BENTON — The Pratt family bathes its three children in the shower together not out of choice, but out of necessity.

For the past three weeks, Tia Pratt has had 15 minutes to bathe her three young children and try to complete other chores before the water stops working.

There is not enough water available at the Averill Mobile Home Park, where the Pratts live.

Twice daily, the water is turned on for 45 minutes, but it is not adequate for bathing, cooking, dishes and laundry, residents say. Without enough water, daily chores cannot be accomplished.

(After this story was reported and written, Susan Schoening, daughter of the park’s owner, Roger Averill, contacted the Morning Sentinel on Thursday night to say the periods when the park’s water is turned on were increased recently to an hour.)

Like much of Maine, Kennebec County is experiencing a severe drought, according to government data. The reverberations of Maine’s drought are felt at the Averill Mobile Home Park, off Falls Avenue in Benton.

“You don’t realize how reliant you are on running water until you don’t have it,” Tia Pratt said. “It’s a little stressful because I’m focused on making sure the kids all get clean and being able to do the dishes before the hot water runs out. The kids don’t really get to enjoy bath time anymore.”

Averill, 87, runs the park with his daughter and son in-law, Susan and Lou Schoening of Benton, who assist with daily operations.

“We’re doing everything we can,” Averill said from the steps of his house, which doubles as the park’s management office.

Tia Pratt, 28, and Calvin Pratt, 31, moved into the Averill Mobile Home Park in November 2018. The couple have three children, ranging from 1 to 9 years old.

As a young family, the Pratts are an anomaly at the park. Nearly 80% of the park’s 31 residences house retirees or those on disability, many of whom live on fixed incomes. Just four of the homes have young children.

Water sprinkles overhead as Tia Pratt, right, and her children Sofia, 9, and Dominic, 4, test the water before starting the kids’ shower at their Benton home Monday. The kids wear bathing suits for privacy during their shared showers. The family of five have an hour each night to use pressurized water for bathing, washing dishes and filling toilet tanks. The family and others at Averill’s Mobile Home Park have had limited water usage over the past two weeks due to well problems at the park. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Diann Prince, a retired baker and 32-year resident of Averill, said the drought is creating a new problem in her neighborhood.

“We’ve always had plenty of water,” Prince said. “In fact, there isn’t any right now.”

Averill Mobile Home Park is the only business of its kind — regulated as a public water system — that has reported having problems with its water, according to Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine Drinking Water Program, part of the state Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

“Water shortages related to the drought are based on the characteristics of individual wells and the hydrogeologic conditions,” Long said. “There is nothing that would make mobile home parks particularly susceptible to drought. The Drinking Water Program is working with them to finance an emergency supplemental water supply.”

Neighbors such as Jason Lawrence volunteer to deliver water to some of the park’s residents. Water is available at the Fairfield Fire Department. And Doug Dixon of the Benton Select Board said water is available in a hydrant at the Town Office.

“Anybody that needs water, there’s definitely a very close source for them to get it,” Dixon said.

Residents used to have enough water so they did not have to use these emergency resources. Now, it is common for residents to use them.

 

SACRIFICES AND CONFUSION

When approached at their residences, many tenants at the park refused to comment, saying they feared retribution from park’s management.

Some residents, however, said they were skeptical about the effort the park’s overseers are putting into fixing the water problem.

Water sprinkles overhead as Dominic Pratt, 4, right, and sister Sofia, 9, take a shared shower to conserve water at their Benton home Monday. The kids’ mother, Tia, who helps her children with showering, said the kids wear bathing suits for privacy during the shared showers. The family of five have an hour each night to use pressurized water for bathing, washing dishes and filling toilet tanks. The family and others at Averill’s Mobile Home Park have had limited water usage over the past two weeks due to well problems at the park. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Neither Marlene Pryor, 87, nor her husband, Don, 88, drive anymore. They rarely leave their home, except for doctors appointments. The couple formerly owned a photography business, but are retired and live on fixed incomes from Social Security.

Because of the water shortage, their son-in-law brings them water to do dishes.

The Pryors electric water heater does not warm the water fast enough to take a shower. Instead, they take sponge baths.

More important, Don Pryor is recovering from a stroke and requires extra care from medical professionals.

“They can’t do their care well if there’s no water, so it’s difficult,” Marlene Pryor said. “However, we preserve water.”

George Tuttle, 66, and many other residents now have to go to laundromats to wash their clothes because of the lack of water. Residents buy bottled drinking water because the quality of the water is bad and they are concerned because of a boil-water order. The added financial pressures mount.

“It’s getting expensive,” Tuttle said.

Tuttle picks and chooses what dishes to do. There’s never enough water for all of them. He and his wife, Judy, have lived in their residence at Averill for 20 years.

Prince’s friends bring her water to flush the toilet, and she drives to a friend’s house to do laundry.

George Tuttle called the Averill management line a few times only to have his voicemails go unreturned.

Residents at Averill for 27 years, the Pryors also question the state of the park. For more than 25 years, Marlene Pryor said she has been told the dirt road outside her house will be paved.

Rent for land on which the mobile homes sit was raised $50 per month in June.

“I don’t like to say bad things about them, but they have a little honesty problem,” Marlene Pryor said. “I’m sure he’s trying.”

