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City of Union
Don Thomas was at work a bit earlier than usual. No catastrophes had required an early start to his day. He flipped on the lights, and looked around at the City of Union’s new water facility. He admired the new machinery, pumps, filter media, line feeders and chlorinators. The day was September 29, 2010. Union’s water supply switched to the new facility at 10 a.m. that morning.
Thomas is the water and wastewater operator for the city. As he checked settings on the new control panel, he was thinking of the past. “Five years ago was one of the lowest points of my life,” he said. That’s when Hurricane Katrina hit. “Our water treatment plant was out for three days,” Thomas recalls. “We had no emergency generator and were without water and power for several days.”
Winds from Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc, but they also made this $2 million plant possible. “The hurricane’s eye passed two miles from here.” The hurricane caused structural damage to the building’s roof and foundation. Thomas knew that if another severe storm stripped off the roof, water damage would destroy the electrical equipment. Finally, it was his turn. Hurricane Go Zone money came through.
That autumn morning, Thomas was eager to start work. He is a Class B water operator and Class 2 wastewater operator and has worked in Union for 21 years. Hired at 25, he previously worked as a Navy boiler technician. His uncle, also named Donald Thomas and an employee with MsRWA, encouraged him to enter the field. Thomas has one employee, water and wastewater assistant David Anderson.
In Union, water comes from the Upper Meridian Aquifer. There are two 700 gpm aboveground wells and one 300 gpm well with a submersible pump. Two elevated storage tanks hold 250,000 gallons each. The city’s current usage is 450,000 gallons per day with a capacity of 1,500,000 gallons per day.
With both seniority and experience, Thomas looked forward to bringing his ideas to the planning and design process. He visited new treatment plants to get ideas. “An operator’s dream is to improve from what he’s seen at his old plant.”
The former plant was built in 1967, and the layout was less than perfect. “Everything looks great on an engineer’s drawing and when you put it in the real world, sometimes it doesn’t work so well. I used my life experience and my job experience as I worked with the engineer.”
He explains, “My pet peeve was that the hopper was upstairs and 50-lb. lime bags had to be carried up the stairs. Once you got there, you had to raise the bags above your head to put lime in the hopper.”
The hopper’s location in a corner made it difficult to clean the area. With the new design, lime bags are stored near the hopper and an elevated floor allows loading with a minimum of lifting. Efficiency was added with a more compact electrical control panel, and new SCADA software allows him to monitor how much water is in the elevated tanks.
Thomas also switched to a new filter media. “We’re removing iron in the water with green sand. That’s the reason we now add potassium permanganate to the water. It recharges the green sand like a magnet.”
“With the new system, I can take out a set of filters to work on while the other filter’s water goes through the system. There’s no downtime and it doesn’t change the water quality.”
In one area, Thomas stuck with the basics. “I had trouble with my old electrical upflow aerator,” he explains. “It stopped up all the time and needed a lot of maintenance.
The salesman sold me on a new natural draft aerator and said it would do the trick.
It saves energy costs.” An engineer is currently working on an updated map that will show locations of the system’s valves, water meters, and fire plugs.
Thomas looks to MsRWA for support with technical and regulatory issues. “The MsRWA helped me raise water rates when I was new to my job,” he notes. “They did a rate study for me and helped me present to my board in a professional and knowledgeable way. They had the information and knowledge I needed, and we were able to raise the rates.”
“My motto is ‘I get you coming and going’,” he says with a laugh. The city treats wastewater with an Artificial Marshland Treatment system. At a 16-acre site, 200,000 gallons of wastewater move through ponds and shallow lagoons each day. The area is heavily planted with vegetation including bulrush and arrowhead plants. “We’re using nature to treat wastewater. A NASA scientist came up with the idea,” says Thomas. A chlorine contact chamber also cleans wastewater. Thomas estimates that the AMT system saves $8,000 in annual energy costs.
He enjoys his job and is eager to share information with young operators. He’s even developing a class especially for them. New operators must build customer service, he says. “The public just knows that the water bill is too high or the water is brown. You have to ‘feel their pain’ when they have problems.”
He recommends keeping a sense of humor. Work hard, laugh, and serve customers with pride. Then you’ll do just fine.
