The Woodlands: Underfunded 'Water Bank' Closes

A local water bank in Butler County serving 40 families who lost their water after REX Energy began drilling for natural gas had to close their doors last week because donations dropped off.

Below is a Letter to the Editor that a Butler resident wrote explaining the situation.

Imagine the following scenario: due to an unspecified natural disaster, 40 families in the Adams/Middlesex Township area of Butler County are left without potable drinking water. How long do you think it would take local, county and state agencies to step in and remedy that situation? You can bet that action would be swift.

But let's imagine the unthinkable. Let's imagine that four years had passed and nothing had been done to return fresh, clean drinking water to these families. What would be happening then? The public outrage from local residents would be deafening. Donations from churches and businesses from around the county and beyond would be pouring in. No doubt millions of dollars would be raised to help these families. And the recent battle cry "Where's Our Water?" would take on a greater and deeper significance.

Such a natural disaster has indeed occurred in Butler County. Forty families in Connoquenessing Township are without potable drinking water. Duquesne University professor John Stolz has determined, through lengthy and ongoing research, that some sort of geological disruption (we needn't speculate on what caused the geological disruption) has caused toxic substances from old coal mines in the area to flow into the groundwater of the Woodlands neighborhood, contaminating the domestic water supplies of 40 families in that neighborhood. And yes, the unthinkable has happened: some of these families have been without fresh, clean drinking water for four years. Please pause in your reading and imagine that daily reality for four years if you can.

So. Where is the large-scale public outrage? Where are the millions of dollars in donations? Non-existent. A small handful of churches and businesses -- a miniscule percentage of the churches, businesses and faith-based organizations in Butler County -- have reached out to help these people. One church in the area set up a "water bank" where these families could come and receive bottled water for their daily needs -- only a small percentage of what the Red Cross estimates is necessary for optimum human survival.

And on Aug. 24, that water bank was forced to close its doors due to a drastic fall-off in donations.

Which leads one to ask: why are so many churches and businesses reluctant to lend aid to these needy families? The answer seems obvious. Early on in the Woodlands saga, the drilling industry was implicated as a plausible culprit in the contamination of these water wells. Using incomplete water test data (the infamous Suite Code 942), PA DEP exonerated the drillers from any culpability. County and local officials proffered a few totally inadequate remedies, then walked away and left residents to fend for themselves.

But the sociological damage had been done. The drillers had been implicated, and we all know that nobody wants to get involved in controversies involving the drillers: the "goose that lays the golden eggs" -- it's bad for business! So churches and businesses have turned away in droves from this drama of human suffering occurring in our own back yard. If it had been a flood or tornado that had caused this suffering, relief aid would have been sudden and swift. Four years later, these families would have had fresh clean water for the past three years at least, instead of having gone without it for four. But because the drillers were implicated early on, businesses and churches don't want to get involved.

Butler County communities pride themselves in being "Christian communities." I'd like to appeal to that Christian spirit now. Stop worrying about whether or not you're going to offend "the goose that lays the golden eggs"! These are HUMAN BEINGS we're talking about here! Human beings who have gone without fresh drinking water for FOUR YEARS! THINK about that! Think about it and open your wallets, give of your time, do whatever it takes to make sure these people have clean water. It DOESN'T MATTER how it happened! It does and it doesn't; like so much else in this sad chapter of our regional history, it will no doubt all be sorted out in the courts eventually. But for now, these people need our help.

Jesus said: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me." Don't tell Jesus: "Those people have always had bad water! They're just trying to get something for nothing! They deserve to suffer!" None of that is true. After four years, you should know better.

Please help these people. Donations can be made at the Water for Woodlands website or through White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church in Renfrew.

Shame on us all if this situation goes on for one more year without a viable permanent solution being in place or well underway!

Joseph P. McMurry