Saltillo switching to more expensive water after complaints

Eugene Echols drinks a bottle of discolored water to demonstrates his contention that Saltillo water is safe to drink during last week's public hearing. Watching from left to right are Mississippi State Department of Health Water Director William "Bill" Moody, Alderman Terry Glidewell, Alderman Donald Cullum and Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley.

Saltillo citizens and elected officials met in a lengthy public hearing last Thursday to discuss the city’s water woes. The meeting, attended by more than 150 people who filled the rows of chairs and lined up along the walls, was called by Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley. “This is impressive,” Mayor Rex Smith said of the crowd. “I don’t think I’ve seen this many people here.” Ultimately, the Saltillo Board of Aldermen voted to change the entire city from well water to surface water; most water customers will likely incur a bill increase of nearly 50 percent in minimum usage for the switch. Part of the city is currently on well water, while the remainder are on surface water. Numerous water customers complained of water quality, especially in the west side of town, since the city changed the water source there last September from surface water to well water. The city’s surface water, like most other cities in the area, comes from the Tombigbee River to the west; that water is collected, treated and distributed by Northeast Mississippi Regional Water Supply District. The proposed switch, of course, is contingent on the district’s approval of the plan. “We are recognizing the seriousness of your complaint,” said Presley. “We can stay here all night if we need to.” The meeting lasted 3½ hours. Several state water officials, including William “Bill” Moody, the Mississippi State Department of Health state water director, were present. Moody was called on several times to explain water policy. Moody said the discolored water reported by customers is the result of iron and manganese released from pipe walls when the flow was reversed in water mains after the switch to well water. Repeated flushing, according to customers, has only temporarily alleviated the discoloration; the “dirty” water returned each time in a few days. “Flushing didn’t work,” said Presley. “I pay more for (bottled) water for me and my cat than I pay for (city water),” said Pam Stroupe, a resident of North Park Apartments in downtown Saltillo, which is not on the west side of town. “We need a solution for the whole town,” said Jerry Christian. “This flushing is not working. We’re paying for water we can’t use.” Bill Monaghan asked what the chances are that the water will not clear up with the change to surface water. Moody replied there will “probably be another chance of dirty water.” Several residents complained of the murky water ruining clothes, especially white and lighter colored items. Connie Gusmus, a customer on Euclatubba Road in the west side of the system, brought a darkly discolored filter she recently took from her water filtering system: “Before the switch, I had no problem with the water,” she said. Someone brought a bottle of light brown water drawn from a faucet at one of the affected houses. Eugene Echols drank the water to prove that, even though it was discolored, it was safe to drink. Some folks, in a definite minority at the meeting, had no complaints about their water and said they wanted the system to remain as it was. Cook Coggin Engineers employee David Long said it would cost $114,000 to change the entire system to surface water; a filtering process for leaving the system as it is would cost $1.3 million. Aldermen voted for the former. The switch, slated to be completed in the next few months pending district approval, will likely result in an increase of $5.46 per month for the minimum charge for the first 2,000 gallons of use per customer. Not everyone was happy with the decision: “Why do I want to pay more when I’ve had cold, clear water for 15 years?” asked Al Servati.

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