Water filters poised to aid Eastern Kentucky

In this file photo, Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph Larraine Lauter demonstrated the use of a Sawyer PointOne filter in the Water With Blessings office in Middletown. (Record file Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Water and cleaning supplies are the two most important needs right now as Eastern Kentucky battles catastrophic flooding and continued rain, Governor Andy Beshear said in a July 29 press conference.

At least 16 people have died and an unknown number are unaccounted for in the floods that have wiped out mountain communities in Appalachia. As part of the humanitarian response, the governor said, water will be airlifted to the area. He said 28 state roads were impassable at the time.

Meanwhile, St. Patrick Church in Mount Sterling, Ky., has access to Sawyer PointOne water filters that can turn the floodwater surrounding the region into a virtually endless supply of safe drinking water.

One filter can provide three million gallons of clean water with proper use.

“I have filters and buckets in my backseat right now,” said Vicki Wenz, the pastoral associate of St. Patrick. 

She has nine of the filters — commonly used by hikers and hunters — ready to deliver to churches just south and east of her parish and can get more as needed. 

The need is there, but distributing the filters — now that roads are impassable and people are trapped in remote locations — poses a challenge, said Sister Larraine Lauter, an Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph.

“These families are trapped by floodwater. They are literally trapped by floodwater and could be drinking the water,” said Sister Lauter.

Sister Lauter is a founder of Water With Blessings, a Louisville-based nonprofit that supplies the filters to communities around the world that are prone to natural disasters or that lack access to safe drinking water.

In recent years, the organization has turned its attention to domestic projects, too, helping communities in the United States become more prepared to deal with natural disasters and less reliant on bottled water, which is hard to get into devastated areas and produces excessive waste.

She envisions a plan to get filters embedded into communities that are prone to natural disasters, such as flooding, so that the next time a disaster comes, families have safe drinking water at their fingertips.

That plan was already in the works, in partnership with St. Patrick in Mount Sterling, when the latest floods hit Eastern Kentucky.

Wenz said she wishes the project had progressed more quickly.

“My heart was hurting yesterday,” she said, because the plan hadn’t moved further along. “But we didn’t get back down there.”

“In Appalachia, you need relationships to make things happen,” she noted. “It will be wonderful for people who live back in the hollers, but you have to be able to get it to them. You really have to have a relationship with people for them to trust you to drink creek water. That kind of trust is not something you’re going to have automatically.”

She hopes to introduce the filter systems through local parish staff and others who partner with churches in the area. 

Partnering with local organizations and people to introduce the filters has always been Water With Blessings’ approach, said Sister Lauter.

“We need partners to help us be proactive,” she said. “We always want local partners who understand the people.” 

The latest flooding in Eastern Kentucky comes just seven months after tornadoes wreaked havoc on Western Kentucky. Both disasters prompted water emergencies. For Sister Lauter, these circumstances send a clear message: “This is a learning moment.”

“The news from professionals is that this is only increasing,” she said. “These events are increasing in frequency and intensity — to reach the people who are most acutely affected it’s too late.”

“We believe mountain families are facing more and more disasters. We can help them prepare for that. Water need never be an issue if we can help them understand they can take control of their drinking water.”

“I hope this can be an inspirational moment,” she added. “This could be a great outreach opportunity for the church, with great focus and long-range impact.”

Water With Blessings and Wenz said they intend to continue with plans to equip families in Appalachia with water filters. To assist with the project, visit the water ministry’s website at waterwithblessings.org or call 502-749-5492.

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