City of Bay St. Louis
Five years after Hurricane Katrina, the city of Bay St. Louis is still in recovery mode. It takes time to restore an infrastructure system that was brutally damaged, and work will continue for several more years.
“There’s not a day goes by that I don’t have 1/3 of my staff working on Katrina recovery related work. The rebuilding process has been a massive undertaking,” said Public Works Director Buddy Zimmerman. “The list goes on and on, and this is going to take three or four more years.”
He worked late the night before the hurricane hit, making preparations. “We had the mindset that it was going to knock down some trees and cause flooding along the beach.”
Then came torrential rains and 120-mph winds. When water gushed in Zimmerman’s front door that morning, he was stunned. “My floors are at an elevation of 22 feet, and I never dreamed I would ever have water in my house. It hit me that my whole city, every one of my wells, pumps, sewer stations, and control panels, it was all under water.“
Bay St. Louis was buried under 18 feet of water. Water and power were out, 42 lift stations were out, and sewage would back up into streets. The city was on a boil water notice for months.
Only 10 of the original 39 public works employees returned to work. The group worked seven days a week for six weeks, repairing 50 to 60 leaks a day. “My public works employees are the most resilient people I’ve ever met,” he noted.
After two days, Zimmerman’s crew started a trickle of water, but residents in the north part of town waited a month and a half for complete water restoration. It would be three weeks before electricity was back on.
Before the storm, the city had approximately 3,600 utility customers. That number is now reduced to 2,500.
When Katrina hit, Zimmerman was the city’s assistant public works director, a job he had held for 23 years. Two years ago, he moved to the public works director job.
“If I had to do it again tomorrow, I wouldn’t leave,” he vowed. “There might be a storm and they’d say it’s mandatory to leave, but they’d have to drag me.”
The human spirit has powered the rebuilding projects. Assistance poured in, and hundreds of volunteers slept outdoors. The Mississippi Rural Water Association sent experienced water operators, two Navy civil engineers reloaded computers and set up a lab to test water, and electricians from the Florida National Guard rebuilt control panels.
American Natural Gas Association, Coastal Electric and Mississippi Electric Power came to the city’s aid as well.
“I can’t say enough about Mississippi Rural Water Association’s personnel and the whole rural water family. MsRWA sent us Tom Abernathy, a circuit rider from north Mississippi. He had people up there who worked on wells, who had supplies and contacts. If we needed a part for a pump or to fix a water line, Tom could get it. We pulled pumps off and threw them in his truck and off he went. A couple of days later, he came back and the pump was rebuilt.”
Wastewater is sent to a regional plant in a nearby city. Bay St. Louis has four above ground wells, each 1000 feet deep. Immediately Zimmerman‘s crew cleaned out a diesel engine and started pumping 1,000 gallons a minute into the water system. “We had a trickle of water within two days. It was a slow, hard, long journey from that trickle of water to full water pressure.”
An action plan was quickly developed. “We broke the city up into four distinct areas,” explained Zimmerman. “Areas 1 through 3 were totally destroyed and needed complete utility replacement of gas lines, water lines, water valves, fire hydrants, sewer lines, and manholes. Along with that, we had to redo roadways and sidewalks. Two of the destroyed areas were in the middle of town, in the old downtown area.
The north end of town was surrounded by water on three sides. The average ground elevation is 10 feet, and the water was at 28 feet.”
In Area 4, there was less damage. The entire gas system had to be replaced and new automated reading meters were put in. “The American Natural Gas Association repaired and put our gas system back on the map requiring very little assistance from us. They handled it while our city personnel were busy with other things.”
With numerous leaks in the north area of town, it was difficult to hold water pressure. “We would open a valve on Highway 90 every morning and have four or five utility crews repairing leaks. By 2:00 in the afternoon, we had to shut it back off because we were so low on water pressure. The next morning, we would turn it on again, and fix leaks and shut it off in the afternoon.”
Huge piles of debris slowed work. In the process of clearing debris and trash, employees yanked out 30 fire hydrants and 2,000 water meters.
Today 85 percent of the city’s utilities infrastructure is back in order. “The sewer system is nearing completion, and within six months, the water system will be back 100 percent. We’re still doing line locates, working with numerous contractors, and making decisions on where to put fire hydrants and water meters.”
