AmeriCorps VISTAs Tackle Water Conservation in Rural Texas

By Marushka Grogan

During a recent trip to a small Texas community, VISTAs Marushka Grogan, Caroline Hackett, and Cathleen MacKinnon (left to right) read a water meter and conduct field research for the Texas Rural Water Foundation's rural water conservation outreach program.

Members make connection between drought and poverty issues 

The Texas Rural Water Foundation is an Austin-based nonprofit that creates statewide programs and training materials geared toward building the capacity of rural water and wastewater utilities serving impoverished, rural communities. Caroline Hackett is one of seven AmeriCorps VISTA members serving with the Foundation.

Since arriving in Texas last year, AmeriCorps VISTA members have put in many hours with the program. They work with personnel in making phone calls to all parts of the state and build a program to help rural Texas overcome the drought that has stifled communities since 2011.

“What do drought, poverty, and rural Texas have in common? I spent a lot of time thinking about that when I arrived here, trying to figure out the needs and what sort of program might address them,” said Hackett. “The answer is that, if you were to draw a map of Texas and color in the areas suffering from each, drought and poverty would disproportionately coincide with rural areas on the map.”

Small rural communities have different water use profiles and needs and have fewer resources to devote to water conservation-related materials, programs, training, and outreach. The Texas Rural Water Foundation seeks to fill this gap through its AmeriCorps VISTA-supported “Don’t Leave Texas High & Dry” outreach and education campaign. The program provides training and resources for utility personnel to help them plan and implement conservation education and outreach initiatives. The program is designed to meet the unique needs of rural and small communities to help them develop self-sustaining, effective water conservation programs.

The Texas Rural Water Foundation has benefited from AmeriCorps VISTA members since February 2013. In addition to the “Don’t Leave Texas High & Dry” program, members also create training materials to assist rural water utility personnel studying for state-level licensing tests. Some members also help administer a job training and placement program to assist veterans seeking jobs in the water utility industry.

Daniel Sparkman, an AmeriCorps VISTA leader serving with the Water Foundation, says that the current team is at the beginning stages of implementing the “Don’t Leave Texas High & Dry” program.

“As AmeriCorps VISTAs, we’re able to meet the needs of the vulnerable populations most likely to feel the effects of environmental challenges like drought,” said Sparkman. “Drought is an environmental challenge that Texas will likely continue to face, but soon its most at-risk communities will have resources to help them adapt and make the most of the water they have.”

Marushka Grogan is an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving with the Texas Rural Water Foundation. The Corporation for National and Community Service is celebrating the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps and highlighting the theme of environmental stewardship during the month of April. For more information about the 20th anniversary, please visit the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary Resource Center.

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