It's been 15 years since the last inspection of Clinton's water tower. The latest inspection revealed the lack of a screen, resulting in residents having to deal with a boil water advisory for more than a week.
Jason Head, a consultant brought in to help rectify the East Feliciana Parish town’s water woes, said the water tower was recently cleaned, during which a crew noticed a screen on top was missing, potentially exposing the town’s water supply to contaminants.
He said his crew placed a temporary screen until a new one was welded in place last week. In the meantime, the town went under a precautionary boil notice that as of Monday had been in effect more than a week.
“It’s just a precautionary thing we do when there’s a potential hazard,” he said. “The risk was very, very low but the potential is there so we put out the boil water advisory.”
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Louisiana Department of Health spokeswoman Kelly Zimmerman said Clinton officials indicated their water tower repairs were still underway, and the boil notice would remain in effect until the agency recorded negative bacteria samples. She said water system operators typically must send photos or invoices as evidence repair work is complete which as of Monday had not been recorded.
Zimmerman confirmed that the town had submitted a sample as of Monday.
However, Head said he tried to submit water samples to the state early last week after the screen issues were fixed, but because samples need to be incubated for 18 hours, the state wouldn’t accept them until Monday. Because Thursday was a holiday, there was nobody consistently in the labs to complete the testing until Monday, Head said the state told him.
The water tower screen is a separate issue than the long-term remediation work Clinton is doing to its water system at the demand of the health department. The department sent a letter to Mayor Lori Ann Bell in September citing 20 water system deficiencies that needed correcting within 90 days. The deadline came and went without action, and the two entities ultimately agreed to a corrective action plan that if followed would come to a close in August.
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The town’s water operator resigned during that time, after which Head was brought in to help resolve the numerous issues and implement some kind of procedure for maintaining the system.
Head said Monday the screen issue was not related to the ongoing work, but was discovered during cleaning of the tower that, according to records, hadn’t been inspected in 15 years.
When asked how long that screen could have been damaged or missing, he said he didn’t know.
“It could’ve been 20 years, there’s no way to tell,” he said. “The last inspection was 15 years ago but there’s no real standard on it.” Many big cities join maintenance programs so water towers can be cleaned and inspected every two years, which is the ultimate goal for Clinton, he said.
Clinton is one of many Louisiana towns on the brink of going under state control as it flails in handling its finances. The Louisiana Fiscal Review Committee in January spared Clinton from a fiscal administrator, but it's still likely in future as the town continues having financial problems without a clear solution.
The town's mayor is also currently facing a malfeasance in office charge for allegedly misappropriating funds to lease four police department vehicles the town couldn't afford, an allegation in which former police chief Fred Dunn is a co-defendant. Those cases are ongoing.
Head said he expects the town’s boil notice to be lifted in the next several days once authorities complete their testing, and said the town is still on track with its remediation timeline.