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Like many of her neighbors, Mary Williams started paying a water bill this year after Central Arkansas Water connected a waterline to her rural home in southeast Pulaski County.

It's cheaper than what she was paying to keep her well water safe to drink.

"Most people take it for granted that when they turn the faucet on they have good water," Williams said. "When you're on a well, you don't have that luxury."

Williams, 42, paid $115 to $120 a month to rent a water treatment system and buy bleach, chlorine and other items to treat her well water, which she discovered 15 years ago had parasites. Now, she pays about $70 each month for water, waterline loan repayment and sanitation.

Williams is among 68 families totaling 134 people whose homes were connected to Central Arkansas Water in the past year, according to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. That figure includes 94 people in 51 low- to moderate-income families, the commission shows.

Residents who aren't in low- to moderate-income families will pay about $28 per month toward the $250,000 waterline loan for 25 years.

Some people in the Frazier Pike and Harper Road area, just south of the Little Rock Port Authority and just west of the Arkansas River, had to bear the expense of treating their wells for various problems. Some regularly drove to creeks and springs to fill jugs with water.

In 2013, the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission approved a $250,000 loan to the Frazier Pike Facilities Board from the state's Water, Sewer and Solid Waste fund. It also approved a $775,000 grant for low- to moderate-income residents from federal Community Development Block grant funds.

In 2014, with the help of the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District and Pulaski County Community Services, the board selected Marlar Engineering as the contractor for laying the waterlines. By the end of 2015, residents were starting to get hooked up to the waterlines. The work was complete in February, and the project was officially finished this summer.

As of 2014, about 200,000 people in mostly rural areas of Arkansas, but including 6,000 in Pulaski County, did not have access to a water utility.

In some areas, water from private wells can have high iron content -- which can cause a metallic taste and discolor clothing in the wash -- or bacterial contamination like E. coli. The competition for state and federal grants and loans is stiff, and waterline projects can linger for years before being approved. The Frazier Pike Public Facilities Board tried for years to get funding for its project before it was finally approved.

Most residents in the area signed up for the new waterlines, but a few declined, saying their wells were fine and that they didn't want to pay the waterline loan repayment.

Residents who did connect to the new waterlines say they are happy with the water system.

"It's 100 percent better than what I did have," said Annie Owens, who has lived in a rental house on Frazier Pike since 1993.

Her well water has been muddy for years, she said.

"We couldn't drink it, you couldn't wash clothes in it, you couldn't take a bath in it or nothing like that," she said.

Before connecting to Central Arkansas Water earlier this year, Owens would drive to a gas station on Fourche Dam Pike and haul 13 water jugs down to Fourche Creek to fill them with water.

She said she's grateful to Rickey Thomas, president of the facilities board, which worked to secure financing for the waterlines project.

"I think it's great," said Thomas, who also connected his home to Central Arkansas Water. "I pushed the project due to the fact that the water quality in our area wasn't worth a d*** and was getting worse."

Like Williams, Thomas said, he was paying more to maintain his well than he is paying now for utility water and for the waterline loan repayment.

"It was a good thing for those folks," said Tanya Childers, grant administrator at the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District, who worked on the project.

Childers said she grew up in rural Lonoke County and can relate to some of the water experiences of people living in the Frazier Pike and Harper Road area.

"I remember when I was kid, we were on well water," she said. "It was always an issue."

Williams recalled that when the electricity went off, her family couldn't get water because the well required a pump that ran on electricity. Iron in the water turned the family's white clothes orange. The family also had to keep a close eye on the water quality, and chlorine and bleach levels, and had to enlist the help of others when the family went on vacation.

"Going from that experience to having the faucet on has been a tremendous blessing to our family," she said.

Metro on 08/22/2016

Print Headline: For some in county, water bill a blessing

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