Tia Pratt carries son Kaleb, 1, after bathing the boy and his brother, Dominic, 4, bottom, at their Benton home Monday. The family of five have an hour each night to use pressurized water for bathing, washing dishes and filling toilet tanks. The family and others at Averill’s Mobile Home Park have had limited water usage over the past two weeks due to well problems at the park. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

A number of residents are not convinced management’s efforts are enough, while others said they believe management is trying, but they are not sure to what extent.

“I have no idea [what’s happening], but I don’t trust them,” Prince said. “They’ve been caught in lies before, telling us the water is OK, and come to find out the state said it wasn’t.”

But Roger Averill said he has received few direct complaints, instead hearing residents are taking their problems to Facebook and other online platforms.

“They have the tendency to zig and zag,” Averill said. “We prefer they come to us, but they choose not to, and that’s their business.”

 

MANAGEMENT’S APPROACH

Susan Schoening said there has always been a tendency for water levels to be low during the height of the summer, and during July and August, the park’s management typically adds a second well to its 65-foot drilled well.

Sofia Hamblet, 9, and mother Tia Pratt wash dishes by hand during the hour they have to use pressurized water at their home in Benton Monday. During that time Pratt’s three children also receive baths and toilet tanks are filled The family of five and others at Averill’s Mobile Home Park have had limited water usage over the past two weeks due to well problems at the park. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

In late July, Averill installed a $70,000 water distribution system, approved by the Maine Drinking Water Program. It has 1,000-gallon storage tanks. Another well is set to be drilled, and the park has received preliminary approval for the site Monday night. The park has bene granted emergency status and is next in line to have a well drilled.

“We started noticing towards the end of the first week of September that tanks haven’t been filling up as quickly as they had been, so we asked our residents to conserve water,” Susan Schoening said.

The park’s management sent out a mandatory water use limit Sept. 8 because the 1,000-gallon tanks were not reaching their apex, usually getting only to 850 gallons.

On Sept. 12, Averill brought in a onetime-use water tanker containing 8,000 gallons. It was hooked up at 5 p.m. and emptied by 10 a.m. the next day.

By Sept. 15, the tanks still could not be filled to their maximum levels. Susan Schoening called Maine Drinking Water Program for guidance. The park put out a boil-water order as a precaution and recommended everyone have at least one gallon of water per person in hand on a daily basis, both morning and night.

Management has been in contact with the Maine Housing Board and Michelle Coad, a drinking water inspector with the Maine Drinking Water Program, and is following their recommendations. After passing a test, management is getting close to tapping into the next well. They currently have a third well for 45 days filling with approximately 4,000 gallons per day. The pending well is longer term, should they find water.

“We’re doing everything that our powers that be have instructed us to do, and we make sure that everyone has access to drinking water,” Susan Schoening said in a telephone interview.

“We leave jugs at our steps for everyone to pick up. We’re taking it one day at a time, and we’re really hoping for some money, just like everyone else that’s had a drought.”

The park’s management decided to designate specific hours when water would be turned on. Every morning, Lou Schoening, Susan’s husband, turns on the water at 8 a.m. and lets it run until dry, or about 8:45 a.m. Most nights, Susan turns the water on from 6 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.

Susan and Lou Schoening said these responsibilities required they get small-machine operator licenses from the state.

The couple say they understand why residents are angry, but promise they are addressing the water issues.

Voluntary water conservation can go a long way toward bridging the gap between late summer and early fall low water situations and the autumn rains.

The Morning Sentinel spent a recent morning with Lou Schoening, observing how all the piping comes together.

“We’re not water mongers,” Lou Schoening said. “We’ve got nothing to hide and I don’t even get paid.”

So, what would fix this?

“Rain would solve everything,” Lou Schoening said.

 

WHEN THE WATER COMES ON 

The specific times the water is turned on are itself a problem for residents.

Calvin Pratt said he is scheduled to work from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Bath Iron Works, so he is not around for the second water session. That leaves Tia Pratt caring for three young children, while also gathering and rationing water for the night.

She described the challenge as “massive,” especially when bringing the children to different activities.

“It’s awful because we have to rush,” Tia Pratt said. “We have to make sure we’re home at the designated turn-on time, so we plan our day around it.”

Averill and his family acknowledge the water dilemma, and said they are trying to provide a gallon of drinking water per person to each house twice daily. Sometimes, there is enough water, but for the Pratts, the evening water time is especially challenging.

“Everybody can’t necessarily be at home because of going to work, but one of the things that we send out in every email to put up your water for the next day,” Susan Schoening said.

Tia Pratt takes 15 minutes to bathe the three children — Sofia Hamblet, 9, Dominic Pratt, 4, and Kaleb Pratt, 1. They also must wash dishes before the water pressure goes down.

Many nights, this is done without Calvin, who is at work, putting added pressure on Tia to get it all done.

She is going back to work full time at New Balance after having been away from that job for a couple of years to raise the children.

“Obviously, I’m going to feel bad for my wife stuck at home with three kids with no running water. She can’t flush the toilet, properly bathe them, properly make a meal for them,” Calvin Pratt said. “She can’t even bathe herself by the time the friggin’ water runs out.”


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