Service has been restored to east Arkansas town that went without water for more than 2 weeks

Feb 5, 2024, 3:21 PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Water is again flowing in an Arkansas town that was without service for more than two weeks after below freezing temperatures hit the state, but officials say much work remains to be done to avoid another shortage to the aging local system.

The Arkansas Department of Health on Friday lifted the boil order for Helena-West Helena, a day after service had been restored to the town, located located about 52 miles (84 kilometers) southwest of Memphis, Tennessee, located along the Mississippi River.

“At this time, we have water restored to all customers,” said Chris Harris, deputy director of the Arkansas Rural Water Association, which had been working on the response to the outage.

The outage had affected 1,400 people and was the second in the past year for the town, which ran out of water last summer. The latest outage forced residents to line up for bottled water, fill up jugs or take showers at a truck brought in by the state.

The outages affected one of two water systems for Helena-West Helena, which was two separate cities until 2006. One of the wells serving the system failed during recent winter weather, under pressure from leaks and dripping pipes.

Workers were able to fix leaks in the system, but the failed well must be replaced and other improvements made to avoid falling back into the same position later.

“We are still in what I consider to be an emergency situation and we will be in an emergency situation in my opinion and the opinion of others…until the new well is built and in service,” said John Edwards, former state lawmaker and executive director of an industrial park who the mayor tapped to assist in responding to the crisis.

Helena-West Helena Mayor Christopher Franklin on Monday announced the city had hired a new superintendent to run the city’s water system.

Edwards said local officials are working on finding funding to address the millions of dollars in repairs needed to build a new well, rehabilitate the existing ones and make other refurbishments to the system in the coming months.

The city has set aside $1 million from the sale of a hospital building for the water system improvements, and the state has issued two $100,000 emergency loans to the city since last year’s crisis.

Edwards said he and the mayor will ask the city’s council to approve seeking up to $1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development program for the new well and another $150,000 to assist replacing broken water lines.

Edwards said city leaders also plan to have a roundtable later this month to learn more about other potential sources for funding for repairs.

“We’ve got to start looking ahead for options that will provide a really long term solution to the problems that we face,” he said.

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Service has been restored to east Arkansas town that went without water for more than 2 weeks