SAIF Water Wells, Inc. is focused on the safety and availability of rural drinking water. Research and education are especially needed to help rural residents make better choices for their health.
Statement of Purpose
To help Virginians with rural water problems attain accepted health standards by:
How We Started
In October of 1989 Rev. Gayl Fowler called together friends from many organizations to discuss the fact that many homes in the area did not have water. The size of the problem was staggering. Hundreds of homes in Lancaster and Northumberland Counties of Virginia were without indoor plumbing. Many families have income far too low to be able to help themselves. We have neighbors who are seriously ill and disabled and do not have water on their land.
Thus, in Muriel Jennings' Sunday school room at Kilmarnock Baptist Church, the committee was born. The committee joined Interfaith Service Council so efforts could be coordinated with some 44 churches. At the end of 2005, we became the independent non-profit corporation SAIF Water Wells, Inc.
The name "SAIF Water" alludes to safe drinking water and our organization's commitment to find ways to make rural drinking water safe, affordable, regularly investigated with appropriate laboratory tests and available for all.
People Helping People
There are 10 members of the Board of Directors who volunteer their time and a number of additional volunteers such as attorneys, engineers, a hydrogeologist and social workers who lend their expertise. The Board includes persons who were helped by SAIF Water and are now happy to have the opportunity to help others.
Areas of Need
1. When SAIF Water began, census estimates suggested 400 homes in each of our two counties were without complete indoor plumbing. Many of these had no water at all on their property.
2. Approximately 4,000 homes in the area are using water from “antique” wells which were not constructed adequately to keep the water sanitary.
3. Local citizens have very little knowledge of how to take care of their wells. The majority of homes in this rural area depend on private wells which are not under the protection of our National Drinking Water Standards. Those standards apply only to public systems while the private well owner has sole responsibility for the condition of their drinking water. While public water supplies are regularly tested, filtered, and treated for a long list of potential contaminants, the private well may never have been tested for anything. Often the owner may rely on one bacteria test taken many years ago.
4. Because of urban development outside of our area, our artesian aquifers are being pumped down. The water level is dropping more than a foot a year. There is a great need to plan for a future where we will not be dependent on wells that tap the artesian aquifer. Many homes have already had to drill new wells as the aquifer dropped below the reach of their water pumps.
5. Our area has special water quality issues. Citizen education is especially needed on
Research on Well Reclamation
SAIF Water often receives calls that a well has run dry or the water has become too muddy to use or that it stains clothing badly. This led to the discovery that thousands of wells were installed in our area prior to modern safety standards.
A team of scientists and well water technicians have been working together to research and test methods for upgrading older wells. At this point laboratory results suggest that our older wells can be adequately rehabilitated to reduce coliform bacteria from very high levels, to a level below the standard used by the Health Department for closing beaches to swimming. Efforts have begun to do long term follow-up and identify ways to improve construction methods for new wells. This project has been supported by a grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund.
Educating for Safety
SAIF Water has worked extensively to educate people on the care of shallow wells to protect the safety of their drinking water. A grant from the National Environmental Education and Training Fund assisted with onsite demonstrations for many homes. Committee members have given safety demonstrations at a number of statewide conferences. SAIF Water continues to develop educational materials and techniques that reflect the research that has been conducted in our area and from networking with national and international organizations, engineers and health professionals involved with water quality.
SAIF Water is pleased to provide technical assistance to individuals, our counties, and other organizations in our area. As the Northern Neck of Virginia faces the decline of its artesian aquifers, SAIF Water has shared technical research for comprehensive planning. For individual homes the problems may focus on issues such as iron bacteria in the water of our shallow wells or high sodium levels in our artesian aquifers. (Visit Technical Paper #1 at www.saifwater.org.)
Health Department regulations will not allow running water in a house unless there is a system to dispose of the wastewater. Some homes are on land that is too poor for wastewater treatment by the usual septic system. This has led the committee to search for alternative treatment methods. SAIF Water maintains an experimental site for constructed wetlands and was instrumental in opening the way for the use of alternative systems in Virginia.
