2012, it drilled wells for the Frazees and five other Arkansas fam­i­lies, loan­ing them up to $11,000 each to cover the costs.

Par­tic­i­pants are typ­i­cally charged 1 per­cent in­ter­est and are given up to 20 years to pay off the debt.

In an in­ter­view, Mar­garet Martens, the trade as­so­ci­a­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said Arkansas was the group’s pi­lot pro­ject.

Since then, 24 ad­di­tional wells have been com­pleted in North­west Arkansas.

And more wells are on the way.

Twenty-one Arkansas fam­i­lies are on the wait­ing list and, due to the pro­gram’s suc­cess, the Wa­ter Well Trust is now ex­pand­ing into South Carolina, Ge­or­gia, Penn­syl­va­nia, New York and Mis­souri, she said.

Those who get as­sis­tance are “low-in­come Amer­i­cans,” Martens said, and the ben­e­fits are long-last­ing.

“It’s life-chang­ing. I tell you, we have no idea what these folks go through liv­ing with­out safe wa­ter in their homes,” she said.

Frazee told the law­mak­ers he’s grate­ful for the help.

“Wells and well sys­tems are a god­send to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties like mine,” he said.

Af­ter haul­ing wa­ter for years, Frazee’s mother de­cided to ask U.S. Sen. John Booz­man’s of­fice for help. He put her in touch with the Wa­ter Sys­tems Coun­cil, the wa­ter wells in­dus­try’s trade as­so­ci­a­tion.

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