North Warren County residents forced to drive to get drinking, cooking water

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 24, 2000

James Richardson holds a jar of water that came out of his 50-foot well on his property in North Warren County. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

When James Richardson brought a sample of water from his tap to the Culkin Water District for testing, Ken McClelland, director of the district, agreed there’s a problem.

Richardson lives about five miles north of the Redwood community, beyond the boundaries of the Culkin’s service, and gets his water from a 50-foot well on his property. Richardson’s is one of about 50 homes between the Yazoo River and the Issaquena County line where the only public utilities available are phones and lights.

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“The water is so bad you can’t even bathe in it,” Richardson said.

Richardson began growing cotton on the 50 acres of land at the end of West Deer Creek Road 25 years ago. Today, he farms soybeans on the property off U.S. 61 North.

He took the water sample to McClelland not only looking for help for himself, but also for the two other families who rent houses on the property.

“We’re in the business of selling water,” McClelland said. “We’d certainly like to serve them.”

McClelland said he would like to see the Culkin Water District extend lines to the area. Culkin is the state’s first water association of its type and is the largest, now serving 4,000 customers including major industries at the Ceres Industrial Interplex. It will also serve the new hospital and medical complex across U.S. 61 from its Culkin Road headquarters.

Culkin, a private association run by a board appointed by Warren County supervisors, holds the state Public Service Commission license as the exclusive provider of water to customers from the city limits of Vicksburg west to the Hinds County line, north to Redwood and south to Mississippi Highway 27 and the Big Black River. It just stops short of Richardson and his neighbors.

“The community needs it,” Richardson said.

Angela Watson and her husband along with their two children rent a house owned by Richardson near the front of his property. The family moved in August from a house on Glass Road and now has a view of horses grazing in a near by pen.

“We like the house and we like the location,” Watson said. “We just don’t like the water.”

Watson said her family is practically using Culkin water now. At least twice a week the family drives to the home of Watson’s mother off Mississippi 3 to fill bottles for cooking, drinking and bathing. Her mother’s home is in the Culkin Water District.

“You can’t wash clothes in the well water because it turns the clothes brown,” Watson said.

Apparel is not the only thing threatened by the color-changing water. A new sink and tub were installed in the home less than a year ago, Richardson said.

Today, both are stained a rusty brown color.

McClelland said that a high iron content is probably causing the discoloration of the water and the appliances.

“There’s like a greasy film on top of it,” Watson said. “About all it’s good for is flushing the toilet.”

Ruthie Battle and her husband have rented the small house next door to Richardson for 13 years. Like Watson, she said, they do not drink the water or use it for cooking.

“It smells like rotten beans,” Battle said.

Battle travels five miles to her mother’s house in Valley Park to get water rather than using the water from the well about 40 yards away.

“I would love to have some good water,” she said.

McClelland, who officially began with the district June 1, said everyone should have access to clean water and that he would like to see the Culkin Water District grow to include Richardson and his neighbors, without being a burden on current customers. He is being joined in that fight by District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield.

“I’ve been begging for this for practically five years,” Mayfield said. “I’m asking that my district be served with water and sewer.”

Culkin Water District purifies more than a million gallons of water from two deepwater wells on Freetown and Birdsong roads. Plans are up and coming for a third water well, but it could be two to three years before the district could be expanded to include Richardson and others north of the Yazoo River.

One problem the district faces for expansion is the cost, which could be as much as $1 million, McClelland said.

“It’s going to take some serious funds to do this,” he said.

Expanding the water district would be a board decision and would involve placing more than five miles of pipe that would have to cross the Yazoo River or building an elevated tank and installing a well north of the river.

The area is in a flood plain, which presents other problems for expansion of the district or developing a sewer system in the district.

One way to possibly fund the expansion is through a state Community Development Block Grant, said Bruce Reynolds with the Mississippi Planning and Development District. Supervisors could seek the monies through the new Mississippi Development Authority for the district, he said.

The MDA is the brainchild of Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to replace the department of economic development. The agency targets poorer areas of the state for economic development.

Musgrove has said that water and sewer facilities are keys to developing industry.

“If you could get water and sewer, you could probably foster more industry up there,” Mayfield said.

Growth along U.S. 61 North took off last year after plans were announced for the construction of the River Region Medical Center about a mile north of Culkin Road. The new Sherman Avenue Elementary opened across from the hospital site last fall.

“We expect the areas north of the new hospital to explode with industry in the next few years,” McClelland said.