Water woes continue: Sulphur to accept bids for filters for Verdine plant

Rita LeBleu

Sulphur residents who have complained about poor water quality might see some improvement by the end of the year.

At the Monday, April 12, Sulphur City Council meeting, council members Dru Ellender, Melinda Hardy, Joy Abshire and Mike Koonce voted to authorize the advertisement of bids for two phases of the Verdine Water Improvement Program — getting filters and installing filters.            

“The problem may not have begun on our watch, but improvements will start on this watch,” Council President Mike Koonce said.

The city has 7,410 active, non-metered water accounts on the city water system. City of Sulphur spokesperson Erica Martin said “a few pocket areas” have issues with discolored water due to high iron content, mostly in the western and northern portions of the city.

Daniel Bullock’s home is in that area.

He decided to take samples of his water to the April 12 meeting. He didn’t know a plan for explaining why his water looks and smells like it does and plans for improving it would be a big part of that meeting.

“It’s been like this for two years. I drew this one this morning, and this one right before I came to the meeting,” he said, holding up first one-quart jar and then the other.

The liquid in the jars was murky and reddish brown. The first collected sample was darker at the bottom. Bullock pays a monthly flat fee to the city: $23 for non-metered water, a $1.25 capital recovery fee, a $1 fee for Department of Health and Hospitals Testing, $25.85 for non-metered sewer and $18.40 for garbage pick up.

“Using this water has caused my wife to break out in a rash,” Bullock said. “I’ve had to replace my hot water heater more often than I should have, and I just bought a new dishwasher because the high levels of iron in the water corrodes appliances.”

The toilet and sinks in his home are stained, he said.

Sulphur Mayor Mike Danahay got Bulloch’s contact information after the meeting and promised to send out a worker to flush the lines.

The Southwest Daily News contacted Bulloch the following morning, and he said the water was “clearer, though not clear.”

City infrastructure

Why does Bulloch’s water look like it does and what is being done about it?

Meyer & Associates is the city of Sulphur’s consulting firm, and has been for 30 years, making them familiar with the city’s infrastructure, according to Martin.         

Wayne Harris, a senior project manager for Meyer and Associates, shed some light on the water issue. Verdine Water Treatment Plant, built in 1994 and the newer of the city’s two plants, consistently meets the required National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. It does not consistently meet recommendations of the National Secondary Drinking Water Standards for iron and manganese levels.                  

“The Verdine Water Treatment Plant drinking water generally has concentrations higher than 0.3 mg/L iron and 0.05 mg/L for manganese,” Harris said.

When council allowed for public comment after Harris’ presentation, Bullock came forward and challenged

Harris to drink from one of the quarts he had brought in to show City Council members.

“If you think it’s safe to drink, let’s see you drink it” Bulloch said.

Opening the jar released an unpleasant odor that could be smelled at least four rows back from the public comment podium. Harris put the jar up to his lips, and appeared to take a small sip, despite having no assurance that it was tap water from Bullock’s house. Nor did he know Bulloch. Harris said as much, and Bullock took a “good faith” sip from the same jar, as well.

The Southwest Daily News tried to contact Harris to answer further questions. His office emailed “the request for information should be directed to the City of Sulphur.”

“The city’s situation is two-fold,” Martin said. “We are in need of an additional well after losing one, and we are also in need of new filters. We have been working on this with Meyer & Associates since December 2019.”

The new well is still in the design stage. When filter media was replaced, it was determined the vessels were damaged and would need to be replaced. A clarifier will remove most of the iron in the water, but that project will not be completed until July 2022.

The corrosive index is high and damages the pressure filter tanks and increases the demand for backwashing. Low system pressure from the 2020 hurricanes and ice storm caused the discharge of significant excessive iron to the ground storage tank and distribution system due to pressure filter pass through. The report stated that Water Well No. 3 was lost in 2019 due to a well cleaning accident and it was removed from production.

“It had the lowest concentration of raw iron and manganese,” Harris said. “It will be replaced, but not until the 2021/2022 fiscal year.”

Water Well No. 6, also referred to as the East well was lost to well sand intrusion in 2020. It is being repaired.             

From 1993 to 2019, about $2,410,000 was invested in capital improvements of the water system by the previous three administrations. In the last two-and-a-half years that included the challenges of COVID, the hurricanes and the ice storm, the current administration will have invested in or moved forward with improvements to the Verdine Water Treatment Facility System totaling about $9,223,000.

“We have operators at our water plants 24 hours a day,” Danahay said. “When someone calls with concerns, an operator is dispatched as soon as we are able that same day. “We have encouraged our citizens to call 527-4582 during business hours and 527-4500 after hours.””

The morning after the April 12 Sulphur City Council meeting, a city worker flushed the water system at a point near Daniel Bulloch’s home. The jar at far left shows water quality after the initial flushing. The jar to the far right shows particles that have settled at the bottom of the jar after 24 hours.

Special to the American Press

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