Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

January 15, 2012

McDowell County PSD making progress

BRADSHAW — The McDowell County Public Service District is trying to make a difference in the county one life at a time. With water and sewer projects progressing throughout the county, a Wastewater Coalition engaged in resolving long-standing infrastructure woes and a growing number of families that want change, a flicker of light is starting to appear at the end of a mighty long tunnel.

Dorothy Horne is ready to open the faucet at her Bradshaw Mountain home and see clean drinking water come out. She has worked 15 years on the dream, and when Phase 3 of the Jolo Water project is completed in March or April, that dream will become reality.

“In the homes, a lot of them, people don’t understand the hardships of trying to live without clean drinking water,” Horne said. “I’ve had first-hand experience. Before I moved here, I lived in Georgia where I could just turn on the faucet and the water was there. These developing countries that our nation is always trying to help don’t have clean drinking water, but neither do we.”

A family matter led her to join the fight to bring clean drinking water to her area. “When my daughter was two years old, she was getting diarrhea about every two months,” Horne said. “The doctor recommended that we should have our well water tested, and when the results came back, the water had the highest level of bacteria in it that they could measure.”

The Horne family moved to the top of Bradshaw Mountain, tried to drill another water well, but instead, had to dig a cistern to gather rain water to use for flushing commodes. They haul the rest of the water they use for drinking, cooking and bathing. “It’s expensive,” she said. “We started buying water when my daughter was two years old. Now she’s 26. Some people complain about the amount of a water bill, but a normal water bill won’t be anything compared to what we’ve paid all these years.”

Horne thought she was going to get water to her home when former Gov. Arch Moore was still in office. She had been in contact with agencies who appeared ready to do some preliminary engineering studies, “but then he got voted out.” The Hornes lived without clean water for years, but about 10 years ago, she started showing up at McDowell County Public Service District meetings to explain what life was like for her family and her neighbors.

“When we started doing this, I don’t think people with the PSD understood how many people were up here on Bradshaw Mountain and how we had to live,” she said. She encouraged her neighbors to start showing up at PSD and her organizational skills and tenacity caught the attention of the Civilian Conservation Corps leadership who hired her as a director.

“It will be like Christmas when we finally get water, only it will be better,” Horne said. “We’ll have a big old water festival up here in Bradshaw. Will you come?”

The McDowell County PSD has taken some knocks through the years, but persistence and perseverance is starting allow the PSD to make a difference in the lives of county residents.

“We did a good job with our public awareness program in Anawalt, went door to door to talk with people and were able to take their water system into our system with almost no opposition,” Mavis Brewster, general manager of the McDowell County PSD said. “We didn’t do a good job of explaining ourselves in Northfork, and we got voted down last year.” Still, she said that the state Public Service Commission will require the community to look at the project again. “We’re working with residents along Elkhorn Creek and we’re partnering with the county Wastewater Coalition to make a difference there.”

The Jolo/Paynesville Water Project Phase 3 should reach the Horne residence in March, according to information provided by Ray Tilley, project engineer for E.L. Robinson of Beckley, the consulting engineering firm on the $3.9 million project. Phase 3 will serve a potential 177 customers in the region. Bids were opened for Phase 4 of the Jolo project in August 2011. The estimated $3.6 million project will bring water to potential 143 additional customers.

“I’m really very proud of the accomplishments of the PSD,” Brewster said. “We have been able to attract major grants from the Abandon Mine Land program, small Cities Block grants and stimulus programs,” she said. “Along with Jolo, we are moving forward with the Horespen Project, Big Sandy-Roderfield and the Elkhorn projects. The thing that I have enjoyed most about the completion of Phase 1 and 2 of the Jolo project was that everyone was so grateful. Having clean drinking water in your home can make a big difference.”

Jennifer Liddle, southern Basin Coordinator with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Division water and waste management nonpoint source program has learned a lot about the stream drainage systems in McDowell County in recent years, and played a role in the Ashland Project on the McDowell County side of Windmill Gap.

“The success here is that Windmill Gap Creek is meeting water quality standards,” she said. “We did bug studies after the Ashland sewage treatment system six months after it was installed,” she said. “We’re already getting non-polluted stone flies there. Everyone knows there are fish in those streams, but you have to look at the bugs to determine the health of a stream. Bugs are more sensitive and have a shorter life span.”

Liddle works closely with Brewster and the PSD in the county Wastewater Coalition. Other coalition members include FACES, the McDowell County Health Department, the McDowell County Commission, West Virginia Ministry of Advocacy and Workcamps, the Presbyterian Church, the cities of War and Welch, Region One and the county Economic Development Authority.

“The coalition, to me, is one of the most important things we have going to help the people of McDowell County,” Liddle said. “Having a plan is amazing, but having people with expertise adds a lot to the program.”

In addition to the on-going work of the coalition, Liddle said that McDowell and Wyoming counties are holding annual Children’s Water Festivals for fifth grade students to help them understand the importance of clean water. This year, the coalition will host a festival for Wyoming County students at R.D. Bailey Lake in September and another in October at Linkous Park in Welch for McDowell County students.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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