Faucets left dripping to prevent frozen pipes during a rare extended spell of freezing temperatures caused water shortages and headaches across south Louisiana on Wednesday.
Water systems have experienced dramatic drops in their water storage and corresponding system pressures. Combined with bursting pipes and frozen pumping mechanisms, small and large water districts have shut off service or issued boil water advisories for their customers.
A critical shortage was reported in Vermilion Parish, where officials deliberately lowered pressures to conserve dangerously low supplies.
Dale Stelly, system manager for Vermilion Parish, said this freeze has caused more problems than previous ones because it has lasted several days — longer than most cold snaps.
The system’s decision forced a boil water advisory for the district’s 7,100 customers.
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.
Statewide, boil water advisories tripled Monday and Tuesday, according to Amanda Laughlin, chief engineer for the state Department of Health.
She said there have been 20 to 30 boil advisories issued in areas ranging from Acadiana parishes to St. Tammany.
The cause, she said, was mainly low water pressure in the water systems, which increases the risk for risk for bacteria to enter the pipes.
“You issue an advisory in case there may be bacteria in the water that is harmful,” Laughlin 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.
The privately owned Louisiana Water Co. issued a boil advisory to fewer than 3,000 of its Iberia Parish customers, as well as Iberia Medical Center and several dialysis centers and elderly care homes. The company serves about 18,000 customers in Iberia Parish. In additional critical care facilities throughout the parish, the affected customers were in areas south of U.S. 90, along La. 86 north of Belle Place Olivier Road and all of Loreauville.
The company’s ground storage in Iberia Parish is 35 percent full, less than half the normal level, said spokesman Billy Edrington. The company is pumping almost double the normal daily volume to compensate, and this has been enough to stabilize the ground storage, Edrington said.
“We are making a little more than we are taking out; that’s a good thing,” he said.
Edrington said the company does not foresee any need to shut down the system or to issue any additional boil advisories. That could change, however, in the event of a massive fire requiring large amounts of water to extinguish.
“We’ve talked to the fire department; they know our situation. They are filling tankers at our water plant,” Edrington said.
Edrington’s company operates separate systems in Eunice and Crowley, where he said depletions are also occurring but not at critical levels.
Iberia Parish residents west of Old Spanish Trail, south of Captain Cade Road, north of Jefferson Island Road and west of Guillotte Street also were under a boil advisory, issued separately by Waterworks District No. 3. That system shut down altogether for five hours on Tuesday evening and was operating at reduced efficiency Wednesday, according to KATC.
KATC at midday Wednesday reported several other Acadiana water systems issuing advisories, including Morse; Basile; Estherwood; Bayou Des Cannes; Evangeline Parish Ward 4; Turkey Creek; Port Barre; Lawtell; and Lewisburg-Bellevue.
The Lafayette Utilities System water operations were normal, with “adequate water reserves in water towers and storage tanks to respond to fire-protection needs,” according to a prepared statement.
A hospital and nursing home in Donaldsonville were without water Wednesday morning after consequences of freezing temperatures led parish officials to shut down part of the water system. Prevost Memorial Hospital and Chateau D’Ville Rehab and Retirement Center were among more than 3,000 customers in Ascension Parish lacking water from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Parish government officials said they shut off water service to the city because of low pressure caused by line breaks and customers leaving their faucets running in an attempt to keep them from freezing in frigid temperatures.
The combination led to “rapid and severe water depletion in the system storage tanks. Water was being used faster than it was being made,” parish officials said in a statement of their decision to shut off water to part of the Parish Utilities of Ascension system.
Advocate staff writer David J. Mitchell contributed to this article.