SCHLATER — On a cloudy Thursday morning, Tom Clemon stood on a dirt road on the outskirts of this tiny Delta community and cried. After more than a year of traveling and hauling water from a water tank to his trailer home, he says his prayers have been answered.

With assistance from state and local government and community agencies, this community of six families celebrated a groundbreaking ceremony to install a new water well system in the area.

“There’s too many areas in Mississippi like where we are today that are forgotten places and that’s just a fact. Too many people in state government forget that areas like Schlater in our small rural communities exist,” Mississippi Public Service Commissioner for the Northern District Brandon Presley said at the groundbreaking.

“This is a success story, but the problem is how many other people are falling through the cracks?”  

Schlater residents have been living without clean, running water since July 2019 as a result of broken water well pumps. The Clemon family traveled nearly 13 miles several times a week to find water to haul back to their trailer homes. This served as the basis for cooking, cleaning, and bathing, among other needs.

After wasting countless dollars of her own on attempts to repair the water well pump and purchase bottled water, Minerva Clemon reached out to Anjuan Brown, the Leflore County supervisor who represents her area, she told Mississippi Today in November 2019. 

After Mississippi Today’s initial report, Presley, the public service commissioner, called to ask about how his office could help. He conducted follow-up discussions with federal and local water agencies and local lawmakers to see what could be done to assist the families and established a two-phase plan.

In May, the Mississippi Department of Human Services announced the receipt of a $63,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to build a new well. Following this, issues of heirs property, or property passed down without a will, halted the construction phase. Minerva Clemon had to get a court to partition the land, or divide it, among all property owners since a will did not exist.

Now with clearance, Pamela Gary, director of local community agency Central Mississippi Inc., said construction for the new well system will start within the next two weeks. It’ll take two to three months to complete, she added.  

Sen. David Jordan, a longtime Democrat from Greenwood, recalled a childhood memory where he, too, drank and used water from a water well pump.

“The only thing different in my childhood and this, we had a pump and the residue of sulfur was so thick we had to wait to settle at the bottom to drink off of it. I don’t know how we live through that,” Jordan said. “But I’m glad we came to the rescue (for Schlater residents).” 

Remaining patient, hopeful, and vigilant for over a year, residents here will finally be able to access running water in their homes. Throughout the ceremony, Minerva and Tom Clemon smiled through their masks.

“Thank God. Thank God, it’s been a long time coming,” said Minerva Clemon, standing next to her brother. 

Tom responded to his sister, “It’s done this time. (He’s) sending the Angels to see about us. Angels I ain’t never met before.”

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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.