A water tower repainting project was delayed by the storm but is now underway. The public works yard was moved after the storm, putting police department, fire department and utilities together in the same area.
About 60 percent of needed infrastructure work in the city has been done. “We have drainage system repairs, and tons of ditch maintenance and creek repairs left.”
Infrastructure work has so far cost $65 million.
The public works crew has grown to 32 field employees, but with a recent annexation, the department remains understaffed.
Is the city prepared for another major storm? Zimmerman takes a moment to reflect. “Since we’re so busy with the rebuilding process, we’re no more prepared than we were prior to Katrina.”
It will take more money to protect the city. “I want diesel bypass pumps that run without electricity and a large emergency shelter.”
The city also needs five major generators to run wells and lift stations.
“It’s pertinent that you get the sewer system up and running along with water. You can’t have one without the other.”
Zimmerman is eligible to retire next year, but he plans to stay in the job for at least another decade. He grew up in Waveland, and he and his wife have five children and 13 grandchildren. Bay St. Louis is home.
“I fear retirement, and not having a city to take care of.”
Town of State Line
Henry Daley and Ernest Franks work as a team to supply water to two towns and two fire departments. The men perform their jobs with dedication and are well known for their reliability when there’s any sort of problem in the town of State Line.
It’s a good thing that these operators like challenges. Officially, Daley and Franks are water operators for State Line. But folks in crisis know that they can count on them. “We’re a small town, and people often call us first,” said Franks. “We get emergency calls, respond to fires, and direct traffic if there are accidents. If we‘re available, we‘ll go and try to help.”
Both employees have big hearts and versatile skills, and are willing to do more than their job descriptions require. Maintaining the town’s water system is a big job in itself. The water operators turn on the system’s sewer pump manually, load chlorine manually, and read 580 meters each month.
Each month, wells pump 8 to 9 million gallons of water, and the town sells 3 to 4 million gallons of that supply to Fruitdale, Alabama. Daley and Franks check chlorine levels in the three submerged wells daily. Residents used private wells until the town wells were built in the 1960s and 70s.
The water tower holds 250,000 gallons. Daley said, “I would love to add a second water tower closer to outlying areas 12 miles away. Fire trucks come up to our fire plugs and turn the water on, and it will drop pressure. Another tower would be a big help.”
“For wastewater, there are three lift stations and a three-phase lagoon,” Daley continued. “At the end, we add chlorine tablets to the water before it goes into a creek.”
Daley grew up 20 miles from State Line. When he came to the job five years ago, he was new to water operations. He was an experienced surveyor for oil companies, but job growth had slowed. When he heard that the town needed a water operator, he figured he would apply.
Two years ago, Ernest Franks joined him. “I was living in South Carolina at the time,” Franks said. His brother-in-law, a water operator in Waynesboro, encouraged him to try water operations. “He called and asked if I wanted a job.
Franks is glad he took the opportunity in State Line. “The job is exciting for me because things are always changing.”
He enjoys working side-by-side with his more experienced co-worker. “Henry taught me to treat lines like a baby. If we’re shoveling and looking for a line and bust a line, then we’ve got two problems instead of one.”
Providing clean water to customers is rewarding to both employees. “We have some real good customers,“ said Daley. “Customers, at times, will tell you that they appreciate what you‘re doing.”
After one difficult job, residents did take time to express gratitude. “This past winter, a 6-inch line blew out and the pipe was in the creek,” recalled Daley. “It had been raining so much that the creek was flooded, and we had to dam it up to turn the water away. We were working in the dark, and one guy brought his own lights down there and shone them from the bridge. It was a two-day job, but we finally got the line repaired.”
When it was over, the employees rested a bit and then went right back to work.
They shared many stories about animals, Mother Nature, and other challenges. A horse knocked off a faucet, creating a huge gusher. A squirrel chewed a hole in a line and lightning has melted gears inside a water meter.
When asked about Mississippi Rural Water, Daley said that the association’s employees are always quick to lend support. “They come by every couple of months and talk with us. They tell us to give them a call if we need them.”
Nearby water departments also help out. “If we need a little help, we call another department and they come help us or we go and help them. We swap back and forth, borrow parts from each other, and work together.“
Clerks Tonya Taylor and Bernice Thornton are a key part of the customer service team. “Tonya and Bernice work with customers on billing questions and we appreciate all that they do,” said Daley.
