By Julia Myhre, ’18

Our trip to Lowndes County was short and yet sweet—while we didn’t exactly meet our ambitious expectations quantity-wise for collecting samples, it was a good start and helped to set expectations for the future that will make it easier next time.   We arrived late Friday night and began our work Saturday morning by having breakfast with Ms. Catherine Flowers and Justin (an EJI intern currently working with Ms. Flowers), discussing the plan for the day and the current electoral battle between Moore and Jones in Alabama. With that we loaded up the car with our cooler and the various bottles to store the water samples from each house so that they can be tested in a lab back at Duke. Ms. Flowers connected us throughout the day with Aaron in Fort Deposit and then Mary in Haynesville who took us to several houses of his friends and family. 

We would roll up at a house, greet the residents and ask for their written consent (though they were expecting us due to the efforts of Ms. Flowers). Dr. Albright surveyed each of the home-owners on how they felt about their water and whether they’d had issues with it in the past while I helped Carly collect the water samples using an outside tap. Some statistics were recorded on site as baseline data, but most of the analysis Carly will do back at Duke, so we filled up a handful of color-coded containers and stored them away. As we went to each house, it was neat to see how willing and welcoming the residents were—a testament to them but also largely due to the trust built by the community liaisons over the years.  Some were a bit wary of questions tying their identity to the information, but nearly all were interested in the results because they didn’t plan on moving any time in the next few generations. They were also visibly relieved that we only needed access to the outside water, allowing the inside of their house remained private. At one home we were able to interact with two children who helped us syringe the water from the bucket to our containers—this small act of participation encouraging a love of science and tying them into theproject which is ultimately for them as the next generation.

With daylight savings it was getting dark by the time we finished 11 houses and headed back to the hotel for the night to run time-sensitive tests for bacteria.  The next day, being a Sunday, most people were busy in Church so we had a later breakfast with Ms. Flowers and then drove around to see different parts of the county we had not been able to visit previously.  After reading the bacterial tests (not much had grown) we packed up and headed home. Having heard and read about Lowndes County for so many months, it was special to be able to visit and meet some of the residents and community organizers that I greatly respect. I was also reminded time and time again that this trip was a small part of the long-term relationship between ACRE and Duke, a small piece to the puzzle. It was encouraging to know that we will most likely go back to get more water samples, and that the water samples are but one of the ways that students and faculty from Duke are working with ACRE to make the issues in Lowndes more visible.  We hope that the data on water quality can be used to keep the municipality accountable or to determine whether sewage issues leak into the water supply.