A Long Time Coming: PWA customers vote to switch their services to the city

Published 11:44 am Wednesday, February 23, 2022

After years of living with discolored and inadequate water, Punkin Water Association customers are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. 

During PWA’s monthly meeting, the water service members voted 431 to 3 in favor of PWA dissolving and being acquired by the city of Oxford.

The PWA Board of Directors moved their monthly meeting to Tuesday evening and invited their customers to vote, in-person or by proxy, on the decision, placing the decision in their hands.

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PWA currently serves over 1,200 customers through their system. Over the years, the water system has received numerous complaints against it for the water that is filled with iron and manganese from the mineral rich land.

Many members were sure where the vote would swing before the event and spirits were high in the presence of the board, a rare attitude amongst this crowd. Members knew things were going to change, a change that was sorely needed.

“There’s no where else for us to go. We have to get on Oxford water,” said PWA member Elisabeth Alexander. “I don’t see another solution to this problem.”

Alexander became an official customer of PWA in 2019 after moving homes. She had received Punkin water in the Deer Run area prior but the residents receive water differently which prevents them from experiencing problems other customers face. 

Alexander said she never could have imagined the water conditions being as bad as they are. Moving opened her eyes to

“At first I thought it was nice because they build these houses and they give us these whole-home water filtration systems and I was like, ‘That’s nice,’” she said. “But I came to realize, they are giving that to us because they know there’s a problem. So we get these filters you’re supposed to change every six months, we have to change them every two to three months.”

The inadequate water quality has given PWA customers everything from discolored laundry to broken appliances. Many have shelled out the money from their own pocket for new water filters and see up to thousands of dollars in water bills because of errors in the PWA system.

Like many members, Alexander recognizes the quality of the water is not the PWA board’s fault and they have worked hard to fix many of the issues with the system.

“I do not think that the board members— who are unpaid and they have volunteered to do this— I do not think that they have not tried everything that they can,” said Alexander. “They can only do so much and so much money us members can pay so they can do what needs to be done.”

The process leading up to this decision took a lot of analysis on the board’s part, according to Board President Glynn Ingram. After Ingram was elected as president and Craig Robinson as vice president in November, the first thing the board did was evaluate strategic alternatives.

“We know that we needed to improve the filtration of water — that was the number one goal— and we need to add additional supply because we’re out of water,” said Ingram. “There was no water available for new development.”

The board had three alternatives before them: to drill a new well and drive up the prices for customers, hand over services to a for-profit company and triple the prices for customers or hand over their services to the city and the customers’ prices drop.

“The Oxford option served three issues for us,” the president said. “The first issue is it cleaned up our water because we’re getting water from a really beautiful aquifer they have. It solves our water supply problem because they have a significant amount of supplied water and, lastly from a cost perspective, it keeps our costs the same or lower. It was a no-brainer for us to go that way.”

The city charges $9.78 for the first thousand gallons of water compared to Punkin who charges $22 for the first thousand. Punkin will be paying for the advertised cost for the pipe infrastructure and Oxford will not be able to charge PWA customers more than $14.10, so customers will save more money.

As a PWA member himself, Ingram said he and a many of the board and community members spent a lot of time, energy and prayers were put into where they are now.

“It really is a high-quality solution for everybody,” he said. “Everybody wins.”

Now that the switch has been officially approved by PWA members, the operation falls back on Oxford. However, the change over will not be immediate.

According to resolutions signed by the Oxford Board of Alderman and the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors, the city has a 60-day due diligence period that is currently in effect and an estimated six months to lay infrastructure.

PWA board has given the city due-diligence materials such as the location of wells, hydraulic system studies and the like. The city approved funds for an engineer to design the connection point from Oxford’s service area to PWA. 

Ingram, the city of Oxford will officially take over servicing PWA customers around December 2022 or early 2023.