Together these four folks are supplying residents with vital services and peace of mind. Their diligence is respected in the community.
Both water operators have a wish list. When asked what improvement he would most like to add, Franks quickly said, “Automatic master meters, for sure!”
Daley said, “The water tower needs some newer safety features. Chlorine sits in water so long, it can start to evaporate out. I’d like to get the water tower to update its chlorine levels.”
He would also like to modernize the sewer treatment plant. “Everything is done manually now.“
Those improvements might be years down the road, but residents of State Line and Fruitdale will continue to have quality water service. Even with the challenges of an older system, these water operators are determined to get the job done.
Erata Water Association
This water system located in Jones County just north of Laurel has a lot going on for it. Mr. George Smith served as the Manager of the system for years. He knew that his time at the system was drawing to a close, and that’s where this story begins.
A little more than five years ago two new employees began taking care of what George had built and maintained almost since the first well was drilled in 1968. Cynthia Leggett heard that he was looking for someone to work in the office. She called him about the opening and was hired. The Erata office is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 1:00pm – 5:00pm.
Cynthia is the Office Manager and says, “I’ve been so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work here. All of our customers are great. They’ve taken me under their wing, and we work together to deal with the hardships that are bound to happen to us all. My philosophy is simply to treat people the way I want to be treated. Wayne and I work great together. We want our customers to know we care about them and their needs.”
Wayne Dunston is Erata’s licensed operator. He also came to work about five years ago. He works part time for Erata and serves as the Public Works Director for Sandersville. Wayne was a pipefitter for 26 years and worked in the private sector during that time. He left during a changeover in the company. He too was hired by George Smith.
Wayne said, “Mr. George did more for this water system than anybody really knows. He was a good operator, but also a good businessman. He recognized the value of making sure the rate structure allowed for a first rate system and really good water. When I left my job, he told me I ought to start a new career in the water industry. He helped me get started. We drove around the system and he showed me all kinds of things. I’m not sure I’d be here today without his encouragement.”
So this story is the story of a great history passing the baton to a promising future. Cynthia said, “Erata is also blessed with a board that is in tune with the needs of our system. “
Board members include John Kersh, President; Q. C. Bonner, Vice President; Sara Brown, Secretary; and William Trotter.
This system with 321 meters flies an American flag atop their 50,000 gallon elevated storage tank. The system has two projects going on presently. Their storage tank has been restored and two new wells are almost complete. The projects were funded by Rural Development and consisted of loans and grants. Mark Spradley, with G & S Engineering in Laurel was the engineer on the project.
Three years ago, the system also went through a meter change out program. Cynthia said, “We really got a lot of calls from our customers who were sure the new meters were wrong.” Wayne laughed and said, “Yeah, some of them were hard to convince, but we made it through it ok.”
Wayne said, “I’d like to say how fortunate operators are in Mississippi to have our Rural Water Association. When we have problems, solutions are usually just a phone call away.”
Another thing of pride for both Cynthia and Wayne is their recent annual inspection by the Department of Health. The system scored a five. Cynthia walked over to the filing cabinet and began to pull the inspection form out of its folder. While she was doing that Wayne said, “Cynthia is so organized, it’s unbelievable. When the inspector gets here, I show them the system and bring them back here. Cynthia has everything in place and under control.”
For the past year the water office has been located in Sandersville. However, the board has purchased an acre right in the center of the system with plans to build a new office building in the community itself.
Nesbit Water Association
Located in Desoto County and tucked in just south of Southaven and north of Hernando along US Highway 51 is the Nesbit Water Association. The Water Association has been serving the area since 1965.
Like most areas of the state, there have been many changes. In 1992, a Razorback who had crossed the river a few years earlier was building a house for the board president of the association. In January 1993, the board president contracted Wilson Richmond to take care of the system. Some seventeen years later, Wilson quietly says, “It was a good move for me. I really like what I’m doing. I told my grandson, who is graduating from Mississippi State, when you find a job, it won’t be because you filled out hundreds of applications. It will be because you were in the right place at the right time. That’s how I feel about me working here; I was in the right place at the right time.”
