Water Wars
After prolonged water shortages and accusations West End water board splits

June 1st, 2005

[private] In the last few months, water shortages throughout the West End community have prompted complaints to the local water board. Board president Duey Wesley called a public session on April 14 to examine the situation. At the meeting, members of the West End water board proposed that West End be divided into two water boards, each managing their half of the community independently. “The community had grown so much that we needed to get more people involved,” said Delcie Rosales, Water Board secretary since 1988. According to Rosales, the community’s north side water shortages were attributed to illegal pumps hooked up directly to the water lines. “Water is a sore subject in this community. People have to obey the rules and regulations. We have people watering the street and some people giving water out of the community,” said Rosales.

The division of the water board was not popular with everyone at the meeting. Most of those opposing the change were from the south side of the West End. “I didn’t think we should divide. But we had to accept the proposal because we didn’t have the numbers in attendance and we were outvoted,” said Esmeralda Mann who met with other members of the “south side” after the session. In the next week, a south side board was appointed, with Mann as sitting president.

On April 28, both sides met again to discuss the details of the division. Payment of current outstanding salaries and the exact location of the border were in dispute at the meeting. The group took a break and reconvened later that day with five representatives and a lawyer representing each side. It was determined that West End’s Baptist Church would be the border for the division and the existing board would manage the north side. It was proposed that the five wells and the balance of funds in the Board’s account were to be divided. “Three of the wells, a reserve pump and 50% of the funds were to be distributed to the north side,” said Mann.

According to Rosales, one of the wells on the north side doesn’t function properly. “After two or three hours of pumping, it just draws sand and then burns the pump. It should be condemned,” said Rosales. Each new water board will have custody of two wells and the north side will also take the non-functioning well. There is also one 40,000 gallon holding tank on the south side of West End. According to Rosales, the remaining funds from the existing water board will go toward constructing a holding tank for the north side.

The old water board, established in 1977, was to cease management on May 9, but the deadline passed without any changes to the water operation in West End.

While the logistics of the new board division are debated, residents in West End continue to experience water outages. “It’s a constant headache for business,” said Johnna Ebanks who, with husband Sam, runs Lighthouse Restaurant. “Most days, we have to bail water for use because the pressure is so low.” The Ebanks family business is located on the point in West End, which will fall on the south side’s new water board. Ebanks said that the problems for the point have worsened since January, but north side residents have battled water shortages for longer than that. “We have water problems all year round,” said Judith Jackson who lives in the barrio behind Woody’s Grocery. A 31-year resident of that area, Jackson’s family mainly relies on rainfall collection for their water use.

Mann looks forward to possible changes in water management by the new board. “We hope to have better service. People could be pumping the lines, but my opinion is that there could be a broken line or swampy areas that cause problems with the pressure,” said Mann. The south side board has seven members on its Board of Directors and the north side has six paid members. “These meetings started out aggressively, but I hope it all works out so that everyone gets their equal share of water,” said Rosales. The division of the boards, according to Rosales, will have a one-year trial run. After that time, the sides will conduct user surveys to gauge the community’s response to the new management. [/private]

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After prolonged water shortages and accusations West End water board splits

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