Our bowl is filling up. To date, we have $3,100.00 of the estimated $5,000.00 it will cost to install a home septic system so a household can have legal electricity turned on in their home. Why the unlikely pairing of water and electricity? Prior to “city water” coming to the mountain, most homes used cisterns, concrete tanks that collected water from rainfall off the roof to provide much of their water, or a spring and in a few cases a well. In almost all instances, water was a precious commodity and rather than use it for indoor plumbing many people used outhouses. The used water had to go somewhere and the natural thing to do was to run a pipe over the hill, referred to as “straight piping”. If this was just wash water, it was not a significant problem for most. However, water from toilets posed a different problem, especially as running water in homes was more common and the use of outhouses declined. So why are electricity and septic systems tied together? Prior to public water, our water at St. Timothy’s came from a spring on our bottom ground and then was pumped uphill around one-hundred feet. It was good water, but at that time we did not have two homes up the holler from our spring that did not have septic systems. It is common for there to be many homes along the bottom land of the holler. The only way the state could help to force people to install the systems was to require a septic permit prior to setting up temporary service and certification of a completed system before final connection to the home. The cost of a small home system on good draining ground will cost around $3,500.00. Note I said good draining ground. As many of our mission trip participants have learned the hard way, digging even a small hole usually results in hitting rock. The area needed for the septic leach field in almost every case would not only include significant digging, something that cannot be done by hand, but also the removal of trees and brush. Our new log building required us to run nearly two hundred feet of pipe from the septic tanks to the leach field in an old tobacco field lower on our property.
Unfortunately there are no grants available in Estill County, except for a USDA grant restricted to people over 62 who are capable of meeting the income requirements and completing the nearly twenty page application. Last year our friends from Pleasant Run Presbyterian Church asked why we could not create a fund to help provide septic systems. They then backed it up with a donation to start the fund. Others, including a number of congregations from our own diocese have also added to the fund. I know I receive solicitations several times a year about providing safe drinking water around the world, something which I support, but unclean water is not just a third-world problem. Just as none of us would want to have to walk out to the little shed out back on a snowy winter night, neither would we want to live downhill from untreated waste. I know that $5,000.00 sounds like a great deal just to have electricity, but if everyone who visited St. Timothy’s over the last two years had two less Starbuck coffees this fall we could easily meet our goal of a septic system for Christmas.