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No water for decades, but non-profit hoping to bring advanced tech to Dallas community that makes drinking water from the air

The community of Sandbranch is roughly 20 minutes southeast of Dallas and has been without drinking water for roughly 30 years.

DALLAS, Texas — An innovative, high-tech way to create clean and safe drinking water is being eyed as a tool to help the community of Sandbranch cope with a problem its dealt with for roughly 30 years: no access to a municipal water or sewage system. 

Some residents there are already benefiting from new SOURCE Hydropanels, and the National Wildlife Federation is working to secure funding to install up to 19 more, including a community Hyrdopanel. 

If you're reading this and not sure what a 'Hydropanel' is -- it sounds like something that comes from a sci-fi movie or novel.

A clearer understanding is laid out here--but the panels are powered by the sun and use fans to draw in ambient air that traps water vapors from that air. 

The water vapor is extracted and condensed into liquid form in a reservoir in the panel. Minerals are then added to make the water drinkable. 

Per SOURCE, a panel can make 4-10 liters daily on average. 

It then delivers the water to a faucet or tap through water lines that connect to a home. 

92-year-old Juanita Bean had no idea what was being installed in her front yard -- only that it would make her life a little easier. 

Credit: WFAA
Juanita Bean of Sandbranch shows reporter Matt Howerton a new SOURCE Hydropanel installed in front of her home to provide her with drinking water.

She's now benefitting from a Hydropanel after it was brought to her home recently. 

Before--she had to rely on bottled water or water barrels to drink, cook and bathe. 

She and her family moved to Sandbranch in the 1960s and is one of the community's oldest residents. She said not having water has just become a way of life -- even though it shouldn't be that way. 

Water from wells in the area started to go bad in the 1980s. Some wells still work, but residents don't dare drink any water that comes from them. 

"When you get used to doing something, you just get used to it," Bean said. 

"But when I got this, I was very happy." 

A few other homes are also benefiting from the new technology, and it's the best long-term solution being offered at this point. 

A meeting will be held 4 p.m. Saturday at 210 Bunche Drive to discuss the new panels. Representatives from the EPA will reportedly be in attendance. 

If you spend some time talking with Bean--you understand that water is more precious than gold in her community. 

"Oh yes, very precious," Bean said. "I've really seen the community grow up and grow down." 

Sandbranch was founded by freed people of color in the 1800s and is in unincorporated Dallas County. 

Credit: Jay Wallis

The population has dwindled as the county's efforts to bring the community safe and clean drinking water have failed or become entangled in bureaucracy. 

In 2003, FEMA decided that Sandbranch was in violation of Dallas County floodplain regulations -- stopping any hopes of development in the area. 

There has been a push to raise funds by the Sandbranch Development and Water Supply Corp., a volunteer-based corporation, to build water lines and a wastewater management system. 

But to do so would cost millions. One of the reasons Dallas County won't make a conscious effort on this issue is it costs a lot of money for too few residents, which hovers between 100 to 200. 

To this day, community members rely heavily on donations of bottled water, which goes fast. 

The National Wildlife Federation said there is a shortfall of $100,000 to get the amount of Hydropanels that they need to help residents in Sandbranch.

Credit: Jay Wallis
Each box of food is taped up and delivered directly to a neighbor's car.

It's hoping to fill the gaps in the coming weeks and or months. 

The National Wildlife Federation’s work with Sandbranch is part of a broader effort to bring attention to areas of historic water infrastructure inequity in Texas. 

The organization’s Texas Coast and Water Program has called for the state to use an historic influx of federal infrastructure funds to prioritize long-overdue water system upgrades in historically disadvantaged communities such as Sandbranch.

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