2nd well on the way for Mt. Hermon Water District

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 3, 2013

A $700,000 project is expected to provide residents in the Mt. Hermon Water District with a more reliable water source.

Through the project, a second well will be constructed at a depth of about 2,700 feet, said Billy Edrington, president of French Settlement Water Company, which has operated the water district since 1997. The well will be built on property already owned by the district and will be connected to existing storage and pumping facilities. He said some electrical modifications will have to be made to allow for alternation between the two wells.

“It will be a much better setup for the customers of the Mt. Hermon Water District because they’ll have some reliability in that they’ll always have water,” he said.

The project came about following a Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals survey. The department conducts regular sanitary surveys of public water systems, with surveys of ground water systems done every three years. In the Mt. Hermon Water District’s most recent sanitary survey, it was cited for having one source of water instead of two, Edrington said.

Since the estimated price tag for construction of a second well, including engineering, rights of way and other costs, was about $700,000, the water district’s board began looking into how the additional well could be funded, Edrington said.

A funding source was located in the Department of Health and Hospitals Drinking Water Revolving Loans Fund. The district began pursing that opportunity and was approved for up to $700,000, Edrington said. The loan is a 20-year note set at 3.45 percent interest, and the district is eligible for 30 percent forgiveness of the loan through a program currently in place. Thus, if all goes according to plan, the district will only have to borrow $490,000, he said.

“The rates are in place now to sustain that payment,” he said, adding that a couple of rate changes are planned in conjunction with the project.

A dollar-per-month increase will be implemented in January 2014 and another in 2015, when the work is projected to be completed, Edrington said.

The project has been approved by the Bond Commission and the Washington Parish Council, Edrington said. The advertisement for bids has taken place, and those will be received in approximately 30 days. He hopes to have the closing take place in conjunction with the water district’s quarterly board meeting on April 23.

There is always the fear that a well will get old and stop producing water, or that a hole will form in the casing and the well will start producing mud or sand, Edrington said. That is why a backup source is necessary, he said.

Providing another example, Edrington said the motor in the existing well was burned out by a lighting strike about two years ago. The company had go about 400-500 feet deep into the well to pull out the old motor and then reinstall a new one. About 10 hours’ worth of water was stored, but residents ended up being without water for six or eight hours.

That is not such a long time to be out of water service, Edrington said, “but without a second well, if we lost something major, we could go six or eight weeks without water.”

“This will be a real backup, reliable source for them to have continued water for many, many years,” he said.

After the directive that the district needed a backup water source was handed down by the Board of Health, the water district board and the company began looking into how to make it happen, Edrington said. They tried to find a water district in Tangipahoa Parish to connect to, but the lines were too far away. The possibility of installing a shallow well and treating the water was explored, but that route would be more expensive than what the board ultimately decided to do, he said. The company’s engineers did a complete report, but no affordable alternatives were located.

“The board anguished over having to spend that much money. But they really had no alternative,” he said.

Appointments to the five-member, all-volunteer board are made by the Parish Council, Edrington said. Members’ only compensation is reimbursement for mileage, and most have been serving for many years, he said. It is a very active board, and members will go out and talk to residents and investigate reported leaks. If a leak is located, French Settlement Water Company operators will come out to fix it. He said the company has operators residing east of Amite, about 15 minutes away from Mt. Hermon.

Since the size of the Mt. Hermon Water District does not allow for full-time employees, the board chose in 1996 to contract operations out, Edrington said. French Settlement Water Company’s bid was selected, and since that time it has been under a contract that is renewable every two years.

The company’s corporate offices are located in Baton Rouge, and it has customers in Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes, Edrington said. The company reads the meters in Mt. Hermon and prepares bills, collects debt, remits payments and provides accounting, operating on a per-customer basis, he said.

Mt. Hermon School is on the water system, a couple of hydrants are available to the area’s volunteer fire department.

The Mt. Hermon Water District’s system currently has 395 customers, Edrington said. When the water district was designed in mid-1990s, 600 connections were anticipated. That leaves 205 dwellings that could sign on for the service but have yet to do so, instead relying on a home well, he said.

Edrington said there are a number of benefits to residents who sign up for water service. The system has backup power, so customers will have water during emergencies such as hurricanes. The water is chlorinated for disinfection, he said, and the Board of Health tests for bacteria once a month.

“So you know it’s good and safe to drink, and it’s just a more reliable source than a home well,” he said.

Mt. Hermon-area residents who would like more information about the water system can call French Settlement Water Company at 1-800-375-7570.