Organizers of a monthly bottled water collection drive to benefit Tuscarora Reservation residents are seeking community support. They'll prepare their monthly run Saturday, but are worried a new rise in COVID numbers will result in hoarding of supplies, thus leaving them scrambling to serve reservation residents in need.
The Tuscarora Water Drive will meet outside Sam's Club on Military Road in Niagara Falls Saturday, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Once they've collected bottled water supplies, they will deliver them to Tuscarora Community Services, who in turn will deliver supplies to residents and families on the Reservation who are most in need.
While the program began three years ago and has delivered supplies monthly, what concerns organizers is the fear they'll have a tougher time gathering adequate supplies. Ken Cosentino, one of the program's co-founders, says that was the case back in March, when the COVID pandemic arrived in full force and people started stocking up.
"It's coming to that again. It seems as though people are going to begin hoarding again," he said. "And probably the stores are going to be putting limits on toilet paper and fresh drinking water. So, this water drive is essential. This could be the one that gets them through the next couple of months."
The program began, Cosentino explained, when he observed coworkers coming in weekly to purchase large supplies of bottled water. He then learned about the struggle to obtain clean water on the Tuscarora Reservation.
As a sovereign territory, they do not have access to the same water mains which serve off-reservation communities. For generations, the Tuscarora acquired their fresh water from Gill Creek and Fish Creek. But in the 1950s, under the direction of Robert Moses, 600 acres of Tuscarora land were flooded to create the Niagara Power Project's reservoir. That cut off access to the Tuscarora's natural water sources.
Most of their wells have also been compromised since then, due to what Cosentino calls improper waste removal.
"They've had people changing their oil and gasoline, getting into the ground. Twelve out of 14 wells have tested positive for E. coli and harmful chemicals found in gasoline," he said. "So, the well water is very much poisoned."
Additionally, Tuscarora land is located at the highest point of Niagara County, meaning water flows away.
For more information on the Tuscarora Water Drive, call 858-610-4905.