Wilson’s brother, son, and grandson have also worked with him to tackle the challenges of maintaining and/or expanding the system.
The Nesbit water system serves more than 1300 meters and has four wells. The system’s two elevated storage tanks provide 600,000 gallons of storage. Water usage runs from 300,000 to 500,000 gallons per day depending on the season.
Outside maintenance for the system is also provided by a father and son team of Ronnie and Keith Looney. Ronnie has worked for the system for eleven years and Keith just under two years. Ronnie is looking at retiring from the system before too long, and his son Keith will likely take his place. Keith said, “I’ve lived here all my life. Don’t know what else I’d want to do.”
The office manager is Pat Dunaway who has worked there for five years and the accounts receivable clerk is Pat’s granddaughter, Stephanie Jones. Stephanie has worked there for the past two years.
When asked about the value of Mississippi Rural Water to them, Wilson responded first. “We’ve had lots of help from them over the years. Bill Rutledge used to come by here when he worked for Rural Water. Tom Abernathy has been a great help to us as well. He has really helped with some of the reports that we are required to fill out. One of the great changes in running a rural water system is the increased amount of paperwork we have to keep up with.”
Wilson continued, “Right after Tom started working for Rural Water he stopped by to help me find a leak just south of Hernando. Although the leak was responsible for a 48% water loss, it wasn’t easy to find. Tom stayed after it until we located it. I’ll never forget the help.”
Pat Dunaway said, “They don’t just help out. They become part of our extended families. When you need help, you always call your friends and that’s the way we feel about Tom and Mississippi Rural Water.”
When Wilson Richmond started working in 1993, there were about 500 meters, so the system has expanded several times during that span. They are waiting on the weather and a couple of easements to complete an 8,000 foot project designed to loop the system. On all the expansion projects, Pat Dunaway prepares the easements which saves the system money, but also speeds up the process.
Another project that is slated to start in the spring is the widening of Highway 51. The widening of the highway will require the relocation of Nesbit’s water lines. During the relocation, water lines will also be upgraded, in some cases from a 4 inch line to a 12 inch line.
“Oh yeah,” Wilson said, “Nesbit is going to get a trailer mounted generator. Tom and the folks at Mississippi Rural Water have been a tremendous help with that too.”
“We are proud that many folks brag on our water. We have really good people in our community. And by taking care of our board, they support what we do. Why wouldn’t anybody be happy to work at a place like this?”
City of Calhoun City
Perry Goodson never left the county, he just left the farm. He said, “I’ve been here all my life. Larry Bratton had this position in 1982 and in October of that year I went to work for the city. I was 18 years old, left the farm and came to town. I tell folks I put in an application one day and they hired me the next day. That was the only job application I’ve ever seen.”
Calhoun City was established in 1906, and is located in Calhoun County, and has a population of about 1800. Perry said, “I consider it a blessing to live in a small town like Calhoun City. I believe that small towns have more to cheer about than they have drawbacks.”
“One of the things I like about my job as Municipal Works Director in our town is that you never know what you’ll be doing tomorrow. One day I’m changing light bulbs at City Hall and the next day patching potholes on this old road,” he said as we were getting out of the truck to look at the damaged roads caused by too much water and freezing temperatures.
“I have to say that one of the major reasons I’ve been here so long and still enjoy it is that I work with good people. Nobody has ever worked for me. Everybody works with me. We have four full time and two part time employees and I wouldn’t swap any of them. We’ve been blessed with good mayors and aldermen. Our current mayor is J. R. Denton, and Mayor Denton was an alderman when I was first hired. Knowing someone that long in one job is a good thing. I guess I’d have to say that we don’t always get everything we want, but we’ve always got everything we needed,” he said.
Perry’s responsibilities include water, wastewater, and streets. Water is supplied by three wells, and there are three elevated tanks providing one million gallons of storage for the system. The original water system was installed in 1928, and part of it is still in operation today. Like most older systems the water mains can be everything from AC to PVC, and Calhoun City is no exception.
Perry stated, “We locate our own lines when we can, and we usually can. We have a locating device that stays with the service truck. For the past several years, we place tracer wire with all pipe we bury, even some of our sewer lines. We used to use the caution tape, but my thinking is that if you have to dig to find it, it hardly seems worth the effort.”
