Last summer she turned on the tap and orangey-red water came out. Now she fears for her whole family
Tammie Bailey lives in McDowell County, West Virginia, where homes were never connected to mains water, even in the coal boom times. Residents are waiting for help.
Mohawk, West Virginia CNN --
Tammie Bailey worries each day that her water might go bad. Her kitchen tap will again smell like rotten eggs or rotting meat. Worse, the water will contain the same mixture of contaminants and sediments that drove her to neighbor's homes to shower and cook for several weeks last summer.
CNN reported that she noticed her water getting redder over the last July and that her water smelled stronger. Although she tried new water filters, they didn't help. "One day, I returned home and turned on my tap... and this was what I got," she said. She held out a plastic container containing orangey-red liquid that had the consistency of chocolate milk.
Bailey lives off water from a well. Her Mohawk neighborhood, West Virginia, seems like it could be anywhere. The homes are situated on large, verdant lots that are a bit back from the road. Although power poles provide electricity, no municipal water lines were ever built. She is one of an estimated 2 million Americans who don't have access to running water or indoor plumbing.
Bailey stated that she had her water tested and found 14 contaminants, including iron as well as E.coli. She said that her well was pumping water so polluted by natural and man-made runoff, all pipes, fixtures, and faucets in her home needed to be replaced.
Industry created wealth, but it also left a void.
Bailey stated that many families have been living in this area of the Appalachian Mountains since generations. They are kind people who help one another. She knows that there are limits to what the community can do, so she is concerned about the impact water might have on her neighbors, her father, her grandchildren, and her family.
"It's very frustrating. She said that she didn't understand why they couldn't get help to bring some lines down here. "I don't understand why people don't have water in this country where we live. Bailey claimed she was assisted by DigDeep. DigDeep is a non-profit organization that believes clean, running water should be available for all Americans.
This area was once a prosperous place thanks to coal mining and logging. Some companies built their water plants themselves, but as the extraction industries moved on, the people and infrastructure were also lost.
Abby Bradshaw is a field engineer at the Appalachia Water Project. This field operation is part of DigDeep. People who lived in an area with extractive industries where the entire environment was removed. Where vegetation is stripped by mining or logging. This is where people have put their lives, their health and their lives at risk for many decades. They now live with unsafe drinking water and unsafe sanitation.
Some people have wells. Some people tap into abandoned mine water lines. Some transport water from their homes, filling tanks and jugs. They know which water sources are safe for washing and which are safe to drink. Some communities even have firefighters who depend on the rivers for their water.
Sewage pollutes fish streams
McDowell County was founded in 1858 and is home to many small towns. This bringer of life can be found everywhere, from rushing streams to babbling rivers and the forks at the Tug River. Residents and visitors alike love to fish, as well as riding ATV trails. However, any fish caught is not meant to be eaten as the water is contaminated with human waste.
There is no municipal water service, so there are no sewers. Pipes from your home carry waste water from the toilets, sinks, and showers to streams, making septic tanks uneconomical or prohibitively expensive.
Eddie George, DigDeep, said, "This is really their only option," gesturing towards the homes along the Greenbrier River.
He was born in the region, and he moved away when he was a teenager. After returning to his hometown, he found a job that was very special to him.
He said that he was a boy and helped his father bring water to his grandmother's home. He said that she didn't have water until she turned 70.
He said that his grandmother is always present in the faces of families whenever the organization connects a house to mains water, or digs a new well.
Technology from decades ago in a 120-year old building
The Environmental Protection Agency is aware of the situation that exists in McDowell County in the southern part of the state. Administrator Michael Regan visited McDowell County in the south of the state late last year as part his "Journey to Justice" tour to identify underserved communities that need environmental justice. This mission also took him to Jackson, Mississippi.
Regan visited a relic from the area's history - a water pumping system - which is still an important part of the present. It's used by at least 300 Kimball residents who get their water from the central system.
One pump is visible, which looks old and worn, with water coming out of it. Above, you can see that the roof has collapsed multiple times. Light from the sky is coming through the gaping hole behind it. Engineers say that the pump will shut down if it does. It will not be possible to get running water into homes that depend on it.
He told CNN that he walked into a building that was leaking and that had an antiquated technology. People's livelihoods depend on this system. "Three hundred people rely on this 60-80-year old pump not working and this 120-year-old building from not falling in." This is not the kind of country we should have.
Bipartisan infrastructure Act signed by President Joe Biden on November 20, 211, and supported by both West Virginia's Senators - Democrat Joe Manchin, and Republican Shelley Moore Capito – promises some relief.
The EPA stated that the act provides funding of approximately $50 billion for water infrastructure programs. According to the White House, West Virginia will receive $83 million to provide safe and clean water. Some of this money is expected to be sent to McDowell county. The EPA announced last month that $1.5 million would be awarded to the town of Iaeger to remove 118 failing septic tanks.
Bailey's old well water was so polluted that she isn't certain when mains water will be available to her.
Regan's December visit to DigDeep is lifting George's spirits. Regan was a good friend and he talked to him about both fishing and water problems. He said, "I'm beginning to see the light of day a bit,"
"Nobody should live like this." He said that if we are able to pay taxes, why not get water for our communities and our people?