The mostly Black community of Sandbranch has not had a reliable water source since the early 80s when their well became contaminated. Sitting at a floodplain that restricts new development, the town with no pipe network or sewer system sits 10 yards away from Dallas Southside Wastewater Treatment Plant.
As Sandbranch has been supported by nonprofit efforts providing drinkable water to residents, attention has come and gone in waves to the freedmen’s town with a population of around 88 people. The residents of Sandbranch rely entirely on bottled water for consumption, bathing, and cooking.
The small town has received coverage sporadically over the years, the subject of an in-depth story by D Magazine in 1985, then receiving wider coverage in 2016 following stronger public criticism of poor infrastructure in Black and Brown communities of the United States prompted by the Flint Water Crisis.
Public support has been limited for Sandbranch, as the necessary measures to provide drinking water to the community would cost millions of dollars only to serve less than 100 people. Community members that have remained in Sandbranch mostly composed of families that have lived in the area for over a century. Though the population was last estimated at 400 in the year 2000, just a decade later that number had shrunk to less than 100 residents.
But since 1998 at the latest, there has been talk of low-income residents of Sandbranch receiving assistance adding utilities that they are unable to add themselves, such as a working network of pipes and water purchased by the City of Dallas.
However, push after push to provide the necessary funding for the community have come up short. Aside from Judge Clay Jenkins, City Councilmember Jasmine Crockett, and the City of Dallas taking on renewed efforts most recently in April, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have stepped in to provide solutions to Sandbranch.
The county commissioner, John Wylie Price, has previously said he believes there is no feasible solution aside from a buyout. Other county commissioners, Mike Cantrell and Elba Garcia, agree with Price. Commissioner Theresa Daniel has never voiced full agreement with this at any point on record.
Regardless, buyouts have been repeatedly refused by most residents of Sandbranch, most recently in 2016 and 2005 prior to that. The few who agreed to the buyout for an amount of $5000 for their homes ended up only keeping around $350-$400 after deducting the costs of demolition.
The Chisolm Legacy Project outfitted some homes with Hydro Panels in October 2022. But despite the systems yielding 4-10 liters of water daily on average, community supporter of the Chisolm Legacy Project Tonette Byrd explained last year that it is not a permanent solution to the issue. The goal is to provide a full system to Sand Branch residents to provide drinking water.
The money for the necessary work would most likely be offered through grants from the NWF and the EPA. Though there isn’t a guarantee of how much would be disbursed, EPA Region 6 Water Division Director Charles Maguire believes that it’s very possible that Sandbranch will be approved for funding. The division director told WFAA this time last year:
“Can’t promise anybody the money because it is a competitive process for those grants,” Maguire said. “But this would be a very likely recipient of those grants.”
Earlier this year, both Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and US representative of District 30 Jasmine Crockett took on efforts to draw more attention to the situation in Sandbranch. While both Jenkins and Crockett made additional cases to the EPA and the USDA for funding, more options were discussed in the subsequent community meeting in May of this year. As discussions progressed, attention eventually shifted to further utilizing technology in the interim time leading up to the installation of a long term system.
Jenkins, who has made public comments on the situation in the previous years, previously stated that the costs were estimated at around $12 million.
However, Sandbranch has consistently taken a backseat to other issues of environmental safety and the renewal of infrastructure across north and central Texas. Accordingly, federal assistance has been consistently dispensed to help make repairs to communities suffering damage from flooding in August of this year. As FEMA has approved additional funding through the end of this month, Sandbranch is likely to wait longer for substantial change.
As Sandbranch lost their community center to a fire last month, the town’s situation largely remains at a consistent standstill even amidst city and state efforts to help attain federal assistance. Though hydro panels are outfitted to several homes in Sandbranch, a permanent solution has eluded the small community south of Dallas.
The renewed interest and support for Sandbranch in 2016 and now in 2023 is only as effective as it is consistent. As the community has shuffled between nonprofit efforts, tech-driven initiatives, and tentative government support, Sandbranch remains without water lines, a sewer system, street lights, or waste disposal services.