The community of Bogue Chitto gains access to running water for the first time

More than 2 million Americans live without running water or home plumbing, and hundreds of them live in Alabama’s Black Belt.

Whether it’s Lowndes County residents who don’t have working sewage systems or Uniontown residents who are afraid to use their well water, problems exist across the region.

About 15 miles west of Selma in rural Dallas County, a community has never had running water. However, that will change in the coming months.

The West Dallas Water Authority has begun expanding its water treatment service to 69 homes and a church in the unincorporated community of Bogue Chitto. The project has been a long time coming as the Water Authority began helping residents of Bogue Chitto gain access to clean water over a decade ago. A $3.8 million investment from the US Department of Agriculture and support from the Dallas County Commission made the project possible.

The West Dallas Water Authority's Bogue Chitto Water Expansion Project begins construction near Marion Junction, Alabama on Monday, November 7, 2022.

“It was a nightmare for me because the idea of ​​someone actually not having clean water to consume in 2022 was just beyond my imagination,” said Maggie Drake-Peterson, chairwoman of the West Dallas County Water Board. “I thank God that we made this possible.”

Drake-Peterson grew up in Orrville, just about seven miles from Bogue Chitto. She said she was always aware of the struggles in rural black belts, but never thought clean drinking water, a basic human necessity, was one of them.

It was only 12 years ago, when she retired from her position as a Michigan state judge and moved home, that Drake-Peterson discovered that Bogue Chitto and several other small communities did not have running water.

The Board of Directors of the West Dallas Water Authority, from left, Rosa Honor, Maggie Drake-Peterson and Herbert Blackmon speak as on Monday 7th , 2022.

At that time, residents used either deep wells or hand-dug wells in their backyards to provide water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and everything else. This has been a tradition out of necessity since black landowners, many of whom were descendants of freed slaves, founded Bogue Chitto in the early 1900s.

When Drake-Peterson joined the West Dallas Water Board, she and the other board members heard reports of Bogue Chitto residents becoming ill after drinking their well water. They decided to do something.