- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

ROANOKE A winter filled with heavy rain and snowstorms has been kind to many Appalachian communities, replenishing water supplies after years of drought.
But for some rural residents who have long had a problem getting access to water, a virtual drought persists with wells that remain bone dry and streams flowing with silty water that's too dirty to drink.
"We've been in a drought situation for four to five years, so it's going to take a lot of time to get this water to seep down into the aquifer," said Todd Christensen with Virginia's community development department.
For Roy Stanley of Mendota, Va., the quandary has left him with only a stream near his Clinch Mountain home that gurgles water the color of chicken broth, clouded, he believes, by a road development uphill.
"I'm afraid of it," said Mr. Stanley, 59, who suffers from leukemia. "With my disease, I catch everything, and who knows what's in that water."
The Virginia Department of Health estimates that 5,717 private wells in the state ran dry or failed to draw water from August to January. More than 230 of them were in sparsely populated southwest Virginia.
Charles Bartlett, a geological consultant who has worked on faulty wells from Arkansas to Virginia, said the problem is not a shortage of water. "The problem is getting the water where you need it."
One way to deal with shortages of potable water is to simply dig deeper wells, said Terry Wagner, chairman of Virginia's drought monitoring task force. But in the mountains, it's harder to get the equipment and space to dig deep into the ground.
Another way is to hook onto a community water system a solution that would serve a lot more people in Appalachia if only they had the money to pay a regular water bill.
Betty Vaughn, 63, of Mendota lives just 100 feet from the main water line, but for 29 years she has been drinking and washing with "irony" water from a hand-dug well that is sometimes the color of lemonade.
"I just can't drink it anymore," Miss Vaughn said. "It doesn't taste good. There's little oily pools on it."
Miss Vaughn's well went dry during the summer. Groundwater has slowly begun to seep back in, but she has vowed to get her water somewhere else.
To help pay for the $1,000 she estimates it will cost for a hookup, Miss Vaughn applied for loans under a program funded by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. The Dry Well Replacement Program was created specifically to assist Virginia's rural residents who live at or below 80 percent of the locality's median income.
"There's been more demand for this than any other program we've initiated," said Mr. Christensen, who supervises the program.
So far, the department has helped fix 35 wells in Virginia. Mr. Christensen said the program has enough funding to help as many as 500 households get better water.
Miss Vaughn has applied for the state assistance and is waiting to hear whether she will be accepted.
"The lady told me today that I was in the top five, so I'm just thrilled to death," Miss Vaughn said.
Mr. Stanley also has applied in hopes of building a 1,500-foot water line to his house. If he doesn't get the money, Mr. Stanley said he will probably continue drinking from the only reliable source he knows: bottled water from the store.
"I always wanted to live in the mountains. It's where I want to stay," Mr. Stanley said. "I just need some type of drinking water."


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