By Alyssa Schnugg
It’s been eight months since residents who receive water from the Punkin Water Association voiced their concerns about water quality and poor management before Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley at a public meeting.
The PSC then required Punkin Water to make improvements to existing wells, as well as requiring the association to be more transparent by notifying members of meetings and making bylaws and meeting minutes more accessible.
According to Karen Popernik, vice president of Punkin Water Association, work to improve the wells is continuing.
“As far as improving water lines, we are currently in a project to expand and replace old lines along County Road 415,” she said. “With these new, larger lines, we will be able to provide more water to the people in that section of our association and better water pressure. Also, with the new lines in that area, water quality along that project will be markedly improved.”
After the May meeting with the PCS, the city of Oxford later agreed to enter into an agreement with PWA via a master meter connection allowing PWA to purchase between 50,000 and 250,000 gallons of water daily.
That agreement included requiring PWA to put a water main at the University Avenue and Highway 334. Punkin is also looking at drilling a new well closer to the city, however, both options will be costly. The PSC gave PWA until May this year to decide.
“The city has not started supplying water but that is still an option we have to increase our capacity to serve more families and to address the growth that our certificated area is surely going to face,” Popernik said. “Extensive infrastructure work will be required to make either of those options come to fruition.”
In July, the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors put a moratorium on the acceptance of “will serve” letters from Punkin and no new developments will be considered for preliminary plat approval until conditions improve.
PWA member Max Hill said the improvements made so far to the system have resulted in some improvement of water quality.
“Punkin is by no means where it should be as a public utility but improvements have been made and more are on the way,” he said.
Popernik said she has received positive feedback from customers that the water quality has improved over the last several months with fewer complaints of discolored, foul-smelling water. However, the association still struggles with lines breaking or being cut, causing a disruption in service.
Resident Jimmy Durham said it’s been about a year since he can recall seeing “obvious and disturbing abnormalities,” in the water.
“The water used to be brown, purple, yellow, cloudy for anywhere to seven to 10 days at a time at least monthly,” he said. “As recently as two weeks ago, I recall noticing some yellow tint to the water from the tap when I filled a clear bottle I use to water houseplants. This tint remained when I rinsed the bottle out but wasn’t obvious the next day, so I assume it was a transient issue.”
But like most PWA customers, Durham said he uses filters inside his home on water taps, so any improvements to taste are hard to note.
“For the most part, I still won’t use water from the tap for consumption or for brushing my teeth unless I filter it with commercial filtration systems I keep on my faucets, so I can’t comment as to whether the taste is improved,” Durham said. “I honestly have no desire to voluntarily risk tasting the water ever again.”
Durham, a registered nurse, said he has not noticed better communication with the community in regards to meeting dates and locations, service outages or reports on quality or boil water notices.
“The association and politicians can make all the claims they want regarding whether or not improvements have been made, but unless the public sees more substantial efforts in terms of water quality test results being made available, we only have words from them if we’re lucky,” he said. “When it comes to communicating demands for money, the association has no problems with communicating with the public. But basic public health and customer service go ignored.”
However, Popernik disagrees and says the PWA has taken several steps to be more open and transparent.
“Punkin Water has made strides in implementing a mass communication system where customers can be notified promptly of a service interruption and given an estimated time for their outage,” she said. “Punkin Water is also endeavoring to make its website more user-friendly, and in the near future we hope to have the capacity for our members to be able to pay their bill online.”
Popernik said notices of meetings, agendas, meeting minutes and water outages are also posted to the association’s Facebook page.
Members are encouraged to sign up on the Immediate Response Information System, or IRIS, website to receive notifications.
Documents filed with the Public Service Commission in relation to the March 19, 2018, complaint can be viewed online at: http://punkinwater.com/psc-documents/.