Fixing Saltillo’s water woes will take time and money

Rex Smith

It’s only water. Unless it is water in Saltillo. The city’s water woes may be coming to an end. But it will take time. And money. At a public hearing Thursday, August 7, in the Saltillo Community Center about 100 residents listened as the results of a water system management review were revealed. The review, created by Dr. Jason R. Barrett, assistant extension professor at the Center for Government and Community Development at Mississippi State University Extension, recommends switching the entire water system to surface water purchased from Northeast Regional Mississippi Water Supply District. That water comes from the Tombigbee River east of Saltillo and is treated at its facility in Peppertown in Itawamba County. A portion of Saltillo’s water already comes from that source with the remainder pumped from underground by a series of wells. Saltillo Board of Aldermen voted August 6 to follow the review’s recommendation and switch the entire system to NRMWSD-supplied water. Barrett’s review was commissioned by Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley since 160 of the system’s 2,532 customers (this number fluctuates as customers are added or removed) are located more than a mile outside the city limits; their location puts their water issues under the auspices of the PSC. The city’s population in the 2010 U.S. Census was 4,752, a count that will almost assuredly increase with next year’s census. Problems with water quality began three years ago when customers on the west side of town were switched from surface water (from NRMWSD) to well water; soon after, many customers began receiving discolored water that was attributed to the water flow being reversed and loosening years of scale inside pipes and mains. One option discussed at a public hearing in July 2018 was to install filters to clean the scale from the water but at an estimated cost of more than $1 million, with added maintenance expenses, that was deemed too costly. According to Barrett’s report, purchasing surface water is much more economically feasible, even at the current cost of 91 cents per thousand gallons. The cost of well water is basically nothing except the cost of maintaining the wells and tanks and treating the water. Under the new water system, four of Saltillo’s five wells will be abandoned; only the well in Turner Industrial Park will remain operational in case of some type of emergency. Presley said at last week’s public hearing that there will be a rate increase for surface water. Customers inside and within a mile of the city limits presently pay $19.50 for the first 2,000 gallons (average bill is $27.35) while customers more than a mile outside the city limits pay a base rate of $15.50 (average bill is $21.09). After the switch to surface water, all customers will pay the same base every month; Presley said the average bill should be about $31.31 for an average usage of slightly more than 4,000 gallons. Both Presley and Mayor Rex Smith cautioned that there will likely be discolored water coming from quite a few Saltillo faucets during the transition period from groundwater to surface water. Routine flushing procedures should eventually clear that up, they said.

C. Richard Cotton

Freelance writer/photographer/editor/author

243 County Road 783

Saltillo MS 38866


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