Unusual in this day and age, a Lamar County family lives without running water, and now faces the threat of their mentally handicapped son being placed in a group home.
Marcus Starks, disabled due to a heart condition, says the pump on his water well is broken, and he does not have the means to fix the well or to pay the $15,000 Lamar County Water Supply District will charge him to bring a water line about a mile to his home on CR 45080 near Arthur City in far northern Lamar County.
“The people at the water office suggested I contact my neighbors to get them to help pay for a water line to this neighborhood, but I told them between all of us we couldn’t scrape together that much money,” Starks said.
The cost of extending water lines beyond existing service lines is the responsibility of the customer and must be paid in advance, according to the district’s service rules and regulations at lamarcountywatersupply.com.
“I’ve been hauling water for the past couple of years, and I’m just not able to do it much longer,” Starks, 56, said from the living room of a brick home built in 1979 by his grandparents. “We’ve got two bathrooms, a dishwasher and a washer and dryer but no water.”
Starks is recuperating from surgery to open blocked vessels in his right leg, one of several heart-related surgeries he has had in recent years.
The father said he was notified recently his disabled son could be taken from him and his wife, Michelle, because the house has no running water, a state requirement because their son receives services from Lakes Regional Mental Health and Mental Retardation.
“I’m not going to let that happen even if we have to leave our home,” Starks said, adding his family had lived on that Red River bottom homeplace for more than 100 years. “The people at the local office are trying to help us.”
Their son’s caseworker contacted a well-drilling firm in Texarkana, and a worker came out and took pictures of the pump and well about two weeks ago. Starks said he is waiting to hear from the company.
“It will give us some time because we are actively trying to find a solution,” Starks said.
A couple of disabled neighbors, Curlese Webb and Davy Graham, joined Starks on Thursday afternoon in discussing their plight. Webb and Graham both have shallow wells, which provide a limited amount of water but very little pressure.
“If you take a shower, you better be fast or you’ll be left all lathered up with soap and no way to rinse it off,” Webb said.
The neighbors said a stretch of road where they live has been neglected for years and only in the recent past received a coating of oil and rock, but the road is filled with potholes because there are no ditches to carry water during rains.
“Go a mile in either direction, and there is county water and better roads where the white folks live,” Webb said. “It’s just this stretch in between that’s neglected, and it’s been that way for years.”
Years ago, Lamar County Commissioners Court received a Small Towns Environment Program grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture to assist residents in Emerson in far western Lamar County install water lines, according to Lamar County Water District director David Pitcock.
“That might be something to explore,” Pitcock said, adding “it’s been years since I’ve heard of a grant here.”
The Small Towns Environment Program provides funds to eligible cities and counties with less than 200,000 population, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture website at texasagriculture.gov. The community must provide local volunteer labor and available material in order to demonstrate a 40% cost savings off the retail construction price of the water or sewer project. The award recipient must also demonstrate strong local participation in the implementation of the contract, and the overall construction and implementation must be performed predominately by community volunteer workers.
Eligible activities include installation of facilities to provide first-time water or sewer service; acquisition of easements; sewer or water taps and water meters; water or sewer connection fees for low and moderate income persons; and water or sewer yard service lines, also for low and moderate income persons.