Water problem could be fixed

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 25, 1999

FERRIDAY, La. – Ferriday’s water problems, including a boil water notice in effect since Aug. 20 and a more than two-day shutdown of its water plant, have made headlines for weeks now.

But Ferriday engineer Bryant Hammett thinks he might have a solution – digging wells near Lake St. John while keeping the town’s troubled water plant as a backup in case of emergencies.

&uot;I want to study it some more,&uot;&160;Hammett said. &uot;But if those studies are positive, I&160;sincerely think that’s an alternative the town needs to consider.&uot;

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Although the town would still have to pay for its current water plant, Hammett believes the town would save enough money to make up the difference, because the water would cost less to treat.

But to make the idea reality, the Ferriday Town Council must get approval to use federal money to drill the new wells, and a study would have to be done to make sure the Lake St. John aquifer could handle the added strain.

Concordia already drilling wells

Concordia Waterworks District No. 1 is spending $4.33 million to build a new treatment plant and dig four wells at Lake St. John, a project that should be completed by late spring or early summer.

That district serves more than 2,000 households in Concordia Parish outside Vidalia, Ferriday and Ridgecrest.

Meanwhile, Ferriday got $1,137,000 in July, including a $775,000 grant and $362,000 loan, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As it now stands, the money is to be used to reduce magnesium in the water.

But Hammett is proposing that the town take a portion of the USDA money and use it to drill three wells at Lake St. John, near the site where Concordia Waterworks is digging its new four wells.

Hammett hopes to ask the Ferriday Town Council at its November meeting to request permission from the USDA to use part of the $1.1 million it received in July for the water well project.

Hurdles left to clear

First, however, Hammett wants to see how Concordia Waterworks’ wells perform after drilling is finished in the next two to three weeks.

That will tell him whether the aquifer would be able to supply Ferriday with water in addition to Concordia Waterworks and Lake St. John customers.

If the aquifer can’t handle Ferriday’s customers – more than 4,000 residents and dozens of businesses – there is no point in asking the town to make a request.

&uot;We don’t want to pump that aquifer too hard, or it could fail and then nobody would have any water,&uot;&160;Hammett said.

If the town makes its request, and if that request is approved by the USDA, Hammett said he could have a full-scale feasibility study done on the project in one month.

Then it would simply be a matter of digging three wells and connecting Ferriday to Concordia Waterworks’ lines, which would transport the water to the town.

A financial downside

There is one financial downside – the town’s current plant was built in the 1980s with an Farmers’ Home Administration loan the town would still have to pay off even if it found an alternative source of water.

&uot;Those bonds were sold to the private sector, so the federal government cannot forgive that debt,&uot;&160;Hammett said.

Still, Hammett believes the money the town would save by not having to treat its water so much would make up for still having to pay on the FHA loan.

&uot;Let’s put it this way – Lake St. John (Waterworks District) is using the same water, and all they have to do is chlorinate it,&uot;&160;Hammett said.

&uot;If we can take part of the money we’re fixing to invest in this plant anyway and get water that’s less expensive to treat, it wouldn’t cost the town any more money and they could use the existing plant in emergencies.&uot;

Yet Hammett said he cannot cite any figures to that effect until he does a study of the feasibility of digging the new wells.

Officials’ reaction

Hammett said he has discussed the idea with Mayor Odeal Montgomery and some Town Council members, who so far have had a &uot;neutral reaction&uot;&160;to the concept.

He said Ferriday’s current water problems should make officials receptive to the idea. Still, he emphasized that &uot;it’s the town’s decision, not mine.&uot;

&uot;I&160;haven’t been contacted about it, but I’m familiar with the idea,&uot; said Ferriday Councilman William Rucker. &uot;It sounds like a great idea to me.&uot;

Montgomery could not reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Hammett has also mentioned the idea to members of Concordia Waterworks’ board, said board President Edgar Jones.

&uot;We would certainly consider it, … but we would have to be sure our aquifer would support it,&uot;&160;Jones said.