PALO ALTO — Down a state highway just west of Bayou Lafourche where rows of live oaks arch over the road, contractors were installing upgrades Wednesday that Ascension Parish officials hope will prevent the brain-eating amoeba from reoccurring in their public water system to the north.
Parish officials are installing a chlorine injection system that will boost the level of chlorine in water as well as a real-time monitoring system for Ascension Consolidated Utilities District No. 1.
“This booster system is like a heart monitor. It’s going to check the water flow and the chemical levels in the water and will make adjustments,” Parish President Kenny Matassa told two reporters Wednesday as workers with ICE Sales and Service worked on the upgrade.
The improvements in Palo Alto and in another location are expected to cost about $97,000, but Matassa said most of it should be reimbursed through a state Community Water Enrichment Fund grant.
State health officials found the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, on the western half of the water district system in late July during a time when parish officials said they had been trying to get permitted for the booster system now being installed.
The state Department of Health ordered parish officials to conduct a chlorine burn that raised chlorine levels through late October before the amoeba was deemed eradicated.
Serving a spread out rural area outside the more compact city of Donaldsonville on Ascension’s west bank, the water district has long stretches of lightly used water lines that state and parish officials have said are susceptible to reduced chlorine levels and lend themselves to providing the amoeba a home, especially in the warm summer months.
Complicating that problem, the Ascension Consolidated Utilities District system also does not produce its own water but buys it from next-door water systems in St. James and Assumption parishes and transports it by water lines to Ascension customers.
The parish also lacked an easy way to boost chlorine levels in the water it bought from the two parishes.
Bill Depew, parish utilities director, noted that to maintain chlorine levels without the new booster system, the parish has had to flush the system’s water as much as two to three times per week.
Two workers from ICE Sales and Service were installing the chlorine booster at the remote Palo Alto water tower near a cane field just north the Assumption Parish line near where that parish’s water enters the western side of the Ascension Consolidated Utilities District system. The amoeba was found on that side of the water district’s system last year.
Craig Foglesong, owner of ICE Sales and Service, said the higher chlorine standards the state adopted a few years ago to kill the amoeba have kept him busy installing chlorine boosters like the new ones in Ascension.
“So you won’t just be pouring water on the ground all the time,” he said.
Foglesong said he hopes to have the Palo Alto part of the Ascension job finished by Thursday and then will start on a second chlorine booster system for the eastern half of the Ascension Consolidated Utilities District system that is supplied by St. James Parish. That booster system will be installed at Lemannville Park.
Depew, the Ascension utilities director, said a second phase of the project now in planning will install antennas on Ascension Consolidated Utilities District’s three water towers and allow remote tracking of the system’s chlorine levels.
“It will be real-time,” Depew said. “Any time we get a low chlorine reading anywhere on the system, we’ll be able to detect it.”
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.