Rural water systems plagued with leaks

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As temps dipped into the single digits last week, so did hopes for continued power and water services. The unprecedented winter weather event tapped resources statewide and Natchitoches Parish was not exempt from the outages. While electricity was mostly restored by Sunday, the water woes continued. Walter Main with the Sabine Water System, the operating system for the former Robeline, Marthaville and Ajax systems, said just after noon Monday they were at about 80%.

“We ran into some troubles, but today we have three Rural Water people here helping,” he said. The problem with that system, and others, was leaks. “We have more leaks than water and just can’t get the water there,” Main said. As of Monday, he said there was still an issue with keeping up pressure in higher elevations, for those whom live on hills. Main said they had been pumping at 650 gallons per minute but had reduced to around 400 gallons per minute.

He said he was hopeful the system would be at full function by Tuesday. “We still have half a day to track down those leaks so we’re hopeful,” he said.

In Campti, Mayor Leron Winslow said they believed they had found the source of their troubles mid-afternoon Monday when a break was located in one of the system’s 2-inch lines. “We just found it and now our customers are starting to get water. We’re on the upside hopefully,” he said. The Campti tower was also filling after the break was repaired. “It’s improving,” he said. One issue they had was people washing their cars once they had water, a practice the Town strongly discouraged.

The Fairview-Union Water System that covers portions of northern Natchitoches and southern Red River Parishes had its fair share of complications. “We’ve been running half and half (the northern half of the system, then the southern half on alternating days) and today we ran the whole system, which is an improvement, but we could run out again tonight,” said operator James Caskey late Monday afternoon. “Our pumps have been running 24/7 for a week.” Caskey said they operate with a tank at the water plant that pumps out to the system and fills the elevated towers. The towers fill and the pumps kick off. The problems were the number of leaks at customer’s homes caused by pipes freezing and breaking or cracking.

“There have been tons of leaks, most that people haven’t found yet,” he said. “That is a lot of water, then the tank at the plant empties and we have nothing to push out.” He said only one leak was located in the system lines and it was not a main line. “We’re checking meters in an attempt to locate leaks. Our regular meter reader is working, I’m checking meters, as well as others,” he said. “We’re seeing signs of improvement and plan to have water to everyone every day now.”

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The bright spot among the systems we talked to was Goldonna and Chee Chee Bay systems. Eugean Garner is on the board of both systems and said neither lost water during the deep freeze. “We have a back up generator. The systems are also connected,” Garner said. “We only located one major leak. We also did a lot of preplanning. We turned meters off at camp houses that are unoccupied to prevent water loss.”

Campti was not the only location having issues with people washing cars. A caller, who wished to remain anonymous, said they saw “a long line of cars in line at the car wash at the corner of Royal and Highway 1 South” Sunday afternoon. “They had power and were up and running,” the caller said. As it stands, the estimated full water restoration should have been complete across the parish by Thursday, a full 10 days after outages began.

In the Thursday, Feb. 26, 2021, print edition