The Louisiana Department of Health (DHH) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have joined together to review citizen concerns about the St. Joseph Water System in Tensas Parish.
Water Quality and Safety
The water system is monitored for chemical contaminants every three years. The last sampling event was in 2013 and the results showed that the groundwater is safe with no primary maximum contaminant level (MCL) violations. The water system is due to be monitored for chemical contaminants again this year. In addition to the chemical monitoring at the source, samples are taken for lead and copper at taps in customers' homes. In 2013, there were no sample results above either action level for lead or copper deeming the water unsafe. The water system will conduct lead and copper monitoring again this year.
St. Joseph Water System is required to take two routine bacteriological (total coliform) samples a month to be tested by the LDH state laboratory. Coliforms are bacteria that are naturally present in the environment and are used as an indicator that other bacteria may be present. In September, the system had one total coliform positive routine sample but was negative for fecal coliforms (or E.coli). Samples that are positive for total coliform are tested further to determine the presence of fecal coliforms (or E.coli) which can cause negative health effects such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches or other symptoms. The follow up monitoring in the distribution system in September was negative for total coliform. Routine bacteriological samples in November and December 2015 were negative for total coliform.
In addition to sampling, staff from the Safe Drinking Water Program performs an on-site inspection every three years. These surveys evaluate the system's ability to produce and distribute safe drinking water. No health risks were found in the last year associated with St. Joseph Water System's water, only recent clarity issues related to its iron content.
Water System Infrastructure
The three main components of a properly functioning drinking water system are: water source such as lake, pond, stream or underground aquifer, a distribution system (pumps and pipes) and treatment. St. Joseph's is an aging system in which the most prudent, but costly, step would be to replace the distribution system. It is estimated the cost for this would be in excess of $8 million.
In the past, the system has sought funding from the Louisiana State Legislature. Although some money was included in previous Capital Outlay bills, the city has not been able to access the funds because the city has not been able to pass their governmental audits. Passing an audit is a fundamental requirement to be eligible to receive additional state funds for infrastructure and other capital improvement projects.
The results of the December LDH inspection noted several maintenance deficiencies in the St. Joseph Water System, specifically the following: a deficient filtration system, a lack of enough valves to properly isolate water leaks, lack of a formal cross connection control program, a screen on the overflow of the water storage tank in disrepair, a damaged sample tap on a well, rusty paint on the water storage tank, and a non-functioning water lubrication tube.
Between May 2012 and January 2016, the water system has issued 20 voluntary boil water advisories as precautionary measure. Twelve of the advisories were issued following a main water break which typically results from utility crews working on other utilities near the water mains. Seven of the advisories were issued following equipment (e.g. pumps) failures. One boil water advisory was planned and issued following a system repair (planned maintenance).
The system is relatively small, resulting in the entire system having to be shut down whenever a maintenance issue occurs. Regulations require that before the system goes operational, the repaired lines also must be disinfected and flushed. This system shutdown requires a boil water advisory to be issued until the system receives negative bacteriological results.
For comparison, 20 boil advisories over a four year time period is not uncommon. LDH has records of 37 other water systems that have 20 or more boil advisories in the same four year period. Furthermore, 10 other systems have issued 40 or more advisories during this time period.
State/Local Coordinated Response
LDH and Region 6 EPA in Dallas are working closely to address citizens' concerns and the complaints about the water system. The agencies and St. Joseph's leadership met last week and will convene another meeting later this week to discuss solutions to make improvements to the water system and what types of funding is available to address the issues.
LDH administers the Safe Drinking Water Program in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure safe, quality drinking water. LDH supervises approximately 1,360 drinking water systems statewide by monitoring monthly drinking water samples for bacteriological contaminants and chlorine residuals, monitoring every three years for chemical contaminants, and conducting sanitary surveys every three years.
The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state residents. To learn more about LDH, visit www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow DHH's Twitter account and Facebook.