In a closed Facebook group where posts usually revolve around local businesses, small-town politics and lost pets, several posts have recently focused on the discoloration of the drinking water being pumped into homes in the Creola area.
For several months now, some residents have complained about the “brown water” coming out of their faucets, yet city officials in Creola and the area’s privately owned water system seem to be pointing fingers at one another — leaving residents frustrated and concerned.
“When does this stop? [I’m] calling board of health and keeping a sample,” one resident posted over the weekend. “[My] husband is headed to get yet another case of water!”
For Mayor Bill Criswell, it’s a familiar complaint, but one he says the city has no control over, as residents in Creola get their water from Le Moyne Water System Inc.
“It’s an independent, privately owned company and, good or bad, they have about 85 percent of the residential meters in our area,” Criswell said. “We don’t have a dog in the hunt because this is a contract between each individual resident and the water system.”
Unlike the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System, the board governing Le Moyne is not appointed by city officials. Instead, customers select members who serve on the five-member board.
This week, Board Chairman Frank Seltzer said he believes some of the discoloration has been the result of the Creola Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) flushing hydrants in an effort to improve the city’s Insurance Services Office rating. When setting premiums, some insurance companies account for ISO ratings, which are based on a number factors including the fire suppression systems available in an affected area. Fire departments occasionally test such systems to improve or maintain ratings.
“That’s going to stir up the sediment in the lines, and you’re going to get brown water,” he added. “I guess one of the main things is we haven’t had a good line of communication as to when they’re going to do this. If we had, we could have notified the residents ahead of time.”
As a longtime member of the water board, Seltzer said he’s seen the same issue pop up every four to five years when Creola VFD flushes hydrants to prepare for ISO inspections. He also said the recent problems should be resolved soon, now that Creola has completed its work related to the ISO rating inspection.
However, Fire Chief Jeff Reeves said his department would not be to blame for any recent discoloration of the water. Speaking with Lagniappe, he said any flushing of the system’s hydrants would have been completed by June in preparation for an ISO inspection on July 5.
Yet photographs from residents in Creola suggest there have been issues with “brown water” as recently as Aug. 20. One woman, who’s had problems on multiple occasions, wrote “This is getting totally out of hand” in a post showing a stream of discolored water on Sunday.
“We tested the hydrants we needed to test back in June, and that was it,” Reeves said. “Le Moyne keeps saying it’s because of us, but we had a house fire the third week of July where we flowed water for about two hours, and we didn’t get any brown water.”
Reeves said the flushing in June and the house fire in July are the only times he recalls Creola VFD putting any substantial strain on the Le Moyne Water System — a system that was initially designed for distributing potable water, not fire suppression.
Reeves also said the discoloration in water systems is typically caused by “natural minerals and material” settling at the bottom of water lines. While flushing larger lines — like those connected to a fire hydrant — can agitate such materials, many water systems routinely flush lines to prevent that type of buildup.
Reached by phone, an employee of the Bayou La Batre Utilities Board confirmed routine flushings are a common practice for the water system. Seltzer said Le Moyne does the same when leaks occur that could cause sediment to get into a waterline, but deferred questions about routine flushing to the managers of the water system.
As for the lack of communication, Criswell said Creola must notify Le Moyne at least 24 hours before it draws water from the system, adding that local officials have also met with members of the board as recently as last week.
“They’ve got some issues, and I think they need to go outside of their board and get some additional help, which is what I recommended to them,” he said. “We also agreed to a close patrol by the police department to make sure no one is straining the system by using it illegally.”
However, given the geographic location of some of the reports from Le Moyne customers, Seltzer still believes Creola’s ISO activity is “what most of [the problem] came from.” While he said he understood the concern some have expressed, Seltzer stressed the discolored water is “safe to drink” despite its unpleasant appearance.
“Now, I wouldn’t drink it,” he admitted. “And, I’m sure nobody else would either.”