Higher water bills to help LA better monitor water treatment practices

Higher water bills to help LA better monitor water treatment practices

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Safe drinking does just happen. It is an intentional process.

And officials with some local water systems said Tuesday even though they are providing the safest drinking water possible they welcome the state stepping up its efforts to test and monitor local water treatment protocols.

"This is the center ring, this the raw Mississippi River Water when it mixes with our coagulant," said Jacob Groby, the Technical Superintendent for the St. Bernard Parish Water & Sewer Division as he pinpointed areas of the parish's new water treatment facility.

As part of his job he oversees quality and environmental controls. He said they work every day to ensure the safest drinking water possible.
"The clearer water or lighter water then is transported over to filtration," Groby stated in discussing another section of the plant.

In recent years, St. Bernard had a problem with a brain-eating amoeba turning up in its system.

"Totally cleared up, we're doing beautiful, full compliance in every way that you could imagine," Groby stressed. He said the issue was due to a lack of activity in the system when the population dropped Post-Katrina.

"It was circulation and a use issue," he said.

The state health department said water pressure and proper disinfection is key to healthy water.

Across the state water bills are going up to help the State Health Department do more testing and keep better tables on local water systems.

"Once we saw in 2012 once budget cuts eliminated some of those of those positions there was an increase in violations by water systems.  We hope to decrease the number of violations that are occurring with this effort," said State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry.

He said the new change increased the fee to a total of a dollar a month.

The fact that some communities had problems with amoeba is certainly a factor.

"The amoeba brought attention to the fact that towards the end of a water system there might not be enough disinfectant to protect health, so it certainly brought our attention to it and of course Flint Michigan even brought more attention to it," Dr. Guidry said.

The money from the higher fee will allow the state health department to hire as many as 40 sanitarians, but many local communities will continue to do testing on their own.

"We'll now have sanitarians which we used to have prior to 2012, they will actually go out and collect samples, as well, so you have water systems continue to collect samples," said Guidry.

"The state needs to know that the systems are doing it, they cannot always have blind trust," Groby said.

"It is the issue of the 21st century in this country, in the world and everybody ought to be focused on it as we are today," said Cedric Grant, Executive Director of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board which serves hundreds of thousands of residents.

He said his agency already leaves nothing to chance in terms of water quality.

"We have a very large water quality lab here and we have the ability to test for over 200 chemicals, we test every day for the kinds of things that the state is going to be helping these smaller communities and certainly any chance to double those results that they will come in and do will be appreciated, but certainly we can validate to the people of N.O. that we are way above the standards," said Grant.

Smaller water systems will be impacted most, in terms, of state workers doing testing of their water.

"The larger systems who have a lot more customers are able to afford to do some of this, but we will be able to, even in New Orleans to come and do some of that testing, the state will be able to come behind them and do some testing to verify that their results are accurate."

And while St. Bernard has anew water treatment facility, the state says many communities have aging systems.

"When you look at the number of systems in Louisiana and other states as well that are getting older and you have a leak, therefore you have to have a repair, therefore you lose pressure," said Dr. Guidry.

"I hope that the S&WB itself can be helpful to those communities as a part of our education process or part of the expertise that we have here in this organization. I can tell you right now that some of our retirees are being recruited by those systems," stated Grant.

A statement from Jefferson Parish said:

"The increase in the fee from $3.20 per account to $12 per account was enacted through Act 605 of the 2016 regular session. The fee provides revenues to the LADHH Safe Drinking Water Program whereby services such as bacteriological sampling and disinfection by-product sampling for small utilities will be re-instated.  A few years ago, the State discontinued this sampling.

"Jefferson Parish currently staffs the Water Quality Laboratory with 18 scientists who perform these sampling duties plus many additional analysis for the Environmental, Sewerage and Drainage Departments.

"We will only benefit from additional revenues from the collection of the fee. In the past, the State paid 10% of the amount recovered so with the $3.20 fee, the Water Department received about $45,000 of the $450,000 collected annually. Starting this year a 5% collection fee will be given to the Water Department. Projected collections of approximately $1,700,000 will provide approximately $85,000 to the Water Department in 2017."

Dr. Guidry added that the increased monitoring of local water systems will not address the problem of discolored water that some communities have experienced.

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