In May 2018, the Water Well Trust, a national nonprofit that helps low-income Americans gain access to clean water supplies, completed its 100th water well. Since the program was launched in 2012, the organization has helped 240 individuals in 10 states build wells through low-interest loans, and it shows no sign of slowing down. WQP Associate Editor Lauren Estes asked Margaret Martens, executive director for the Water Systems Council (WSC) and program director for the Water Well Trust, about the completion of the 100th well, as well as upcoming projects.
Lauren Estes: How did the Water Well Trust begin?
Margaret Martens: WSC created the Water Well Trust in 2010 for two reasons. [The] first was in response to the fact that there are millions of Americans living without access to safe drinking water in their homes. Many fine organizations were helping people in other countries facing this challenge, but no one was doing it here in America. Secondly, we wanted to prove that wells are a cost-effective, sustainable solution for delivering safe drinking water to Americans.
Estes: How are the projects funded?
Martens: Every year, the Water Well Trust holds a fundraising golf tournament and auction at the WSC fall meeting. Initially, these funds, generously donated by WSC members, were used for our first three pilot projects. Once we had the experience of those projects, we applied to and received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Household Water Well Systems Grant program. We have had this funding since 2014. The fall fundraising monies now go to our required match for these grants. In addition, we have multiple state groundwater associations that raise money for the [Water Well] Trust, including New York, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, New Mexico and Florida. We also recently received a $50,000 grant from the Pentair Foundation. Culligan Cares, the nonprofit arm of the Culligan Dealers Association of North America, also raises money for the [Water Well] Trust. They recently sponsored the drilling of their second well.
Estes: Where was the 100th well completed and how was the accomplishment celebrated?
Martens: The well was drilled as part of our current USDA project in 11 counties in New Mexico. It is our goal to drill at least 25 wells there. WSC members celebrated this landmark at our spring meeting in Washington, D.C. The support of WSC members has made the work of the [Water Well] Trust possible.
Estes: What kinds of barriers to clean water do the communities Water Well Trust serves face?
Martens: The [Water Well] Trust serves Americans living primarily in rural, unincorporated areas or minority communities that may be isolated and difficult to reach. Many times these areas have been promised a public water supply, only to find that it is cost prohibitive for both the county and the residents to pay for these lines. Wells are the cost-effective solution for these residents; however, since our clients are low income, the majority of them are not able to access traditional lending sources to drill their wells.
Estes: What projects are next for the Water Well Trust?
Martens: We are very excited about a new project we are working on outside Asheville, N.C., partnering with Xylem Watermark. This cluster well project involves 25 homes on four failing wells. Xylem is providing all the needed materials for rehabilitating the wells and Xylem employees will be rebuilding all the well houses. These wells serve 72 people, including 20 children. As mentioned, we also have the grant from the Pentair Foundation. With these monies we will help several people on our wait list, including a husband and wife in Montana who are both disabled veterans. We like giving priority to veterans, the disabled, the elderly and households with children.