SALTILLO - The switch from ground water to surface water was completed without any major hitches Tuesday.
Nearly 17 months after the Board of Aldermen voted in July 2018 to provide water from the Northeast Mississippi Regional Water Supply District to all Saltillo water customers, officials finally opened the valves Tuesday morning.
"We turned off the wells and the only water going into the system now is river water," Saltillo Mayor Rex Smith said Tuesday afternoon.
Shortly after collecting state-mandated water samples Monday morning, officials began the physical process of switching the water supply. A pressure test of the south connection to the water district's 18-inch water line along Highway 45 found a small leak.
When that was fixed, officials began draining the 500,000-gallon water tank at Turner Industrial Park. Tuesday morning, the well pumps were turned off and the valves opened to start river water flowing into the system and refilling the Turner elevated tank.
"We had a little issue with a pressure-reduction valve at the (4-inch) Euclatubba Road connection," Smith said. "The (8-inch) south connection can feed the city while we fix the valve. It hadn't been used in two years."
Officials are closely monitoring water conditions and any possible problems caused by the switch. With a new water supply, water will be flowing in the opposite direction from before and could scour off deposits or loosen sediment in the lines. By Tuesday afternoon, officials were getting reports of tinted water – a signal that surface water was pushing the ground water out of the lines.
When the Turner Industrial Park tank is completely filled, the city will begin draining and refilling the other water tanks, one at a time.
"If we didn't completely drain the elevated tanks, there is no telling how long it would take to get the well water out and replace it completely with surface water," Smith said. "It could take years."
Smith expects city workers to begin flushing sections of the water system as soon as Wednesday to force out the remaining well water. The first flushings will be in the area served by the Turner tank. As the other water tanks are refilled with river water, those areas of town will be flushed.
"We are going to keep a close eye on things over the next few days," Smith said.
The water district uses chloramine to disinfect the water, instead of the free chlorine the city used to treat the well water. That change might cause minor problems for some customers. There might be a temporary change in the color, odor, taste or texture of customer's water during the changeover. Some customers could also see an increase of water pressure after the switch.
The roughly $250,000 switchover project began last summer and will be completed before the board's self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31.
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 water district. In the 16 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 in September 2018, it had to include an altitude valve for one elevated water tank and the total price tag swelled to more than $180,000.
The changes include a rate hike to pay for the increased costs of purchasing water pretreated at the water district's facility in Peppertown. Beginning this month, every customer will pay the same rate, whether they are inside the city limits or not. The average bill will be $32 a month.