The wastewater distribution system is mostly a gravity flow system with five major lift stations. The treatment plant is a Hydrograph Controlled Release (HCR) facultative lagoon system. It consists of three treatment cells and one storage cell. In an HCR system, wastewater is discharged only when the stream flow is adequate to prevent water quality degradation.
Perry said, “Basically we designed our treatment plant for a major water user that left the area, so it ended up being overbuilt for our normal flow. As a result, we discharge on a seasonal basis.” He continued, “We are in the process of completing a $400,000 project at the treatment plant. The project consisted of rip-rapping the levee, retrofitting a UV contact chamber to a chlorine contact chamber and the discharge point. Weather permitting we’ll finish the project shortly by getting a new fence around the complex.”
When asked about Mississippi Rural Water, he laughed and said, “Tom Abernathy has certainly been a great help to me. Larry Bratton hired me and is currently an alderman in Calhoun City. We have an expert with Mississippi Rural Water living right here in town. It can’t get much easier for me than that.
When we drove back to the shop, there was a resident who had apparently stopped by for help earlier in the day. “Thanks,” said the young man who’d borrowed and was returning the tool. “I was glad we could help you out,” was Perry’s reply.
The young man said over his shoulder as he was leaving, “Call me if I can ever be of any help to you.” Perry laughed and told him, “I might just do that.”
As the young man pulled away, Perry said to me, “He meant that. That’s part of what I like about this job. The opportunity to help one another over the years has built relationships that will last a lifetime.”
Yes, this was the first job that Perry Goodson found, but it sounds like it will be last one he will apply for. It doesn’t just feel like home…it is home.
Town of Ackerman
There are a lot of roads leading to the Town of Ackerman, population 1,900, and they are all worth the drive. Choctaw’s county seat is located on the northwest corner of the Tombigbee National Forest.
Mike Brasher, Public Works Director for Ackerman, serves as a great ambassador for the community in part by making you feel at home immediately.
Mike started to work in August 2001 after spending more than 18 years in the roads and bridge construction industry. A good friend, who was the newly elected mayor, asked him to come and help out with the maintenance in town. Mike said, “I didn’t really know anything about running a water or wastewater system, but I did understand the need for maintenance, and would have responsibilities for streets as well. I told him I would do it and would begin the certification process for water and wastewater licenses.”
Early on he learned the value of being able to find the plant. The previous men who had served in the same capacity were an invaluable resource, but both passed away shortly after he took the position. Not only were they missed in the community, but a tremendous resource was no longer available. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that drives him to find and identify lines, valves, and manholes. Mike said, “I want to do what I can to make it as easy for the next person as is possible.” Of the system’s 857 meters, more than half have been replaced with the Sensus touch read meter. He said, “Come springtime, I hope to begin replacing another 100 meters before the end of the year. We are committed to replacing all of the meters within the next three years or so.”
The water system has two 250,000 gallon elevated storage tanks and one 100,000 gallon clear well. The water source is four wells with a depth of between 100 and 130 feet. The water quality is good and recently a new fluoride system was put on line and paid for with grant funds obtained from the Department of Health.
His responsibilities also include taking care of the gravity flow wastewater system and double celled facultative lagoon. Mike said, “Our permit was reissued last December with new restrictions. We have an $800,000 improvement project going on at the lagoon now. We are now required to chlorinate and dechlorinate prior to discharge. Weather has slowed down progress, but we hope to be on line by May 2010.”
He said, “We also recently obtained a $450,000 Community Development Block Grant to video and clean our wastewater distribution system. The infiltration/inflow analysis will be beneficial in helping identify our current and future issues.”
When asked about one of the earliest challenges he faced in his new position, he said, “I would say it was dealing with the utility rate structure in place. We had not had a water rate increase in 15 years, and at the time the wastewater rate was flat billed at $10.00. In 2007, we had a pretty good sized water rate increase, and then in 2008 the wastewater rate was changed to 75% of the water bill.”
He continued, “Joey Vaughn, Mississippi Rural Water was a big help. He came and talked to the board and told them that many of the elderly folks would actually see a decrease in their total bill, because 75% of a minimum bill would be less than the old rate of $10.00. He was exactly right.”
