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Agencies to discuss Sandbranch water access

Residents in the small community of Sandbranch say they will be waiting and watching to see what comes of a meeting between their new attorney, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, and representatives from local, state and federal agencies.

<p>Clean water is precious to residents of Sandbranch in Southeast Dallas.</p>

DALLAS — Residents in the small community of Sandbranch say they will be waiting and watching to see what comes of a meeting between their new attorney, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, and representatives from local, state and federal agencies.

The joint agency meeting was organized by Jenkins to discuss water access issues in the Southeast Dallas County enclave.

Some neighbors here say cases of water are precious. It is an area where homes have no access to clean running water, and where well water is contaminated.

“Sometimes I go to my mother’s," said resident Alvin Batts. He is disabled and walks with a cane. Yet Batts is among many who makes regular trips outside the area to haul in water for basic chores like washing dishes and laundry. He also relies on water donated to Mt. Zion Church of Sandbranch.

"I have to do this every day,” said Batts. "Not once a week, but every day."

Sandbranch resident Alvin Batts says he has to fetch donated water every day.

The water worries in Sandbranch are not new. Neighbors in the poor, unincorporated area have been pushing for municipal water and sanitary sewer services for more than three decades without success.

"I've been down here since '63, and it's been a problem since then," Batts said.

For the first time, Sandbranch residents have a new legal voice fighting for them. Dallas-area water rights and environmental lawyer Mark McPherson is representing Mt. Zion Church without charge.

"I can't believe a situation like this exists anywhere in the United States of America, much less Dallas County," he said.

McPherson will be meeting Tuesday behind closed doors with about 10 local, state and federal agencies. Their mission, he said, is to come up with workable strategies in bringing water and sewer services to Sandbranch.

"I'm very optimistic,” said McPherson. “I think this time we have a funding source with the USDA that we've not had before, and the community this time has its own expertise and is developing its own voice."

One of the longtime challenges — and an issue expected to be a hot topic in the joint meeting — is that Sandbranch sits in a flood plain outlined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Neighbors argue that the area has never flooded.

"At the end of the day, our objective is still the same: So that our senior citizens, for the first time, can turn on running water in their homes after their wells have been contaminated," said Pastor Eugene Keahey of Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

Batts says he is also optimistic the meeting could bring about critical change. He wants access to more than just the 4 jugs of water he continues to re-fill and store on his porch.

"I'm hoping and praying that everything come through,” Batts explained. “This is something we need, not want. This is something we need."