St. John the Baptist Parish is moving ahead with plans for a treatment plant intended to bring more reliable drinking water to some of the parish's rural residents. 

The Parish Council has authorized Parish President Natalie Robottom to open bids for construction of the facility in Pleasure Bend, an unincorporated area with about 250 residents at last count. Right now, the area gets its water from St. James Parish under an arrangement that will end after the new plant opens. 

Officials last winter approved engineering and design services for the project, which is estimated to cost up to $1 million. Construction is scheduled to start in October.

Officials have been looking to improve the water supply in Pleasure Bend for some time, both to cut costs and to meet water standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"In addition to being excessively priced compared with revenues collected, it is not meeting all required water quality standards," Blake Fogleman, the parish’s utilities director, said in November, referring to the water bought from St. James. 

A 2015 Consumer Confidence Report, a water safety report prepared annually by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and published by the EPA, showed that Pleasure Bend water samples had more than the maximum allowed levels of coliform bacteria and trihalomethanes, a byproduct formed when disinfectants are used to treat drinking water.

Robottom said the new treatment facility will provide the "safest approach to supplying water" in the area.

The Pleasure Bend project is partially funded through a $125,240 grant issued in 2016 by the state’s Community Water Enrichment Fund, created by the Legislature in 2008 to help local governments provide safe drinking water. Additional funding came through a 2015 bond issue. 

The latest treatment plant is among several water system projects announced for St. John in recent months as officials race to bring the parish's drinking water up to snuff.

Robottom has said she is determined to also see construction of a $34 million plant that would provide a new water source for LaPlace.

The town now gets its drinking water from two aging wells located on a strip of land between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain. One of the wells is more than four decades old, and flooding, aging pipes and swamp debris have caused frequent breaks for years along the 15-mile line to the town.

During Hurricane Isaac in 2012, the parish administration feared that contaminated floodwater could have seeped into local pipes, leading them to shut off water in LaPlace for several days. 

For a permanent fix, Robottom wants a system that would draw LaPlace's water from the Mississippi River, but so far, parish officials haven't come up with the money for such a big project.

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