The many cases of cancer became town folklore. Neighbors saw homes bought up and demolished, wells filled with concrete and padlocks with the power company logo on the property gates. 

At the heart of it all were unanswered questions about how any of it came to be and whether it had something to do with the water they had been drinking. 

That’s been life for many in Juliette, Ga. for years, and it is the story told in the short investigative documentary “Saving Juliette” from filmmakers Evey Wilson Wetherbee of the Mercer University Center for Collaborative Journalism and Grant Blankenship of GPB. 

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The high cancer rates among neighbors became folklore to residents of Juliette, Ga. They were accustomed to seeing their neighbors’ homes demolished, their wells filled with concrete, and a sign from Georgia Power put up on a padlocked property gate. At the heart of it all were unanswered questions about how any of it came to be and whether it had something to do with the water they had been drinking.

 

The film begins following Juliette residents not long after they learn the coal ash pond adjacent to Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer is submerged in the same aquifer from which they draw their well water. This is the largest coal-fired power plant in the US and the residents around the plant don’t have access to city or county water lines. Most have relied on water from their wells for decades. 

Residents of Juliette in a February, 2020 community meeting about their water, left, and a water sample saken by Fletcher Sams, right.
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Residents of Juliette in a February, 2020 community meeting about their water, left, and a water sample saken by Fletcher Sams, right.
Credit: Grant Blankenship/GPB

Armed with the knowledge that their water might be contaminated, and stung by the years of unexplained illnesses and deaths, Juliette residents allow environmental advocate Fletcher Sams of the Altamaha Riverkeeper to engage in a water sampling campaign to better understand how pollution from the utility may be affecting community health. 

While many of Sams’ tests found high levels of a heavy metal connected to coal ash in the water, one truth remained constant: the water quality was within Georgia’s legal limits. 

Georgia Power's Plant Scherer, left, and Juliette resident Amber Joyner, right, at the Georgia Capitol in 2020.
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Georgia Power's Plant Scherer, left, and Juliette resident Amber Joyner, right, at the Georgia Capitol in 2020.
Credit: Grant Blankenship/GPB

“Saving Juliette” is a story of what happens when people galvanize their community, question their political leanings, and work to hold their representatives accountable, all in an effort to answer a question asked in the film by Juliette resident Gloria Hammond.

“Will it ever be good water again?”