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Three-Hour Conference Calls Reveal Frustrations Over Punkin Water Issues

By Alyssa Schnugg
News editor

PSC Commissioner Brandon Presley and members of the Punkin Water Association met telephonically Thursday for three-plus hours to discuss concerns.
Photo by Briana Florez

Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, along with more than 60 Punkin Water Association members met telephonically Thursday night for more than three hours to discuss problems with water quality, lack of communication and rate increases.

The lengthy phone call started around 6 p.m. and ended at 9:30 p.m.

The telephone meeting was scheduled by the PSC after Presley received numerous complaints about the water association.

“This commission began looking into the problems of Punkin Water over two years ago,” Presley said at the start of the meeting. “Ninety-two members of the association filed complaints. While we have had good progress in some ways, we are still having complaints come through. There are still issues that are unresolved.”

In April 2018, residents who receive water from the Punkin Water Association voiced their concerns about water quality and poor management before Presley at a public meeting.

Public Service Commissioner for the Northern District Brandon Presley

After the meeting, Punkin was required to make several improvements to existing wells, as well as requiring the association to be more transparent and having a plan in place to flush all lines.

Presley said his office has been receiving more complaints about the lack of communication.

“There still exists a severe and truthful problem of communication,” he said. “This is ridiculous. Things we’re going to cover tonight, quite frankly, could be easily and better solved by the water association communicating with their members, answering their questions, doing the things that need to be done for open communication and transparency.”

Attorney Mark Woods representing the PWA spoke about issues with water quality

“I think we can, in general, agree that there’s been an increase in complaints about discolored water,” Woods said. “And although it might not be the best or the most reassuring answer, sometimes there’s simply no reasonable or obvious explanation for particular dirty water complaints.”

Woods said PWA has discussed the discolored water issue with several engineers, the Mississippi Rural Water Association and the Mississippi State Department of Health.

“I have always been told that we’ve got a high iron content for our water, and that’s what’s causing the vast majority of the discolored water,” he said. “We are still treating the water the same way that we learned to treat the water from the Mississippi River Water Association and from the Mississippi Department of Health, and we’ve still had some issues with discolored water.”

Woods said while the iron levels are a bit high, causing the water to look off-color, the water is “safe to drink.”

A PWA member recently posted a photo on Facebook of stained white shirts from the iron in the water.
Photo via Facebook/Concerned Citizens of Punkin Water Association

PWA entered an agreement with the city of Oxford last year to purchase up to 250,000 gallons of water daily via a master meter connection that PWA is building. Construction of the connection has not yet begun as PWA is attempting to secure funding. PWA officials said once completed, the hope is that it will help the quality of water.

Some of the complaints were about rate increases. Woods said part of the rate increase was to help PWA pay for the connection to the city of Oxford along with other capital expenses. The minimum rate increased by $2 and those who use 2,000 to 8,000 gallons saw an additional $1.50 per thousand increase.

PWA member John Farese said he’s dealt with several issues as a customer including stained clothes and toilets, pipes breaking and water bills that were wrongly assessed, and believes it’s time for PWA to admit defeat.

“How many years some of these people have been here? Ten? And this the same problem. And the folks that are trying to fix it are trying to fix the same problem,” he said. “But they don’t have the ability to do that. Nobody’s got the ability to fix this system. So let’s just admit it. If they can’t do it, take it over and buy the water from Oxford and sell our water system to auction.”

Board President Jason Butts said PWA is doing everything it can to provide the best service it can to its members.

“We’re trying to make this thing better. I’ve always said I wanted (PWA) to be the best rural water association in the county,” he said. “Do I think we have some distribution issues? There’s no doubt. We just have to keep narrowing it down and figuring it out, you know?”

Presley said he would be putting out a new order next week that will detail mandatory changes for the PWA to make, both in communication and service.

“I am as serious as I can be about getting this fixed,” he said. “It is to the point of being an embarrassment for the growth of Lafayette County that these types of incidents are occurring … It is very clear this water association has major issues that have got to be resolved. Some of the issues you have to get serious about. Because if you don’t, you’re putting me in a situation in which I am going to have to make a decision.”

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