SALTILLO • If things go as planned, Saltillo water customers could have surface water coming out of their taps by mid-November.

“That would be ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline,” said Saltillo Mayor Rex Smith. “It’s just about over. We all have a sense of relief to get to this point.”

Officials have construction bids in hand and are ready to start the project. They have to wait a couple of weeks to advertise for funding. One bank has already tacitly approved a loan for the city.

“If we can get that taken care of by the middle of September,” Smith said, “the construction contract is 60 days, which would put it mid-November or around Thanksgiving.”

Depending on when the contractor can get the parts needed to reconnect to the water district lines, the project could actually be completed earlier.

After months of complaints about dirty, cloudy and sometimes smelly water, the board voted in July 2018 to switch from well water and begin purchasing pretreated surface water from the Northeast Mississippi Regional Water Supply District. The switch was first delayed by the bidding process and later when the public service commission called for a management review of the city.

In the 14 months since aldermen first approved the switch for $114,000, which included a $24,000 reconnect fee to the water district, the cost has steadily increased. When the project was bid last September, it had to include an altitude valve for one elevated water tank, and the total price tag swelled to more than $180,000.

The project was postponed to allow time for the management review, which was released in August. The new bids came in more than 40 percent higher. The low bidder had construction costs of $195,350, which doesn’t include the reconnection costs or engineering fees already paid. According to figures provided by Smith, the total cost will top $250,000.

Saltillo water customers will see an increase in rates to pay for the switch as well as the increased cost of buying water, instead of pumping it out of city wells. In preparation for the change, the city raised the water rates in March for customers inside the city limits and those within one mile of the city limits. Any changes to the rates for the 167 customers who live more than a mile outside the city limits must be approved by the public service commission.

In late August, aldermen approved a new rate schedule, based on the PSC management review, which would place the average water bill at $32. Every water customer, regardless of where they live, will now pay $17.50 for the first 2,000 gallons and $5.80 for each additional 1,000 gallons.

Folks living inside the city limits and those within one mile will see increases of around 18.5 percent and 6.6 percent; respectively. If the PSC approves the new rate for those outside the one mile mark, their water bill would increase 54 percent. Those customers have not seen a rate increase since 2007.

Commissioner Brandon Presley said there are certain notices that legally have to be made, which could push the approval to the end of October.

“I can promise the people that we will handle this as expeditiously as possible,” Presley said.

Once the Saltillo water system is reconnected with the water district, officials plan to do a series of system-wide flushings to make the switch as painless as possible for the customer.

Since surface water and well water are treated with different chemicals, the mingling of the two waters can cause some minerals and elements to precipitate out of solution. Iron and manganese were two of the trouble makers two years ago when the city switched the west side to well water. Iron can create brown or rusty water. Manganese leaves black, grease-like deposits.

“We want to do the flushings to try to get as much ground water out of the lines as possible,” Smith said. “After that, we should be able to handle things with smaller flushes in trouble areas.”

william.moore@journalinc.com

Twitter:@WilliamMoore_DJ

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