Minerva Clemon, 70, lives on the outskirts of Schlater, where she has been without running water since July.

SCHLATER Minerva Clemon pays taxes and contributes to her Delta town. Yet this 70-year-old civil rights veteran has been scrambling for months to find money for clean drinking water, an issue her town’s mayor said he was not aware of until a Mississippi Today reporter contacted him.

“Nobody has called me,” said Mayor Jason Colquett in a phone call with Mississippi Today. “This is the first call I’ve had … I’ll look into it and see who doesn’t have water.”

The Delta News, a Greenville-based television station, broke the news last week of the plight of Clemon and five other familiesThey have been without running water since July. 

Schlater is a town of a little more than 300 people, located between Ruleville and Greenwood in Leflore County. Clemon and other families living on County Road have their own water well pump to fetch water near their trailer homes. For the 20 years she’s lived there, Clemon said the water has never been clean enough to drink. But four months ago, the pumps broke leaving her with no access to water. Attempts to contact other families for more details on their wells have been unsuccessful.

So, Clemon began the effort of trying to repair her water pump, seeking assistance from handymen who couldn’t pinpoint the problem. She said it cost her more than $1,000 but didn’t result in water.

“I’m not a pump irrigator expert, so whatever people say is wrong, we go buy a part and get that part. Then, it’s ‘Oh that’s not the problem it’s something else,’ and I just can’t do it,” she said. 

To be able to cook, drink, clean or bathe in clean water, Clemon drives between 15 and 20 miles to the nearest Double Quick or Dollar General to use their outside water faucets to fill buckets. Soon enough, the businesses cut the supply. 

“Instead of people trying to help, it was more like they really didn’t give a damn,” she said.

She continued to find water sources, spending over $300 for cases of water. This became a financial strain, so she finally reached out to the only person who she said would listen, Leflore County Supervisor of District 3, Anjuan Brown, who represents her area.

“At this time in life, I’m too old to be trying to repair a pump every six months and I feel like we should be entitled to water like everyone else,” Clemon said. “Why can’t they set up a pump or water line? I mean we have enough people back there to have decent water.”

Once he was notified of the issue, Brown said he immediately took action, making calls to federal, state, and local officials, to work on a long-term solution. As a temporary fix, the county donated a water tank for the residents. County officials said they don’t have any additional funds in their budget, so they plan to seek grants to cover the costs of either replacing the wells or building a water line to connect to the city of Greenwood, said Brown.

Cost estimates are not yet available.  

Following the report by the Delta News, people from Mississippi, Alabama and other states donated water, in addition to the water tank, to the families. Faith Alford, anchor for the Delta News, spearheaded the effort.

“I really felt compelled to help them out. I called a few people I had previously interviewed. However, I received the biggest response from Miss (Presella) Ross. She is from Alabama and does missionary work in the Delta,” said Alford.

Clemon, a retired home health aide who worked many jobs over the years as a factory worker and waitress and now cares for her two disabled brothers, said though she’s thankful, it’s still a hassle to carry the water from the tank. Not just for her, but for the other five families who suffer from disabilities. 

“There’s a Band-Aid on the problem,” she said. “I’d never think I’d be living in America and can’t get running water in my home, you know? You can go to the moon but you can’t give families what they need for everyday living, survival, just to be clean and healthy. You need running water. I don’t care where you are.”

Brown and residents ask that water donations to be sent to 140 County Road 106, Schlater, Mississippi.

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Aallyah Wright is a native of Clarksdale, and was a Mississippi Delta reporter covering education and local government. She was also a weekly news co-host on WROX Radio (97.5 FM) and collaborator with StoryWorks/Reveal Labs from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Aallyah has a bachelor’s in journalism with minors in communications and theater from Delta State University. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report, and co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.