DOWNTOWN HELENA-WEST HELENA Brian Chilson

After a dry two weeks, residents in Helena-West Helena once again have water coming out of their faucets.

The small town in Phillips County first lost water on Jan. 18 after severe winter weather pushed an already fragile water system past the breaking point. Helena-West Helena, which was formed by the consolidation of two cities in 2006, still has two water systems. Underground leaks and other problems left about 40% of the customer base on the West Helena side without water. The Arkansas National Guard dispatched a 2,000-gallon water truck to the Phillips County Justice Complex and regularly refilled it in a nearby town to supply residents with water.

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The Arkansas Division of Emergency Management also facilitated a mobile shower truck for residents to use. Later, a faith-based organization out of Ohio came to Arkansas to help provide laundry services. Various local organizations collected donations and supplied cases of bottled water, body wipes and other goods.

The National Guard stayed on site until the Arkansas Department of Health lifted a boil order in Helena-West Helena on Feb. 2. While residents were without water, the state also expedited the approval of a $100,000 loan that city officials can use for invoices related to repairs in the water system.

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Christopher Franklin, mayor of Helena-West Helena, posted a long update on his Facebook account on Feb. 2 in which he said at least 95% of the water customers have access to water and decent pressure. Leaks in the system are still an issue, so residents may still lose access to water for limited periods of time. 

About 200 customers in Helena-West Helena have been transferred to the lines of a nearby water system, the Barton Lexa Water Association, while repairs are being done on the Helena-West Helena system, Franklin wrote. Those customers will continue to pay the Helena-West Helena water rates, and the city will cover additional costs. The Barton Lexa Water Association is based out of Poplar Grove, about 17 miles west of Helena-West Helena.

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Calvin Murdock, who was head of the Helena-West Helena Water Department, was removed from his position at a city council meeting on Jan. 30. James Valley, the mayor’s chief of staff, served as general manager for one day until a new water superintendent, Saeed Rose, was named on Jan. 31.

The Arkansas Rural Water Association was on deck in the city for several days fixing leaks. And while many leaks were patched, there are still more to go. The city’s aging wells also remain an issue. Going forward, city officials have said they plan to apply for funding opportunities to update the systems and replace wells.

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