Bringing utility water to Fish Springs would cost $3.35 million

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

   Residents in Little Milligan have reported seeing Phil Fulmer in their area during the past few months, but he's not the same Phil Fulmer who is head coach of the University of Tennessee football team. He delivers water to the Little Milligan and Fish Springs communities in an orange truck.
   Before the purchase of "Ole' Phil" and the orange truck, the Little Milligan School Community Water Fund transported water required for everyday living via a truck donated by a local dairy farmer.
   Bringing utility water into the area is estimated to cost $3.35 million, according to Vernon Kirk of the First Tennessee Development District. Early estimations showed water lines running from Carderview Utility District in Butler could take another year and a half.
   For now, residents are conserving water, like they always have, and getting their supply from wells and springs. This is where "Ole' Phil" comes in. The two-ton truck, bought by the Water Fund from Jerry Bowers at Bowers Auto Sales, hauls a 1,500 gallon water tank to and from a spring on Spring Hollow Road.
   J. R. Campbell, spokesman for the community water group, said after the 1,500 gallons of water, which equals out to 12,000 pounds, is delivered to the homeowners' well or personal water tank, the supply will last a small family about two weeks.
   For some of the people, its the best thing that ever happened to them.
   Residents are forced to stock up on drinking water in milk jugs. Some use their personal trucks to haul water in smaller water tanks, usually less than 500 gallons, forcing them to conserve water even more and fill up more often.
   D. W. Reece was filling up a few gallon jugs for drinking water that only last about a week. When asked how he feels about having to fill up jugs and his water tank, he said, "It is a b**** to have to come out here." 
   "Around here, people don't use as much water. They don't take long baths or showers. They know how to conserve water, because they have to," said Campbell. "It is harder to live without water than it is to be without electricity."
   "Phil" is available for anyone to use to haul a supply of water, but elderly people or those who are not able to drive contact Campbell or others in the water group for a delivery. It is jokingly referred to as the "water route" similar to a "paper route".
   "Residents come and get "Ole' Phil" when they need it. I know it was at four different homes last week," Campbell said.
   The spring has numerous visitors every day as the need for water increases. During a dry season, the spring trickles at a fraction of its normal rate.
   Filling up the 1,500 gallon tank usually takes an hour, but during a dry season, the time increases to more than two hours.
   Campbell said the truck drives better when the water tank is completely full, as opposed to when he only has to deliver to a smaller tank. The truck has also become a common site for residents. Even when "old Phil" has run out of gas, passerbys have picked up whoever the driver has been and made sure the gas tank remains full.
   Even the Carter County Highway Department knows the truck and its mission. If it snows in the area, the chances of the truck running the "water route" are slim. The truck does not have four-wheel drive, and hauling 12,000 pounds of water makes trips around curvy, steep roads extremely treacherous.
   Campbell had to make a delivery after a few inches of snow blanketed the roads a few weeks ago. A road crew member passed by, and Campbell asked him, "Do you care to go up Soapstone Hollow?" Campbell was able to make the delivery as scheduled.  
   "We're just trying to get through the winter season. If it gets bad for a week or so, we are in trouble," Campbell said of those needing water.
   The truck has had a few minor repairs made to it recently, but Campbell hopes, "it will last until utility water is brought in here."
   Michael Hughes, director of the Watauga River Regional Water Authority, said the Little Milligan area is one step closer to receiving utility water. He reccently received preliminary approval for the Community Development Block Grant for $500,000. Final approval will not be given until a new federal budget is approved by President Bush.
   Another application for a grant has been submitted to Appalachian Regional Commission.
   Hughes estimated the project could take another two to five years to complete. "I don't want to get optimistic, and get people's hopes up." Different factors can delay the time of completion, according to Hughes.
   Campbell said some people who have lived in the area before Watauga Lake was built, around the area of Old Butler, have said, "I just want to live to see water come in here."