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This page: Darla Spurny Israel Valdez and granddaughter Sierra Opposite Page: Idamae Burgman speak much English. She and her husband, who paints houses, are from Matamoros. They live with their four young children in a double-wide one street over. Two other close relatives live on the same block. Vasquez estimates that her family spends about $40 a month on bottled water. Two miles northwest, in an area with the optimistic name of North Houston Heights, is the Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church. On the Tuesday after the first Sunday of every month, the North Houston Heights Civic Club meets here. The topic of discussion is often the bad water and overflowing sewage. The Walkers, sister Bessie and brother Jessie, are both members of the club. After 45 years in the neighborhood, it’s too late for them to leave. “We are here because we can’t do any better,” says Bessie Walker. When she first came to North Houston from Louisiana in 1961, she says her house was the only home in her neighborhood on the west side of Highway 59. The well water tasted fine. Now the water has the foul smell of sulfur and she refuses to drink it. She hopes help may finally be on the way. The neighbormade getting potable water and sewage treatment for the district a priority. According to a recent study sponsored by the Texas Water Development Board, it will take $145 million to put water and sewers into the areas with the greatest needs. In addition to helping to create legal entities like local water authorities, Bailey has also convinced his fellow state lawmakers to broaden the definition for Texas’ Economically areas. Unfortunately, state leaders have slashed budgets for poverty assistance programs like EDAP. “It’s a horrendous problem,” Bailey says of the water issues his constituents face. “The Harris County Public Health Department has said that some of these people are literally drinking their own sewage.” Idamae Burgman sits in her housecoat on the couch in her trailer in Fresno located in southeastern Fort Bend County. Burgman has spent most of her 79 years in Fort Bend County. Her daughter Leola Smith recently moved back home after a stroke. “The water smells horrible,” Smith says. “They’ve been telling us we are going to get water and sewer but we haven’t got it yet,” says Burgman. “We are paying for it but we don’t have any.” Burgman’s words tell a story of hope and frustration that most residents here share. It has been eight years since area residents voted to create a Fresh Water Supply District. Three years later, they voted to add sewer powers to the district and approved a $.25 per $100 maintenance tax. City voters in Fresno also agreed via a referendum to a tax rate of $1.00 per continued on page 17 DECEMBER 2, 2005 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11