By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Water samples independently pulled by the state from the North Lee County Water Association are safe, said Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley on Thursday.
Presley said the Mississippi Department of Health collected six samples from the embattled water district Monday and tested them for bacteria. All samples came back clean.
“It’s good news,” he said.
The testing was done in the wake of allegations by North Lee employees that, among other wrongdoings, their former supervisor falsified water samples required monthly by the state for analysis.
That supervisor, Dan Durham, quit Thursday after being forced out by the association’s board of directors. Another employee, Daniel Vaughan, was named interim director.
Also stepping down Thursday was newly appointed board director Perry Whitaker, citing an inability to commit the time necessary to the position.
He had been selected by popular vote during a tumultuous meeting Tuesday after other longtime directors abruptly resigned.
The board has five members, but that number will grow to nine after an election for each position is held within the next 30 days.
The state’s independent test results mean that, despite North Lee water’s sometimes murky, foul-smelling or grainy appearance, it’s free of harmful bacteria and OK for consumption.
But the testing isn’t over. Samples from 35 different sites across the association’s seven water systems will be gathered under the watch of the Public Service Commission and Mississippi Rural Water Association.
The process began Thursday and was suspended because of a boil water alert issued in its Friendship area.
Collections will resume today.
As investigators watched, North Lee’s part-time certified operator, Ron Ragland, tromped from one customer’s house to the next on Thursday, cleaning outside faucets with rubbing alcohol and popping on a specialized spigot before running water into sterilized plastic jars.
One set of samples from each site will be sent to the health department for bacteria tests; another set were analyzed on the spot to gauge chlorine levels.
Chlorine levels at several sites read below the acceptable amount and the system’s levels had to be adjusted.
“Low chlorine does happen,” said MSRWA State Circuit Rider Randy Turnage. “It could lead to something growing in the water.”
Ragland was hired by the association in 2007 to oversee water collection, well inspection and other technical matters.
He serves as a part-time consultant, though, and most of the day-to-day work had been performed by Durham.
“Our No. 1 concern is that these water samples are taken correctly and by state Health Department rules,” Presley said. “We want to make sure the water is clean and safe. That’s the top priority now.”