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More Than Clean Water

“But James, this is supposed to be a project that includes other members of Westminster Presbyterian helping install this water system”, I thought but didn’t say. James is a digging machine himself and doesn’t need much help installing a 10-foot drain field that is necessary for the water softener backwash effluent. James is just one member of a 22-member team from Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN that are all experienced installers of water treatment equipment in the Macon County area of Tennessee about 125 miles northeast of Nashville.

A portion of the Westminster Presbyterian water team preparing for an installation from left to right: Ken Garrison, James Fritz (the digger), Jerold Cook (homeowner), Carson Salyer, Bob Sewell, and Dennis Williams.

Our efforts started in 2012 after a chance meeting with a Macon County commissioner. I told him we were interested in finding families who were in need of clean water. He immediately lined me up with County Mayor Shelvy Linville, who jumped at the chance to get help. He said that he had several families who lived in places that the county could not afford to run water lines. We started with Ewing who was drawing water from a creek in front of his trailer by installing filters, a water softener, and an ultraviolet light. Unfortunately, Ewing had terminal cancer and after we had finished his installation, he told us that before he died he had hoped he could provide his family with clean water. And he had!

Our only stipulation from the homeowners was to follow a plan proposed by Carson Salyer, now our retired Associate Minister for Congregational Care, a Living Waters for the World Clean Water U instructor, and our chief installer. We asked Ewing to find another family that had water problems, which he did. This plan along with those families provided by the Macon County Mayor is highly efficient in adding to our queue of families for whom we test water over a period of months, and design and install systems. To date, we have installed 42 systems in Tennessee with 33 of those systems in Macon County.

Little did I realize, when Carson asked me to be the coordinator of Westminster’s work in Tennessee, the experiences I would have in the ensuing nine years. I had spent my career as a supervisory water resource engineer for the Nashville District, Corps of Engineers for 35 years primarily engaged in devising plans to keep water out of people’s houses. Now my role was being reversed.

What experiences I came to deal with in those nine years!

  • There was Daisy, a matriarch of the family whose great granddaughter lived with her. Daisy grew a huge garden, and canned and sold vegetables to increase her income to help the family.

  • David was retired from the Navy with a disability sustained when his ship was caught in a hurricane in 1979. He lived in a trailer on the side of a mountain and drew his water from a tiny spring via a water line that ran on top of the ground that froze regularly in the winter.

  • Danny is one of the nicest people in Macon County who contacted us to test his and his mother-in-law’s water to check on the need for treatment systems. Donna, his wife, fed 12 of us a huge dinner during the day we were installing two systems for the family.

  • And one of the latest families for whom we worked was Ethan’s. Ethan is a young man with a wife and two small girls. He draws his water from a spring that had been providing his ancestors with water for 150 years but it tested as being polluted. He now has a James’-dug ditch for his water softener along with filters and an ultraviolet light for final disinfection.

Perhaps one of the most heart-felt thank yous to Westminster came from Ethan: “I thank God everyday that you found me and gave my family so much. So I sincerely thank you and everyone in your congregation for helping me and my family.”

Today, we work with County Mayor Steve Jones, who has invited us to speak to the Macon County Commission about our work and fully supports our efforts.

During 2020, Westminster members were able to continue installing systems while properly masked. We’ve had to cut down the number of installers to as few as two people and use a local handyman for all work except the equipment installation.

Thanks be to God that we were able to provide clean water to the people of Macon County during the last nine years and keep it flowing in 2020. As satisfying as it was to prevent flood water from entering peoples’ homes while working for the Corps, I much prefer assisting our talented Westminster team in providing clean water to peoples’ homes. Getting to know our recipient families and developing meaningful relationships has also been a joy. I feel very privileged and grateful!


Dennis Williams is a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN and serves as the coordinator for the church's Living Waters for the World installation projects in Tennessee. He is also a Clean Water U graduate of the Water System Installation course (103).


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