Helena-West Helena gets OK for $100,000 loan to fix leaks

Up to $100,000 approved for city

A trickle of water comes out of the kitchen faucet of Mary Gaines, a resident of Golden Keys Senior Living apartments in Jackson, Miss., in this Sept. 1, 2022 file photo. (AP/Steve Helber)

The state of Arkansas has approved an emergency loan of up to $100,000 to help Helena-West Helena fix leaks and other problems with one of its primary water systems.

The century-old West Helena Water Utilities system serves about 3,000 customers. They were without water for about 20 hours on June 25-26, said James Valley, chief of staff to Mayor Christopher Franklin. Since then, they have had water, but the pressure is low, and customers have been asked to conserve.

"My administration is working quickly to help Helena-West Helena get its water system back on its feet," Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders wrote Saturday on Twitter.

"Our community is grateful to Gov. Sanders and those in her administration for making this loan available so quickly," said Mayor Franklin.

The Arkansas Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Division received the loan request on Thursday and -- after consultation with the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission chairman -- approved it on Friday, according to a letter Chris Colclasure, director of the division, sent to Mayor Franklin.

The approval is subject to four conditions: the city must provide quotes and/or invoices for the repairs, complete a funding application by Friday, send a representative to a commission meeting on July 12 to report on the planned use of the funds, and work with the Arkansas Rural Water Association to determine and to implement the necessary repairs.

"The emergency funds are to be used only for emergency repairs at the West Helena Water Treatment Plant and to the distribution system for which the request of emergency funding was made," wrote Colclasure.

Valley said there are at least 100 leaks in the water system. Because of the leaks, there is not sufficient water pressure for other parts of the system to operate properly.

He said West Helena Water Utilities customers were without water service from about 5 p.m. on June 25 to 1 p.m. the following day.

Helena and West Helena consolidated in 2006 but still have two separate water systems.

At a City Council meeting Tuesday night, W. H. Calvin Murdock, general manager of the Helena-West Helena Water Department -- which handles all water and sewer service in Helena, West Helena and Long Lake -- said he had prepared a list for the governor's office of what is needed to repair the West Helena water system.

He estimated a total cost of $645,000. But $200,000 is needed immediately just to repair the leaks, he said.

Valley said the city has $100,000 in a certificate of deposit that can be cashed and used for the repairs.

He said there have been several problems lately, including broken water lines, malfunctioning control valves and clogged filters.

But there have been some improvements, including repair to a valve that controlled the flow of water to a backwash tower.

On Sunday, Mayor Franklin said in a text message that the city will be repairing water leaks and cleaning filters. He said the West Helena plant was running on manual mode, which means at least two people are at the plant 24/7. The backwash tank is full and the service tank is more than one-third full, according to the mayor.

"Customers should be cautiously able to bathe, cook, clean and other regular activities," wrote Franklin. "However, the boil water notice remains in place on a precautionary basis for a few more days. There are no known contaminants in our water system therefore the boil order is out of an abundance of caution."

Franklin said the city isn't out of the woods completely.