The meeting room at Laguardo Utility District (LUD) was jam-packed Tuesday night, Dec. 15 when about 40 of the district's water customers came to the regular board meeting to vent about problems they've been having with their water and to ask the board for answers.
The small meeting room overflowed into the hallway, with customers standing in the rear of the room and in the hall listening and waiting for their turns to speak.
The customers are dissatisfied with the "hard," calcium-saturated water coming from the utility's brand-new $9.2 million water treatment plant.
"We used to have good water," said utility customer Hinton Crockett. "What did it cost, $9.2 million? I'm an engineer. If I'd done what you've done, I'd have been fired - spent the money and given a product inferior to the original."
Mayor appoints board -- Crockett also pointedly asked if the board was elected.
LUD Board Chair Clayton Gray responded that the board is appointed by County Mayor Randall Hutto and assured the room full of people that LUD staff members are working daily to find solutions to the district's "hard" water woes.
Many of the dissatisfied customers complained about not being told in advance that the district's water would suddenly become "hard" after years of average hardness. Because they weren't informed, they wasted money buying new appliances when they thought their old ones were malfunctioning - not that the water had changed.
Addressing that issue, Gray promised better communication about water issues in the future.
But Don Guy, a civil engineer who lives on Horn Springs Road, said "hard" water is only part of the problem at his house. "The pressure is fluctuating and the PVC line leading to my hot water tank broke," he said.
"It was lucky we were home and heard the noise," Guy continued. "I could have fixed it, but I called a plumber to look at it first. He said the pressure reducer was broken, maybe because of build-up. You almost need to be a plumber to deal with all the issues this is creating."
'Go back to buying water?' -- Guy also reported that there have been three breaks of main water lines along his road since July. "We need to make this well water work," he added. "But right now we need to go back to the other water."
Until July, when LUD's new water treatment plant came on line, the district bought most of its water from Lebanon's water treatment plant.
However, LUD Board Attorney Dewey Branstetter said Laguardo can't go back because the plant was built with a combination of loans from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and Urban Renewal. "The district committed to producing water from these wells to sell to its customers to pay the loans back," he said.
Joe Hardin, general manager at LUD, added that the Lebanon district could actually end up buying water from Laguardo in the future.
"In the last four or five years we have had to shut our pumps down part of the time because Lebanon wasn't be able to draw enough water to supply our needs and their own," Hardin said.
'Information gap' -- Pam Harper, who lives in Five Oaks and also sells hot tubs, was one of the customers concerned by lack of information from the LUD office about what to expect.
"We didn't know until we got the letter in November," she said. "How long was a plan in place to make the change? Did you consider talking to residents about it?"
She said the problems are also affecting her hot tub as well as those of her customers in the area. "We get in the hot tub and it's full of grit," she said. "It's not only uncomfortable, but the filters and pumps will wear out faster."
Bob Painter, a Blue Water Drive resident, shared Harper's concerns about the district's lack of communication with its customers, at least on this issue.
"Deep water wells draw hard water," he said. "This had to take years to plan. Why did you decide not to say anything before digging the wells?"
Branstetter explained the reason for the timing of the letter and the lack of earlier concern about "hard" water.
"When we first started drawing water, it registered about 80 parts per liter," he said.
"It went up and down between that and about 120 until November, when we started receiving complaints and tested again. It was up to about 150 to 160. Basically, it's only recently that it's gotten a lot harder."
Searching for solutions -- Hardin added that since then, he has been to Murfreesboro Water & Sewer to consult with their director, Alan Cranford, and checked out the softener system they use. "Their system may not work with our equipment," he said.
But Hardin added that he's still checking and looking for answers. He has also consulted the Lebanon Water Treatment Plant operator to get his advice.
Danville Sweeton, an older man, said he has kidney problems which are being aggravated by the calcium in his water. "I don't see why you don't filter our water," he queried. His wife Beverly added her plea as well - "calcium can cause a real problem," she said.
"It could cause my husband to die. Why didn't you build a plant that would filter this water?"
But according to Travis Owen, the chief operator at the LUD water plant, filtering won't remove calcium because it is dissolved in the water. He said the facility will start using a chemical he learned about from the Lebanon water plant to try to solve the problem.
"If this doesn't do the job, we have other options," he said.
'Open door policy' -- The residents thanked the board for hearing their concerns, saying they knew the board could have shut them out. Gray said, "The door has been open since 1976 and it will continue to be open. We hope in a few months you will all come back to tell us what a good job we've done."
If customers have more questions about their water, Hardin said they can call him at 444-3378 or contact Travis Owen, the chief operator at the LUD water plant, at 547-6588.
Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org