CLINTON — Business owners wake up early to boil enough water to get them through the day before they flip the front door signs to "OPEN." Residents keep their phones close by to ensure they’ll see the boil advisory issue before they next need to turn on the tap. School bathroom faucets are taped up so little hands know to use sanitizer instead of soap on the worst water days.

To say the word "water" in the Town of Clinton is to draw exasperated sighs and shaking heads in return.

Clinton’s troubled water system hasn’t passed state standards due to improper management, leaks, safety hazards, and an inadequate capacity — but while politics has been at the fore, residents are the ones bearing the brunt of the crisis.

Southern Roots Salon owner Cindy McDonald remembers one day she stood at her water dispenser with a jug propped up to the spout, waiting for it to fill so she could rinse out a client’s hair. The woman in her chair had been only a few minutes from the point when the dye was due to be washed out when the town issued an emergency notice to residents not to use the water.

Road construction on the main street forced her business’ closure for several days last year when McDonald says crews turned the antiquated water pipes back on and the pressure caused a rupture.

“The lines will go down and sometimes they let us know and sometimes they don’t,” she said. “One day I was here over the weekend and I turned the water on and it was almost black. It wasn’t brown, it wasn’t just dirty looking, it was black.”

Waitress Jessi Morris said a family member from across town sent her a text saying recently they had been notified not to drink the water or use the ice that day. But Morris, who had signed up for text alerts, said she didn't get the notice herself. She said it’s common for notifications to go out to some residents but not others, or for the town to fail to alert residents when it’s safe to drink the water after a notice has been issued.

An employee with a school in the area, who didn’t want to be named for fear of repercussion, said staff have been forced to make backup plans and divert maintenance workers from their regular duties to pick up truckloads of bottled water from out-of-town.

The school serves athletes lukewarm water at games, fearing that ice in the cooler may be contaminated. They keep a local portable toilet company’s phone number handy in case the water is shut off while there are hundreds of kids in the classrooms.

“It’s a huge, huge responsibility on our part and a huge liability on us that isn’t something we’ve caused for ourselves,” the school employee said.

Town of Clinton representatives did not respond to a request for numbers on how many times residents or business owners had called with questions, concerns or complaints about water issues over the last several months.

“Right now we don’t know what to do,” Red Boot Deli owner Jennifer Templet said. “Clean water is a fundamental human need, it’s a necessity. Water is my main ingredient and if I don’t have water running through my pipes I can’t open my doors, I mean it’s important.”

Templet’s restaurant, one of the few in town, is only open 3½ hours each weekday for lunch.

As boil notices and water service interruptions became more common throughout 2018, she began starting her day earlier and earlier to combat the uncertainty.

She pre-boils at least 12 gallons of water each morning so she'll have enough clean water later to make fresh soup and iced tea and to fill buckets to mop the floors at the end of the day. She drives outside of the town limits for ice, so she can be sure she’s not serving a possibly contaminated product.

“I burnt up an eye on my stove boiling all the water so I have an extra burner just in case, and an extra electric stovetop. It takes a toll on my appliances, too, and if I don’t have water I can’t open my doors so that’s a financial hit,” Templet said. “It would be the same for any other business that serves food.”

Templet said she contacted the Louisiana Department of Health in December to verify for herself that the water she was serving was safe.

She was told during that call about the slew of deficiencies the state had identified in a recent survey. LDH had sent a letter to Clinton Mayor Lori Ann Bell in September saying a recent inspection ended with unsatisfactory results and the state provided a list of more than 20 deficiencies that had to be corrected within 90 days.

That deadline came and went in December, passing the same day Templet spoke with an LDH official.

“(The town) just isn’t informative at all, I call them and they’ve always been very nice ladies that I talk to, but I never get answers,” Templet said.

Bell was arrested on a count of malfeasance in office Wednesday on the accusation she mishandled the town’s water crisis. It marks the third time since October she's been arrested on malfeasance counts, though the prior two instances were unrelated to the water system.

The water system's neglect is amplified by the fact the town is currently working without a 2019 budget because officials failed to approve one before the start of the year. When that happens, a town is mandated to only spend 50 percent of the previous year's expenditures until a budget is approved.

Bell initially proposed a spending plan ahead of a town meeting Dec. 11, but residents said when they tried to view the document in the weeks prior it wasn't available, and the town's aldermen said they didn't receive the budget until the night of the meeting. Alderman Mark Kemp said the board decided to take no action because it was an incomplete document.

Officials did not call a special meeting to address the lack of a 2019 budget before the new year, and the most recent regularly scheduled town meeting was Jan. 8. The town clerk said officials could not address the budget at that meeting because The Advocate failed to publish the proposed spending plan in a timely manner.

However, the town clerk submitted the material to The Advocate more than five hours past the public notice deadline to ensure publication on the date she wanted to run the notice, Dec. 27.

Clinton most recently went under a boil advisory Friday due to a water leak at the East Feliciana Parish Jail, according to an email from the clerk's office.

The East Feliciana Parish Police Jury voted this week to spend $11,000 to tap into the parish's rural water system to ensure a secondary line at the jail in case Clinton's troubled water system fails.

Additionally, Clinton's water operator quit Jan. 3, only weeks before the Jan. 17 deadline by which the town needs to have improved its dozens of water system deficiencies or face fines from LDH.

If that deadline passes without improvement, the agency will issue an administrative order that demands an action plan and a deadline to complete remediation work.

Many residents aren’t hopeful that work will be completed in less than a week, but are hoping for a solution that dissolves the worry that’s become daily in Clinton.

“It’s sad. Third world countries have to deal with those types of issues and it’s crazy that we’re in the United States and we’re having these issues because of neglect,” Templet said.

Follow Emma Kennedy on Twitter, @byemmakennedy.