By Margaret Martens
The Water Systems Council established the Water Well Trust (WWT) in 2010 to provide clean, safe drinking water to Americans who lack access to a reliable water supply. According to the recent Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States study by the U.S. Water Alliance and Dig Deep, more than two million Americans live without running water and basic indoor plumbing.
In addition, the WWT documents the cost effectiveness of small community water systems using water wells to demonstrate that these systems are more economical. This documentation has been crucial in helping to persuade local, state, and federal legislators of the advantage of using water well and septic systems to serve Americans in rural, unincorporated areas or minority communities that may be isolated and difficult to reach.
How the WWT Works
Since 2014, the WWT has been the recipient of annual grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Decentralized Water Systems program for water well and wastewater projects for rural households across the U.S. The USDA grants and matching funds from Water Systems Council members of more than $1 million since 2010 have made it possible for the WWT to drill or rehabilitate over 320 water wells serving 340 households in 27 states.
These grant monies provide long-term, low-interest loans to applicants seeking new or improved water wells, and for the first time in 2021, septic systems. The Water Well Trust limits funding to a maximum of $15,000 per septic and $15,000 per well for households. Loans have an interest rate of 1% with terms of up to 20 years.
To qualify for a WWT loan, applicants must be the owner and occupant of the home and must have lived in the home for at least one year (no new construction). The home must be the applicant’s primary residence and must not have access to a public water supply or sewer. The applicant’s household income must not exceed 60% 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.
In addition to the USDA, which provided a grant of $1.4 million in 2021, the WWT also partners with a number of other organizations interested in solving America’s water access problems. From 2013 – 2021, WWT secured a $10,000 grant from the National Ground Water Association; a $50,000 grant from the Pentair Foundation; $26,000 from Culligan Cares; grants of $28,000 total from the Collingsworth Foundation; a $100,000 grant from the Groundwater Foundation; $50,404 from the Chris Long Foundation; a $118,000 grant from the Grundfos Foundation, and $340,000 from the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida/Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund.
Highlights of some of these 2021 partnership projects include:
Hometown H2O/Xylem Watermark
Hometown H2O was launched in late 2019 as a result of a partnership between retired NFL champion Chris Long’s Waterboys initiative, Xylem Inc.’s Watermark, and the WWT. This collaboration resulted in the completion of five new water well projects in 2021.
One of these projects was for a family of five in Virginia whose home had a shallow well with water that was cloudy and usually brown. The family was also concerned about field runoff from pesticides from farming fields that surround the house, especially since they have three children under the age of five in the home.
Creason Well Drilling of Zuni, VA, was the contractor for the job. In addition to the new well, volunteers also built a new swing set for the children and a new well house for the pressure tank, and also painted the family’s barn. Chris Long was onsite to help set the pump and sign a football for 4-year-old Wyatt.
The family had this to say about the project:
“Having access to clean water for my family and I has been the best blessing we could have asked for. Clean water free from chemicals and unsafe substances for my children to bathe and cook with takes away a huge daily stress. Before God blessed us with these wonderful people to help us get clear, clean water, we had to take note daily of if we had enough bottled water to do the daily necessities. If not, we had to purchase gallons of water to cook, drink, clean, and make ice. It has allowed us to be a healthier family, drinking more water than before. Having drinkable water has changed our lives in every aspect and we are eternally grateful!”
The WWT and Hometown H2O plan on doing several more projects together in 2022.
Community Foundation of NE Florida/Delores Barr WeaverLegacy Fund
In the summer of 2021, Dexter Sharp, Vice Chief of the Piedmont American Indian Association Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation of South Carolina, contacted the WWT. The tribal community was in desperate need of funding for a well for their community property that housed a meeting house and museum. Their well failed in 2019.
Before the well failure, the meeting house served the surrounding 11 county school districts, which sent their students there to learn about Native American culture. These visits also provided funding for the tribe.
The tribe had attempted to re-drill the well once to no avail, so were requesting help not just for funding the well but for also funding a geophysical survey to help find water on the seven-acre property. Several weeks after hearing from Chief Sharp, the WWT was contacted by its partners at the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, asking if the WWT knew of any nonfederal tribes that needed assistance with water or wastewater. What timing!
The Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund stepped forward with the $40,000 grant it would take to conduct the survey and drill the well. After many delays due to weather and broken equipment, Rogers Well Drilling was able to conduct the drill on March 7-8, 2022. Margaret Martens, WWT Executive Director, and Vice Chief Dexter were on site when the drill took place. After two days of drilling, water was finally hit at 700 feet, producing 2.5 gallons per minute. To help ensure water is accessible when needed, a storage tank was also added.
A Continuing Need
The WWT currently has a waiting list of more than 400 potential clients from all over the U.S. who have learned of the organization’s work and need help bringing clean water to their communities.
In 2022, the WWT plans to utilize its latest USDA grant to provide at least 110 loans for drilling at least 80 wells and rehabilitating 30 wastewater systems, including shared wells and/or waste water systems. At least 200 individuals will have new access to safe drinking water and/or sanitation and they will no longer have to haul water, a dangerous and expensive practice that puts further financial stress on low-income families.
For more information or to make a donation, visit waterwelltrust.org
About the author
Margaret Martens is Executive Director of the Water Systems Council, a national nonprofit organization solely focused on household wells and small water well systems. In addition, she serves as Executive Director for the Water Well Trust, the national nonprofit helping Americans get access to a clean, safe water supply. Martens has over 30 years of nonprofit experience and serves as the Chairperson of the Board of Directors for the Davidson Housing Coalition. Martens is a graduate of Arizona State University.
The Water Well Trust (WWT) is a 501(c)3 organization created by the Water Systems Council to provide a clean water supply to American families living without access to a precious resource most of us take for granted. The WWT and its partners provide funding for wells for low‐income families nationwide that need safe drinking water. The Water Well Trust is the only national nonprofit organization helping Americans get access to a clean, safe water supply.