Saltillo mayor says water switch going pretty smooth

Rex Smith

After more than a week in, Saltillo’s new water source seems to be running smoothly. According to Mayor Rex Smith, few complaints have been received since the surface water purchased from Northeast Mississippi Regional Water Supply District began filling the tanks, mains and pipes on Tuesday, December 3. “It’s gone pretty smooth,” said Smith, who added he had received some text messages from a few customers in the west end of the city’s system reporting some “orange” water. “But from everybody I’ve talked to, there has been very little tinted water.” Before last week, Saltillo – a city of nearly 5,000 – had a water system that was a mix of surface water (purchased from NMRWSD) and well water, generally called groundwater. Five wells fed much of the system. A couple years ago, the city replaced much of the westside with surface water, which reversed the waterflow in that portion of the system. The reversal knocked loose scale and mineral deposits that generated many complaints of discolored water, ruining loads of laundry and causing other problems with customers. After much study, including a managerial review of the system by the Mississippi Public Service Commission, and several public hearings, the Board of Aldermen agreed to change the entire system to surface water. Several options were explored before the final decision was made earlier this year. One option was to install a filter for the western customers that would have cost more than $1 million. The eventual switch to surface water cost about $250,000. All customers now pay $17.50 for the first 2,000 gallons and $5.80 for each additional 1,000 gallons; the average bill is now about $32 for 4,500 gallons, up from the $20.75 average since 2007. The Public Service Commission became involved in the process because 160 of the system’s 2,500 water customers lived more than one mile from the city limits, which falls under the state agency’s purview. The actual work, which included installing new underground valve assemblies and installation of an altitude valve to one of the storage tanks, was performed by a NMRWSD contractor and city workers: “It was a joint effort,” said Smith. Three of the city’s five wells will be abandoned but two will be kept ready as a backup system in case of an emergency. Smith said Saltillo’s public works crews will be able to focus more time and effort on issues other than water since they will no longer be maintaining the well system. One difference between the new and old water is that NMRWSD treats with chloramine rather than free chlorine formerly used by Saltillo. Customers were told there might be slight differences in the water like a slightly different smell; Smith said he has noticed a difference in the water at his house, but it is minor and wholly acceptable. Denise Farrar, NMRWSD administrator, said her agency supplies water to 10 cities and water systems in this area. Tupelo is their largest customer. She said the water comes from the Tombigbee River and is treated at its plant in Peppertown. During winter, slightly more than 8 million gallons of water passes through the facility daily; that swells to as much as 13 million gallons a day during the summer. NMRWSD is a nonprofit governmental agency. “We have had very few (health department violations) that resulted in boil-water notices,” said Farrar. “We were planning for the worst since we had never done this before,” said Smith. “So far it’s gone much better than we thought and we have a much-improved water system.”

C. Richard Cotton

Freelance writer/photographer/editor/author

243 County Road 783

Saltillo MS 38866



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