“We are so fortunate here in Louisville that I can drink this glass of water and not get sick,” he told them. “Less than 200 miles from here, in eastern Tennessee, that’s not the case. I think we have a responsibility to help our neighbors.”
Bowman, an actuary, leads the efforts of the Living Waters for the World ministry to provide clean water in the United States – a country that many assume already has clean water. But Bowman and the volunteers with whom he works have found places in Appalachia where the water is contaminated. They have assisted in the installation of 17 water purification systems so far to provide families in those communities with water that is safe to drink.
Bowman got involved after attending a conference organized by Presbyterians for Restoring Creation in 2005, learning about the Living Waters program and deciding to try to get his congregation involved. When he learned that Living Waters was considering doing work in Tennessee, he thought that would be closer to home and easier for volunteers from Kentucky to travel back-and-forth to, so he contacted people he knew at Berea College in eastern Kentucky, and got the ball rolling.
The first homeowner he met with was Tammy Siler of Buffalo Creek, Tenn. “She brought jugs of orange water,” from her well, Bowman said.
At one time, Siler told them, the water had been clean. But after companies began strip mining for coal and drilling through the aquifer for oil and gas exploration, the water became tainted – laboratory testing found bacterial contamination and iron in the water.
Siler and her neighbors in Buffalo Creek organized a nonprofit group, called the Buffalo Water Project Association.“They raise money through bake sales and stuff like that, and garage sales,” Bowman said – money needed to buy filters for the water filtration systems that occasionally need replacing.
Siler knew of others with water problems as well, so the work began to spread – with Springdale and Anchorage Presbyterian churches from the Louisville area getting involved, along with congregations in Tennessee and Alabama, and with the volunteers winning a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help fund the work.
They’re planning to apply for a second grant – this time for $100,000. Seven congregations have each committed to give $8,000 over three years to support the program, which will allow homeowners to pay back loans the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires as part of the process, and will allow the repayment of those loans to be used to put in water systems in more places.
“It’s been a great experience, meeting so many people – homeowners in Appalachia, volunteers from Living Waters,” Bowman said. “I always get more benefits than I give.”