SERCAP's Story


For more than three decades, Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, Inc. has earned the reputation on the state, regional, national and even international levels as providing expert service in the field of water and wastewater.

What began as an attempt to bring safe drinking water to rural poor residents of Virginia’s Roanoke Valley has grown into an agency which has been directly responsible for bringing safe water and sanitary waste disposal facilities to more than 450,000 households in its seven state region.

It all started in the mid 1960s when outreach workers from a fledgling anti-poverty agency called Total Action Against Poverty (TAP) went into the rural communities of the counties around Roanoke with surveys to find out what were the most pressing needs of the low-income residents. Among the responses they heard over and over again was the need for access to safe drinking water.

Low income families in the TAP service area were bailing water from contaminated creeks and springs, catching rainwater in buckets or buying water at the general store in pop bottles.

Outreach workers identified at least 500 poor families for whom access to safe drinking water was a critical issue. By 1968 a group of community representatives from the five counties in TAP’s service organized the Demonstration Water Project (DWP). They received a grant from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to fund a program to help low-income families in the area gain access to a safe water supply. During the period of 1970 to 1975, the Demonstration Water Project developed water systems in 10 rural communities using a simple methodology. Communities in need of assistance were identified and groups of community residents were organized to address their water problems. These residents became the local non-profit, stock-owned water companies in their communities and were trained by DWP staff.

DWP would help these communities develop water projects, including obtaining financing, gathering the requisite official approval, and contributing engineering services. Once the water systems were completed, officers of the non-profit corporation would manage, operate, and maintain the systems.

Officers of the non-profit corporations would also read meters, prepare and issue bills, and collect fees to assist with running their water companies and to repay their FmHA loan.

The first grant for the new Demonstration Water Project in Roanoke, Virginia was intended to bring water service to rural communities in five Virginia counties. As the federal OEO recognized the impact the program could have nationwide, it wanted the project to design training in order to replicate the same process used in rural Virginia.

Continue to Part 2 of Southeast RCAP Story