“Of course, when the water rates were increased, we had a lot of requests for changing out meters. Folks were convinced their meter was wrong. I learned a lot about meters, rates, and people,” he said with a smile.
Mississippi Rural Water is a great resource for helping with technical issues, but also with things like board training and getting a handle on adequate rates to help prepare for the future. Mike said, “They’ve been a blessing for me. Joey Vaughn and Randy Turnage have really helped me out on the water side, and I don’t know what I would have done without Larry Bratton on the wastewater side when I first started. They helped me and helped the town more than most will ever know.”
As you might expect in any small town, the Public Works Director will be in the middle of fixing a water leak or in the case of Mike Brasher, involved in working to provide covered batting cages for the park. The Public Works Department consists of four full time employees and Mike. Staying busy is never difficult.
“What I enjoy most about my job is that I’m right here in Ackerman. I really like the people, I love our small town, and I’ve called this home since 1976. I graduated high school in Eupora, married a Choctaw County girl and moved here. Been here ever since, and don’t really want to go anywhere else.”
Well said, Mike. If somebody didn’t stay at home, there would be no lights on in the window.
City of Magnolia
Only a few miles south of McComb and just east of I-55 lies the City of Magnolia, population 2,100. The city was incorporated in 1859 and 13 years later became the county seat of Pike County.
Driving around the city, you get a sense of the importance of history in this community. Talking to Mayor Melvin Harris and City Superintendent John Taylor, you understand the importance of someone staying home and keeping a light in the window for others to find their way back home.
“I finished Southwest Mississippi Community College in May and later that same month I was hired by the City of Magnolia. I started to work with the street department and later moved to the water department. That was 32 years ago,” smiled John Taylor, Magnolia’s long time City Superintendent. “Actually, I contacted Mayor Harris about the possibility of a job. He was an alderman back then. I wanted to work close to home. My mother had a stroke and I didn’t want to be very far from her. Looking back over the years, I can tell you it’s been good for me to have the opportunity to work in my hometown,” John concluded.
Magnolia has a lot of industry for a city its size. With slightly less than 1000 meters, the city’s three wells pump more than one million gallons per day. At each well site, there are packaged treatment plants that chlorinate and add fluoride to the water prior to being stored in the water tank. There are elevated storage tanks at each site that provides the city with about 900,000 gallons of water ready to use.
John and his crew are also responsible for the city’s sewer system. The system is a gravity flow system that flows into two separate facultative lagoons. One of the lagoons is 12 acres in size, while the other is six acres. Both effluents are chlorinated and de-chlorinated prior to discharge.
John said, “Actually, whatever needs done in the city is what we do. We don’t come to work thinking we are going to work on water or wastewater. We respond to the needs of our people. So we have to be ready for whatever comes up.”
When asked about the scariest thing he ever encountered reading meters, John quickly replied, “Just the thought of having to read them for the first time was scary.” He continued, “In 1999, we had a major rebuild for both water and sewer. We were required to set meters in order to qualify for the rebuild. Until then, the city flat billed all users of the system. So it was quite a change to have to develop the discipline to read meters every month after having flat billed all those years.”
One of things you learn early in a small system is the value of Mississippi Rural Water. John said, “I’ve depended on them many times over the years. From sewer problems to finding water leaks, they’ve always been there for us. I remember one time, we had a leak. Water was pouring out of the ground in a place I knew we didn’t have a water line. I can’t remember for sure, but I believe Kirby helped us pinpoint where the leak was coming from. We dug straight to it with their help. Yes sir, I’m a big time believer in Mississippi Rural Water.”
It certainly takes folks working together to have any hope of getting it done. And in that light, John points out how much easier his job is because of the ladies in the city hall. “Melissa Thornhill, City Clerk; Bobbi Hart, Deputy Clerk; and Berniece Carter, Billing Clerk are all city employees. But they bill, collect, and dispatch work orders for us. I really appreciate the relationships that we’ve developed over the years.”
John then said, “Our water maintenance crew consists of two full time employees. Lynell Carter and Ray McGee will do what needs to be done. Additionally, we have a part time employee named Billy Gill who is a great asset. Again, let me say that we all have to pull together to get it done. Because when I go to bed at night, I want to say my prayers, go to sleep and get some rest. That’s easier to do when you’ve got it done and know you’ve treated people right.
