I grew up poor and remember how embarrassed I was to have friends come over and see where I lived. The worst was a rundown 70’s trailer/fire trap, with holes in the plywood floor, leaky single pane windows, faulty wiring, and a rotting roof that leaked.
But I never had to live without the luxury of a clean sewer or septic service.
When I came to Appalachia I was SHOCKED to learn about a phenomenon called “straight piping.” Inside, the home has complete plumbing, but it all runs out the back into a cesspool or a nearby stream. These homes can often be found in coal camps or along hollows where there’s no room for a conventional drain fields(1).
I’m sure any parent would be horrified to think that their child could be playing in that backyard. But they are. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Strategic Plan, 31% of all rivers, creeks, and streams in Kentucky have fecal coliform pollution resulting from untreated sewage reaching the waterways(2).
Fahe Members face this problem in their communities every day. When asked about the straight pipe problem, Norman Cornelius of Bell-Whitley Community Action Agency mentioned one solution that proved effective in his area.”I was the PRIDE coordinator for Whitley County’s Septic System Grant Program for 3 years. The funding for this program came through NOAA and was a great way to really clean the environment by installing septic systems to eliminate straight pipes. The PRIDE program installed hundreds of these systems across eastern Kentucky. The main problem I experienced was that the PRIDE program funding ended, and the rural enforcement of the homeowners with these pipes was lacking.” So while there are areas that receive this type of support, there are many homes and communities that are still lacking this basic necessity due to many factors, including lack of available funds.
Today, I live in a comfortable high-rise apartment and joke about my #FirstWorldProblems on twitter. It’s easy to forget that the problems of third world poverty can be found right in my backyard. For many of the families Fahe and its Members serve, a new or rehabbed home isn’t just a financial asset. It’s an opportunity to live the way the rest of America takes for granted.
(2) Appalachian Regional Commission Strategic Plan 2005-2010