PRINCE GEORGE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — For nine months, a Prince George family has been living without any running water.
Without a single drop from their faucets, the Curry-Foster family has been struggling every day to not only bathe, cook and clean but also flush toilets, grow food and feed their chickens and dogs.
“Baby wipes everywhere, showering in a bucket, washing the hair; it’s been a struggle,” said Teressa Curry-Foster.
The family is not without water for lack of trying. According to Curry-Foster, they’ve been trying to get the problem fixed since three days after Thanksgiving 2021 when it appeared their well pump broke.
“We had people come out and give us quotes and we thought it would get fixed pretty quick,” Curry-Foster told 8News.
Instead, emails show the countless rejections the family faced from well-diggers who told them they were too backlogged to even add them to a waiting list. Because they’re far from the only ones being affected by a state-wide well-digger shortage.
By February, the family managed to hire someone to install a temporary well pump until a new well could be drilled. Curry-Foster told 8News it cost them $2,200 and only lasted three weeks.
The rest of the time they’ve been without water, reliant on friends, family, neighbors and dwindling saving to get them through. Several months into the ordeal, Curry-Foster said they have spent so much money living without water that it has become increasingly impossible to afford a new well, even if someone was available to install it.
Well-diggers in the area told 8News they’re backlogged for nearly a full year because of commercial and new development, plus a shortage of skilled tradespeople.
The state Sewer and Well Assistance Program (SWAP) was launched in mid-January with $11.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to help homeowners with income levels at or below 200% of the federal poverty level repair or replace septic systems and wells.
SWAP, however, isn’t immune to the statewide well-digger backlog, dealing with a logjam themselves. Officials there didn’t even have to advertise the program and got applications, which they say shows a “tremendous need”. Projects like the Curry-Fosters’ have been going out to bid several times before a contractor picks them up.
According to a spokesperson, SWAP closed applications in order to ensure all 281 projects, done directly through VDH, would be installed and fully funded. This decision came shortly after projects were paused due to a backlog in project installation.
When 8News first began making calls on behalf of the Curry-Foster family, just 18 of the 255 projects at the time had been installed, with another 26 under contract. Two weeks later, as of this story’s publication, 23 of the now 281 projects had been installed and 40 were under contract. Another 10 had a vendor selected pending a contract.
About half of the projects are for wells. And this only reflects families who meet the income requirements to receive help. Those 8News spoke with indicated there are undoubtedly more in the same predicament. who don’t know about the program or don’t qualify.
Although state data shows applications have been coming in at a steady rate since the program opened, the majority of the projects receiving bids only did so within the last several weeks.
It’s not clear yet whether the speed of contractors picking up bids has improved, some process on the state’s end or this is just a blip in an otherwise negative trend.
Because local partners also have the option to administer a smaller portion of funding for this program. The one the Curry-Fosters are working with, as well as others, are also not getting bids for projects as quickly as expected.
“I’ve been in this business for 27 years and I’ve never been so busy,” said John O’Dell, co-owner of Water Well Solutions out of Hanover. “New construction is on fire. Other problem is, we can’t employ people right now. We’re desperately trying to hire people, but we get no candidates.”
O’Dell said not enough young people are entering trades like well-digging, leaving every company with a lot of work on their plates and less bandwidth to take on government-funded projects when they already have projects with deadlines to meet, contracted out for the next year.
“That bidding process, it’s just a few extra hoops to jump through,” said O’Dell. “It’s not terrible and under other circumstances, I think people would bid those jobs. But if you don’t have to bid a job and you have a a regular builder that writes you a check every month… you know, why would you bid? Why would you go through extra hoops when you got 70 or 80 wells on your backlog?”
Curry-Foster said she understands the predicament these companies are in, but she hopes struggling families like hers get better consideration by companies with better awareness.
“To me this is like a dire emergency situation,” said Curry-Foster. “A family with kids has no water. We can’t sell the house. We have nowhere else to go. You know, rent’s really expensive. We’re not asking for free stuff. We just want water of all things.”
Two-and-a-half months after VDH marked off the Curry-Foster’s land for a well, they may finally be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Just before this story went to publication, they received a call their project had received a bid.
It will still have to be reviewed and approved. Once that happens, VDH says the average turnaround time to install once they issue a notice to proceed is six to eight weeks.
That means it could be almost three more months before the Curry-Fosters have running water again.
But a timeline, Teressa Curry-Foster said, is something her family can get excited about. It’s at least a bit of hope.
If your company is qualified to dig wells or you know of one and you’re able to bid on projects that could help families in dire need of getting septic and well projects fulfilled in a timely manner, please contact the Virginia Department of Health’s SWAP administrator to learn how you can bid.