Gov. John Bel Edwards prepares to sip St. Joseph water

Gov. John Bel Edwards ready to take the first sip of water from the new water treatment facility in St. Joseph on Tuesday, March 13, 2018.

After more than a year of having their drinking water trucked in because of lead contamination, Gov. John Bel Edwards cut the ribbon Tuesday on a new treatment and distribution system for the Town of St. Joseph.

“This is among the basic necessities that every community deserves, and as a result of the new system the public health emergency has ended,” Edwards said, according to his press release. “St. Joseph highlights how critical infrastructure investments are for improving and growing our communities.”

After dangerous levels of lead and copper were found in the town’s drinking water, Edwards in December 2016 called a public health emergency and ordered the town’s thousand residents not to drink, brush teeth, bathe or cook with the water coming from the taps in their homes and businesses. Even in small amounts lead causes irreversible brain damage in children.

The antebellum town in northeast Louisiana, like small towns across the state, had been struggling for a generation to find adequate revenues to pay for town services. Consequently, the town’s 90-year-old water system fell into disrepair and delivered brownish water, heavy with iron. Pressure in the water system went up and down because of frequent leaks causing stress on the pipes and repairs made with lead and copper.

State health officials initially found lead levels in excess of 50 parts per billion at the town hall and in three homes. Subsequent testing found lead in the drinking water being delivered to about 20 percent of the town’s buildings.

About $11 million was spent using grants, state construction monies, and loans to rebuild the water system.

The new Comprehensive Water Distribution System Replacement Project for St. Joseph includes about 14 miles of new water lines, 525 new electronic water meters, 125 new fire hydrants, two new water wells as well as repairs to the water tower and the water treatment plant.

“This has been a long time in coming for the people of St. Joseph, and I am grateful to Gov. Edwards and his administration along with the DRA (Delta Regional Authority) for making this happen so expeditiously,” said Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi.

State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry said: “The latest test results show that the water quality is better than it has been in more than a decade. This new system is producing water that is clean and safe, which is why I am pleased to recommend the public health emergency be lifted.”

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