Delivering Safe Drinking Water Requires Focus, Commitment and Planning

Ongoing infrastructure investments enhance Starkville’s water quality and reliability

Every time Starkville residents turn on a tap, they can be confident that the water is safe to drink. That’s because quality control is a commitment that runs deep for the employees of Starkville Utilities and the city’s leadership team.

“Water is one of the most critical assets of any community,” said Edward Kemp, general manager of Starkville Utilities. “Providing safe drinking water starts with highly qualified employees who understand the responsibilities involved in fulfilling that commitment for customers. We also have a very supportive mayor and board of alderman who have made water infrastructure improvements a priority.”

Last year, Starkville Utilities processed and delivered more than 964 million gallons of safe drinking water to homes and businesses. Before water makes it to a customer’s tap, it has completed a complex process of filtration and treatment to ensure it meets local, state and federal quality standards.

Starkville Utilities operates seven wells fed by the Gordo Aquifer, an underground body of groundwater that spans northeast Mississippi, along with four treatment plants and six elevated water storage tanks. After water is pumped from the ground, it is treated and then pumped into storage tanks, where it is distributed to customers by the force of gravity.

Every week, employees collect water samples to measure levels of chlorine, fluoride, iron and potassium manganate, a compound that prevents iron buildup in pipes. When necessary, they add chemicals to maintain correct levels. Twice a week, they backwash filters and flush water lines in treatment plants to cleanse equipment and prevent iron buildup. Two times a year, they proactively flush all points in Starkville’s water system to remove iron buildup and eliminate discoloration, or “brown” water, from service pipes.

Every month, employees collect water samples from 32 points around the city and send them to the Mississippi Department of Health to test for bacteria and other contaminants. They also test the water routinely for lead and copper.

Every year, MDH conducts an inspection of Starkville Utilities’ water facilities and records to ensure compliance with state requirements.

“We have high-quality water coming from the ground that goes through a rigorous filtration process and chemical treatment,” said Sean Johnston, chief water operator. “On an annual basis, we publish our test results in a Consumer Confidence Report that is available to the public on our website. Our most recent score was 4.6 out of 5, which indicates a high level of compliance.”

Employees in Starkville Utilities’ water treatment department must have three years of experience and pass a state certification test to earn an operator’s license. Every three years, they must pass a recertification test and complete 48 credits to maintain their licenses.

Employees in the water distribution department are responsible for maintaining the water-delivery system, which includes repairing leaks, installing taps and meters for new services, and keeping the system operating reliably for customers.

Starkville Utilities also focuses on accurate billing and collections to ensure that revenues are available to fund water operations and capital improvements. An engineering team continuously analyzes Starkville’s water system and the city’s five-year improvement plan to make sure problem areas are addressed.

In terms of long-range planning and investment, Kemp said that Starkville’s mayor and board of aldermen have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to water quality by funding infrastructure projects.

“There are lots of moving parts involved in delivering safe, clean drinking water to customers,” Kemp said. “It’s a never-ending process of reinvestments and upgrades to modernize Starkville’s water system and build more capacity to accommodate growth. Through our FutureFOCUS initiative, we’re making sure the community always has access to safe drinking water to serve its current and future needs.”

Starkville Utilities is a municipally owned and operated electric and water utility, serving more than 14,000 residences, businesses and industries in Starkville as well as the state’s largest institution of higher learning, Mississippi State University.

We are a Water and Electric Utilities Company in Starkville