Local families in danger of losing water rights

By Megan R. Harrell

Star Staff

Some local residents may be in danger of losing what little water they have. Five families in the Fish Springs, Elk Mills community have recently been instructed to produce a spring permit, or they may have to remove the pipes carrying water to their homes.
   All of the families have water line easements allowing them to pipe water from the Fish Springs Baptist Church's water source on government land. However, the U.S. Forest Service told families an original spring permit showing the agreement between the church and government is needed in order for them to continue piping water from the government land.
   The residents in Fish Springs are not able to produce the original contract that was drawn up before 1948. The notary is the only participant in the original contract that is still living.
   Fish Springs resident Flora Jackson stated that she was only 14 years old when the original agreement was made, and has no way of tracking down the document. The Forest Service no longer issues permits for spring boxes or reservoirs.
   The Fish Springs Baptist Church has split and survived a fire since the agreement was made with the government.
   Residents find it hard to believe the church would illegally build a spring on government land, then draw up legal easements with neighbors. "I do not know who they got the permission from, but I know they did not go up there and steal the water," Jackson said.
   She believes the Forest Service should have to prove it owns the water before it requires residents to pull out their pipelines. "They ought to prove to me they own the water. Nobody owns that water. It is God's water. He put it there, and it is up to him to take it away from us," Jackson said.
   The five families have been drawing water from the spring branch for decades, and do not understand why the government is threatening to take their water when they need it the most. The families have been struggling all summer to maintain a steady flow of water into their homes.
   "I don't have anything against the Forest Service," Jackson said. I just don't understand why they are trying to take it away from us right when we need it the most. You can't get sorrier than that."
   The families use the water piped from the spring to bathe and wash clothes. They transport all of their drinking water from Sink Valley. Jackson said that it is not asking for much to want enough water to take baths and wash clothes.
   The U.S. Forest Service stated it is currently investigating the water rights in the Fish Springs area, and has not made any decisions concerning the issue. It did, however, confirm that the residents may be in danger of having to pull out their water pipes if they cannot come up with the original contract between the government and the church.
   The Forest Service declined to make any additional comments on the situation in Fish Springs, because it believes it is too early in the investigation process. "We want to do what is right and that is all I can say right now," Frank Leghe, with the U.S. Forest Service, said.
   While the families wait for the investigation to play out, they are preparing for the worst. Jackson stated that she will go to court to keep the pipes in the ground. "I am not going to take this lying down," Jackson said. "Not for something I have been using my whole life."
   Jackson has turned to her Bible for insight into the struggle over water rights. She quoted Isaiah 41:17 as a source of comfort. "When the poor and needy seek water and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord, will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them."
   The families are asking for information pertaining to the original contract between the Forest Service and the Fish Springs Baptist Church. If any member of the community has information, please contact Flora Jackson at 768-3854, or Kathy Helms-Hughes at 768-4405.