/Delta families without running water get funding, but new well construction stalls over property issues

Delta families without running water get funding, but new well construction stalls over property issues

In November, the Schlater resident of 70 years stated that she was too old to maintain a pump every six month. She also felt that everyone should have access to water. After news coverage about the family’s plight spread, federal, state and local government officials worked together to solve the problem. Families can now finally have the water well system they have been waiting for nearly a year. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded a $63,000 grant to Mississippi Department of Human Services last week for the construction of a new well. Robert G. “Bob”, the executive director of the state Department of Human Services, stated that it was difficult to imagine communities without basic necessities during the current (coronavirus pandemic) epidemic. Mississippi Today reached out Clemon to learn more about well funding. Clemon’s main concern, funding, is now overshadowed by an ownership problem with the land. Clemon’s house is now considered to be heirs’ property or property that has been passed on without a will. Clemon stated that the problem with the land is that it must be in my name. My grandfather owned the property and it went to my mother. All of her siblings have died and their children all own a piece of the land. Black people don’t make wills and end with heirs’ property.” Joyce Chiles of Chiles Law Firm PLLC in Mississippi Delta stated that to expedite the process on a case such as this, the court would have to divide the land. This involves notifying any property owners. Let’s say you have five siblings, and your parents die without leaving a will. Chiles stated that each sibling will receive an equal share, but the entire property will be theirs. The property has not been divided. This means that you and your siblings are the owners of the home. It does not allow one person to own a particular part. Senate Bill 2553, which would create procedures to divide heirs’ property was passed by Congress in 2020, before it was rescheduled due to the coronavirus epidemic. Broken water well pumps have left Schlater residents without running water since July. Brandon Presley, Mississippi Public Service Commission for the Northern District called to inquire how his office could help. To help the families, he held follow-up conversations with local and federal water agencies to determine what could be done. He also established a two-phase program. Central Mississippi, Inc., an agency for community action in Leflore County, and the Greenwood Fire Department, provided water tanks and bottled water to thousands of residents, according to Pam Gary, director at Central Mississippi. The grant was also applied for by the state Department of Human Services. The water pump costs between $45,000 to $50,000. Gary stated that the rest of the funds would be used to help residents become “more sustainable in future” by paying utility bills, rent, and mortgage. Gary stated, “I’m just happy we were able (to get this) grant.” “… Once the property rights are resolved and the grant is completed, I’ll feel better,” Presley stated. Three families in Tishomingo county were without water for a long time. The Northeast Mississippi Community Action Agency and Presley’s office helped to secure nearly $6,000 for them. Presley spoke to Mississippi Today by phone. “We had people who were 70 years old carrying water (to their houses).” “I think that this is a great case of where the media highlighted this need, and state government and federal government responded,” Presley told Mississippi Today in a phone call. Although it remains difficult to determine which communities are water-scarce, Presley stated that his office is working with Mississippi Rural Water Association. The PSC has an ongoing database that allows residents to report water shortages. “We are using the same playbook that was used in the Leflore County case to help more people. Presley said that this particular case gave us the chance to bring everyone together. “That’s exactly what we did in Tishomingo county with your reporting, and in a very short time.” Construction and completion dates for water well projects in Mississippi are still uncertain. Rural Mississippians such as Clemon are optimistic despite the constant roadblocks that prevent them from accessing basic necessities like water. Clemon stated, “Right now I’m still praying and waiting because it’s a waiting games to see.”