The water crisis in Flint, Michigan has received national attention for years now, and it’s the poster child for urban neglect and government incompetence. As it should be. But there’s another town that few Americans have heard about that’s been struggling with an even deeper water crisis for over 30 years.
Sandbranch, Texas, is a tiny hamlet on the extreme outskirts of the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex. It lies in an unincorporated section of Dallas county, which means it has no municipal government or agencies of its own, and must rely on whatever services the county decides it can provide.
Living in that kind of municipal black hole means forgoing some ‘luxuries’ of modern life, little things like regular trash collection and street lights. Maybe a post office. But in a twist that even Charles Dickens would have trouble inventing, the town has gone without running water or sewerage for decades. And not because the pipes are bad, as they are in Flint, but because there are no pipes.
“Sandbranch has no water pipes, sewerage, trash collection or street lights,” British newspaper The Guardian reported Friday in a penetrating piece of journalism that should embarrass every American who reads it.
But that’s not all. “In an added dash of irony,” writer Oliver Milman continues, “the sprawling Dallas Southside water treatment plant is situated about 10 yards from Sandbranch, its rusting barbed wire fence running along the northern boundary of the town.”
One other small detail about this town we should mention, one we’re certain has had no bearing on the perpetuation of these embarrassing realities: the population is overwhelmingly African American.
Records show Sandbranch has been populated since 1940, and as the town slowly grew thanks to the cheap land, it sustained itself with the abundant groundwater. But by the 1980s, that supply became contaminated by the local gravel mines on the outskirts of town, experts claim.
“Testing in the 1980s and early 1990s confirmed bacterial contamination of the water,” The Guardian report states. But county officials concluded that the residents had only themselves to blame. “Dallas County can’t be sure of the culprit but suggests the widespread keeping of hogs, now banned, created rivers of waste that poisoned the water table,” Milman writes.
The town has been fighting the Texas bureaucratic machine to get pipes installed ever since, but to no avail. Most of the people in a town that was once over 500 residents have slowly but steadily left, though more than 100 still remain, and many who have left would return were services to expand.
These are home owners and land owners, not squatters. These are people who have lawfully occupied the town and its environs for multiple generations in many cases, and they haven’t been able to secure these very basic services most of us take for granted.
There is a new plan to bring running water to Sandbranch that’s gaining momentum, thanks in large part to efforts by a local pastor, Eugene Keahey. His group is working with the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Agriculture to secure grants to pay for the installation of pipes that plug into nearby water networks for southern Dallas.
“It’s realistic, it’s a real thing, we are excited,” Keahey told the Guardian. “If we get the permits and all that, it could happen. Once people get water to the lots, they will come back.” His group estimates the project would cost about $6 million to start, and could become finalized as early as next year.
“All we are asking for is a water bill,” a long time resident said.
Is American “Great Again” yet?