Several times each day, Paul Price, 37, drags a wheelbarrow from the shed, loads it with plastic gallon jugs and pushes it to the top of a steep rutted trail that leads to a spring about 150 yards from the family's home in isolated, rural Nanjemoy in western Charles County.
Price submerges the containers until they bubble over with the frosty water and then lugs them back up the path to the wheelbarrow and then on to the house. Inside are his grandfather, 89, and his mother, 69, who is hooked up to a home kidney dialysis machine 30 hours a week.
About 30 miles away in the tiny town of Baden, in southern Prince George's County, Mary Snyder, 51, dreams about taking a hot shower or soaking in the tub. But in her present role as caretaker for her blind and bedridden mother, Sarah Best, visions of steamy tubs are pure fantasy.
The Snyders and Prices are among an estimated 11,000 families in Maryland without indoor plumbing. Every week, Snyder must pump and then haul and heat gallons of water just to bathe and cook for her diabetic mother.
Until he was paralyzed by a recent stroke, Snyder's father stoically traveled the 60-plus yards to their wood privy with the help of a cumbersome, metal walker. Now Snyder treks to the outhouse to use the facilities and to empty the chamber pots used by her ailing parents.
In his State of the State address next Wednesday, Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes is expected to propose a low-interest, deferred-payment loan program to help the poor and elderly obtain basic plumbing, according to his aides. The program would help persons such as Price and Snyder and about 30,000 other Maryland residents.
Persons earning less than $10,000 a year would be eligible for the deferred loans, said Ardath M. Cade, assistant secretary in the Department of Economic and Community Development. State officials would not reveal the size of the new loan program before Hughes unveils his Housing Initiative on Wednesday, but Cade said, "It will be a significant response to a problem which the governor has said is a major concern."
Hughes' press secretary, Lou Panos, said, "The governor thinks it is 'deplorable' that 30,000 persons in Maryland are without so basic a necessity as indoor plumbing. . . . It is a statistic that illustrates the need for a state housing program that guarantees decent, affordable housing for low-income people."
In addition to the loan program for households without indoor plumbing, Hughes' long-anticipated Housing Initiative will address shelter needs for the homeless and seek to fill the gap left by the curtailment of federal housing construction programs, Cade said.
"The governor's initiative will look particularly at the housing needs of those in high-risk categories: the poor, the elderly, those in group homes," Cade said.
According to 1982 statistics compiled by the Maryland Department of State Planning, Charles County has the greatest number of households -- 1,120 -- without any indoor plumbing. Baltimore City, Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties are next with 1,088, 765 and 759 households, respectively, without indoor toilets or running water. Even affluent Montgomery County has 259 households with no flush toilets or running water, the report showed.
Another 55,000 persons in year-round houses lack complete indoor plumbing, the report said. In rural areas, 25 percent of black families do not have complete plumbing facilities, compared to 10.5 percent of Hispanic families and 3 percent of white families.
"Many, many more people in southern Maryland have failed septic systems and are not included in these statistics," said Lucy Fleet, president of the Southern Maryland Area Self Help (SMASH) organization, a coalition of church and civic groups that lobbies county and state officials for improved living conditions.
Cade said "they have these terrible beds of clay" that make normal waste disposal a "critical problem" in much of St. Mary's, Charles and Calvert counties, as well as several Eastern Shore jurisdictions. Cade and Fleet said many residents in southern Maryland have shallow drinking wells which failing septic systems often contaminate, thus compounding the health problems posed by inadequate plumbing.
Numerous residents have land that will not percolate -- meaning the soil will not drain efficiently enough to pass state health requirements for a standard septic system. These people are forced to build outdoor privies or illegally dispose of their sewage in some manner, Fleet said.
Virginia Cooper, 30, and her husband own a 75-year-old farmhouse on 10 rolling acres in scenic western Charles County. Unlike the Prices or Mary Snyder, this couple has money to add indoor pumbing to the two-story house, which has been in her husband's family for generations, or to build a new home. But like hundreds of other property owners with clay soil too impenetrable to use a septic system, they can do neither.
The Coopers abandoned their dream and moved to a development in St. Charles, but they still pay about $400 a year in property taxes on the farm and have joined SMASH to pressure state and local officials to approve alternative waste disposal methods for homeowners whose property won't support a traditional septic system.
In the traditional septic system, sewage filters through soils in a drain field, which costs about $4,000 to install. "If you have a failed septic system, either you have to put in a whole new system, or, if the land won't perk, you have to go to an alternative system, which can run between $7,000 and $10,000, depending on which method you chose," said SMASH member Leo Smith.
He asserted that state officials in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have been "completely derelict in their duties. They have not been at all aggressive in testing or approving less-expensive alternative systems for these people."
He added that most residents without plumbing "have totally given up any hope that county or state officials are going to help them. That's why we're trying to demand that these people be let into 20th century life in America."