4-year Boil Water Order frustrates subdivision in Taney County

Published: Mar. 8, 2017 at 11:59 AM CST
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The views are stunning in this subdivision near the villages of Cedarcreek and Kissee Mills, east of Forsyth. It's surrounded by the waters of Bull Shoals Lake There's one big problem, however: the tap water.

"I don't drink it," said Celia Rock, a customer of Moore Bend Water Utility.

At Rock's home, bottled water and jugs of water are everywhere. If you want to wash dishes, you better add a disinfectant or you could get sick. If you want to brush your teeth, you'd better grab a bottle of water. That's because the state Department of Natural Resources issued a Boil Water Order on Feb. 5, 2013.

"2013. And, we were just informed," said Rock.

Rock and her neighbors get their water from two wells under two small white buildings. The state says it issued the original boil water order due to E. coli or fecal bacteria in the wells.

"I got sick, about got plumb down," said Frank Boze, another customer of Moore Bend Water Utility.

"We're paying for a product that's total crap," said Rock.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the company on Nov. 14, 2013, agreed to a plan "that contained specific requirements, including a timetable for the design and construction of necessary improvements to the system," according to a Missouri Public Service Commission document filed last March. The Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers, said in that document that the company has not honored the agreement.

The residents of Moore Bend never thought the improvements would happen. They've now built up four years of skepticism. Meantime, the water bills went up since the Boil Water Order started.

"After they raised the rate, I couldn't even afford to water my chickens. If it's bad water, it's not even good for the chickens," said Boze.

In testimony in this case, a state hearing examiner had this to say: "Moore Bend has failed to properly test the water supply to its customers, has failed to provide adequate documentation concerning chlorination, has failed to properly notify its customers of the boil water order that's been going on for so long."

The Office of Public Counsel also says the water system has cast iron pipes that cause discoloration of the drinking water. It also says Moore Bend Water Utility "isn't providing physical chlorination monitoring as required by DNR regulations, and there is a potential for lead infiltration into the water supply due to cast iron pipes."

"It pisses me off to no end," said Rock. "It's not right. How come it's taking so long to do it (fix the problem)?"

Moore Bend Water Utility is a subsidiary of Ozark International, a company in Nixa that owns four other water utilities and three other water testing and technology companies. Moore Bend Water Utility has about 90 customers.

A reporter tried to talk to an owner or manager of Ozark International about all these issues. Someone at its office twice hung up on a reporter's call before saying no to an interview.

In Public Service Commission case filings, Moore Bend Water Utility's lawyer, Russ Mitten of Jefferson City, says the company "denies it has failed to provide safe and adequate service to its customers." Mitten also wrote that the bacteria problem that caused the Boil Water Order started before Ozark International became the owner of Moore Bend Water Utility.

"Monthly tests conducted since (Ozark International) acquired the system consistently confirm water provided to customs no longer contains E. coli or fecal bacteria in levels that exceed DNR standards," MItten wrote in a PSC filing last November.

The people here aren't buying it. They're just paying for it.

"Their minimum charge is 38 bucks a month just to have their E. coli water. We have the privilege of paying for it," said Rock.

Moore Bend is beautiful and peaceful. But, if you visit, here's the advice: don't drink the water.

"We've fallen through the cracks here. It's like nobody cares; there's just not enough of us," said Rock.

Over the past several weeks, a reporter asked the Missouri Department of Natural Resources a number of questions about this case. As of Wednesday, it hasn't answered them.

Meantime, the latest filing in January in the complaint against Moore Bend Water Utility indicates there may be a possible end to this saga. The Office of Public Counsel, the staff of the PSC, DNR, and the water company are scheduled to meet for an evidentiary hearing on April 27. An order setting the date for that hearing also says "recent developments may allow the parties to resolve the complaint without requiring a hearing."

We'll let you know what happens at that hearing if nothing is resolved before then.

State law says companies that violate a state law, such as one requiring a water utility to provide clean water, could be subject to penalties of between $100 and $2,000 per day, per offense, with the penalties being cumulative.