“I’ve really been blessed in lots of ways,” John said. “The man I went to for a job 32 years ago is now the Mayor. His understanding of how the city works, his experience, and commitment to the people of our community is a great benefit not only to me, but to all of the people.”
Downtown Magnolia is getting a face lift. The square with the old train depot in the center of it is being restored. The historic train depot will soon become the new City Hall. The story of Magnolia from years gone by will be told over and over again. Mayor Harris said, “I’d love the opportunity to be the tour guide for our children when we get moved in our new facility. I want to tell them the story of how things used to be. We could then talk about how far we’ve come. Perhaps that will instill in them the desire to work to make things the way they ought to be.”
With folks like Mayor Harris and John Taylor keeping the home fire burning, Magnolia not only has a glorious history, but the future looks bright as well.
The Shady Grove Family
There must be something in the water or at least something about the water in the community of Shady Grove. Chris and Ann Ainsworth grew up drinking the water in Shady Grove. The next thing they knew, they were married and found that they wanted to stay in the community for the rest of their lives. Both agree that while it doesn’t seem possible, they’ve also been working for the Utility District for almost twenty years.
Ann laughed and said, “There are a lot of the younger folks who don’t remember anybody working here but us.” Chris followed up by saying, “I remember being one of the young guys at certification training, but now we’re the old folks.”
The water system was established in 1964, and had a major rebuild in 1984. Their present office was built with surplus funds from that rebuild. The Utility District is governed by an elected Board of Commissioners. Both Chris and Ann are quick to point out the value of their Board. Chris stated, “Our Board has a good mix of experience and new ideas. The Board has diverse perspectives, but shares a common goal of providing quality water at the lowest possible price. Ann and I feel fortunate to be working for them.”
There are four employees working for the District. Chris is the System Manager/Operator and Ann is the Office Manager. Additionally, Tony Shaw has worked there for six years and works in field maintenance. Janice Walker has worked for five years in the office as a clerk. “We work together and treat one another like family,” Ann said.
“Actually, we consider everybody on the system to be family. We are a small system, so if we drive by and see something unusual, it is not uncommon for us to stop and knock on the door, just to make sure everything is okay,” Chris said.
The system has approximately 850 meters and, with the exception of a new elementary school, they are all residential meters. Their four wells pump ten million gallons per month. The system has a 75,000 gallon elevated storage tank and a 150,000 gallon standpipe. So their storage is more than adequate for their needs. In addition to the water system, the employees are responsible for maintaining a sewer system for about 300 customers.
Last year, the water system replaced more than 100,000 feet of water lines. “We replaced quite a bit of A/C pipe, as well as upgraded the size of the pipe. The cost of the project was around $1.3 million,” Chris said.
“We take care of our system in house. We make our own taps, locate our lines, and do our own short line extensions. About the only thing we would contract out would be the major rebuilds or tank maintenance,” Chris said. “But, even though we try to take care of everything in house, there are times when it is more than we can handle.”
Every rural water system in the state can tell you stories about Mississippi Rural Water coming to the rescue. Oh sure, the training and certification is critical, but the stories will likely be about the assistance received in a catastrophe or an almost impossible leak to find. And Chris is no exception to the rule.
“In systems of our size, you learn to appreciate what the Rural Water Association can do for you. The Circuit Riders show up to help you with whatever your need is, and they’ll work right beside you. They’ve not only become a great resource, but also great friends,” Chris said.
It takes a lot of time and the willingness to pay attention to details to keep a system ready for whatever the morrow may bring. “We’re the kind of people who will stay up at night worrying about a problem we haven’t found. It is important to us because the folks on our system are not just customers. They are our people … our family,” Chris continued.
Chris concluded, “Let me just say that it is an honor to have this many people trust us with their lives. We aren’t just taking care of the water; we are taking care of the people on our water system. It is just that serious to us.”
Chris and Ann Ainsworth will be quick to tell you that they’ve never wanted to be anywhere else but right here in the Shady Grove, and that they are lucky to have been given the opportunity to serve the people of this community.
So it just may be that the water has been good to them, but the truth of the matter is that Chris and Ann have been good for the water of Shady Grove.