The Vermilion Parish Waterworks District No. 1 deliberately lowered pressure to conserve dangerously low supplies, forcing a boil-water advisory for the district’s 7,100 customers.
The shortage is the result of people keeping faucets running to prevent frozen pipes, said Dale Stelly, the system manager. Stelly said previous hard freezes haven't led to shortages because they don't usually last several days.
The district typically produces and ships about 1.5 million gallons of water per day, Stelly said. The average daily shipment on Monday and Tuesday was about 3.75 million gallons.
“There is more water being drained than we can produce,” Stelly said. “We are barely keeping up with very low pressure.”
The district’s 32-foot tanks are typically filled with 29 feet of water, and as of noon Wednesday they were down to 10 feet, Stelly said. If the seven tanks drop to 5 feet, the district will be forced to shut down the system, he said.
“At 5 feet we have no other choice,” Stelly said. “It dismantles the pumps, the pumps will quit.”
The Southeast Waterworks District No. 2 in Vermilion Parish also issued a boil-water advisory.
The cold weather has caused problems with the supply of clean drinking water throughout the state, said Amanda Loughlin, chief engineer for the state Health Department.
She said there have been 20 to 30 boil advisories issued in the past 48 hours, which is about three times the normal number. Those advisories have been distributed among small and large communities and in areas ranging from Lafayette to St. Tammany, she said.
Most of the weather-related boil advisories are due to low pressure, caused either by broken pipes or people running the water in their home to prevent ruptures, she said. When water pressure drops, it increases the chance bacteria can enter the pipes.
"You issue an advisory in case there may be bacteria in the water that is harmful," Loughlin said.
Before an advisory can be lifted, the system must bring water pressure back to normal, add in the chlorine-based disinfectant and submit tests to the Health Department, she said.
Aside from freezing weather, floods and other natural disasters can lead to a similar uptick in boil advisories, she said, with the cause often being pumps that lose power and lack sufficient generators.