Fulton County has been awarded over $1.5 million in grant money from the USDA for a water system expansion, said Jerry Estes, NAEC manager of member services.
In addition to the grant the county will also receive a $525,600 loan from USDA to extend water lines on four projects identified as Phase III of the Fulton County Water Association. The loan is a 40-year loan with an interest rate of 4.5 percent, Estes said.
The project will include a new water supply well approximately four miles south of Salem on Highway 9 at the site of the existing storage tank, Estes said.
The expansion will add over 50 miles of line and will make the rural water system available to approximately 240 more homes.
The project will tie into the city of Viola water system and provide a tie to the city of Oxford. The system is already tied to Salem. These ties permit water to be delivered to the towns in case of a disaster or emergency, Estes said.
The proposed line extension would be on Highway 223 south of Viola to Mitchell. It would tie into the existing line at Mitchell and follow Highway 223 to Bexar then go east on the county road to Union, where it would again tie into the existing line. An extension into the Morriston area is included along with additional lines being added in the Saddle area and on French Town Road.
"These grants don't come along very often. We were very fortunate to be considered," Estes said.
To get the project off the ground the county is required to have 240 residents sign up for the project. Fulton has four months to get the required number, Estes added. If the minimum number of signups is not met then the project will have to be scaled back, Estes said.
The cost is $150, which covers the installation of the meter box. Residents are required to sign a three-year user agreement, Estes explained. Arrangements can be made to make payments on the $150, Estes said. Applicants can register at North Arkansas Electric Co-op.
Representatives from White River Planning and Development District met with officials last year to give an overview of the expansion and projected costs.
According to documentation from WRPDD, the present source of water used in the service area is private wells. The wells used for domestic service have a history of being poor in quality. The water in the upper strata wells, which are used by most of those homes, is hard and highly mineralized, making it unsuitable unless a softener and iron removal unit is maintained. In addition to poor quality, in areas where the homes are very close together, another problem exists from malfunctioning absorption fields. Very few home-owned wells are properly sealed to prevent entrance of surface pollution, the study read.
Over 60 well water samples were taken in the area by officials from the local health department. About 75 percent of those samples had to be labeled unsafe for the project, Estes said. High levels of bacteria were found in many of the water samples, Estes said.
Another problem is that wells go dry in the Bexar and Mitchell area, Estes said.
Fulton County Water Association is a rural water system with over 80 miles of existing lines, delivering water to over 500 homes in Fulton County. The association is made up of six board members from different areas of the county and operates under a management contract with North Arkansas Electric Cooperative.
According to WRPDD's report, in Phase II of this expansion residents pay $19.50 for the first 1,000 gallons, the next 5,000 gallons is $2.50 per 1,000 gallons, and over 10,000 gallons is $2 per 1,000 gallons. The use of 4,000 gallons under Phase II's plan would result in a monthly water bill of $32.50 plus tax. The rates under Phase III will be close to those in use now, Estes said.
The first two phases of the water extension were done by Blaylock Threet Engineers of Little Rock. Estes said Blaylock will also construct Phase III because the company is familiar with the land and residents.
Fulton County Judge Curren Everett was instrumental in the county receiving the grant, said Estes. Everett filed the applications and attended numerous meetings in Batesville talking with representatives from WRPDD.
Estes said Sherry Jackson, NAEC member service coordinator, has coordinated the project from the beginning. He said Randy Tyler from USDA Rural Development was also helpful.