SAIF Water continues to cooperate closely with the county Health Departments and regional Health Department staff. SAIF Water cooperates with Church Resources Services, Interfaith Service Council, Bay Housing (Area Agency on Aging), and the Departments of Social Services.
The SAIF Water Singers were privileged to take our cause to the nation in performances and forums at the Smithsonian Institution’s National FolkLife Festival in June and July of 2004.
On a work project, SAIF volunteers discovered a rare collection of photographs and portraits by a local photographer taken from 1906-1917. The Gill Collection has been featured at the Mary Ball Museum, The Richmond County Museum, the Northumberland Public Library, and community exhibits. It has been placed on the SAIF Water web site to allow area residents to see whether portraits of their family are included. The collection was reviewed by staff of Howard University’s History Department.
Sources of Funding
The cause is worthy and many local churches, individuals, foundations and government programs have been willing to help. SAIF Water has worked closely with Virginia Water Project---Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project--on hundreds of individual homes. The task of obtaining indoor plumbing has sometimes required complete rehabilitation of the house and sometimes building a new house in order to qualify for state programs through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
The Jessie Ball duPont Fund responded to the urgent call for research on our shallow water wells with a three-year grant.
Staff and administrative support have been graciously provided by grants from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund allowing SAIF Water to have a part time office assistant, a part time field worker, a computer consultant, and water well technicians.
A strong community support base enables SAIF Water to apply for assistance from foundations and state agencies.
The waiting list continues to grow as the committee receives referrals from Social Services, Health Departments, the Area Agency on Aging, local churches and from people who hear of projects we have done for their friends and relatives. Contact Rev. Gayl Fowler, 804 580-2079, saif (at) crosslink (dot) net, for additional information.
Board of Directors
Examples of Construction Projects we do
Wells for three disabled homeowners. One lady is wheelchair bound and about 17 miles from the laundromat. Another gentleman was asked by Veterans' Hospital to have the water in his old well checked because he was continually in the hospital with infections. That well has been closed down and replaced with an artesian well.
Families being able to finance their own homes because of our help with wells and septic systems.
Examples of Educational Activities
Drinking Water , Wells and Our Children's Health was published with children's activities and simple explanations of water quality issues in our area. Grants from Episcopal Church Women at St. Mary's, Fleeton; the Wiley Foundation; and the Jessie Ball duPont Fund provided for printing. Wide distribution included: grades Kindergarten through 6 in Lancaster and Northumberland Schools, the Health Departments in 10 counties, churches, county libraries, doctors' offices, and Social Services.
SAIF Water provides supplies and technical assistance for Children's Groundwater Education, an annual, all-day field experience for 6th graders in both counties.
Technical Assistance for Public Policy
Extensive technical assistance was warmly received for Comprehensive Plans in Lancaster and Northumberland Counties.
A hydro-geological study valued at approximately $10,000 was the response from the bio-solids industry to our concern for possible contamination of shallow wells near agricultural fields.
SAIF Water is represented on the Planning District Commission's advisory committee for state-mandated water supply planning.
Months of raising community support for scientific investigation of declining artesian aquifer pressure levels culminated in a forum at St. Mary's Whitechapel. The Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality requested our assistance to build a research station of monitoring wells in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey.
Current Need: Individuals with medical background (nurses, doctors, researchers, etc.) Also, fundraisers, professional educators, photographers and artists.
SAIF Water's outstanding achievements come because many professionals have volunteered specialized skills. Engineers, a chemist, a hydrogeologist, attorneys, a science educator, a mortgage banker and a microbiologist are among the incredible array of highly skilled professionals which we have been privileged to count among our volunteers.
Volunteers with no particular background in this field have learned to take water samples, applications and have faithfully done so for many years. Efforts of the volunteers multiply the amount that can be accomplished with limited funds.
If you have a skill to offer or a passion for our mission, give us a call at 804-580-2079 or send us an email at saif (at) crosslink (dot) net