Are we lucky as we got a C? Better than oll of the D’s and F’s.

For years, Opelousas residents have complained about their city’s antiquated water system, in which leaks under streets cause potholes and brown water flows from their faucets. Now, those residents have confirmation that their water system is failing. The city’s water utility was one of 64 in Louisiana to earn an F grade in the Louisiana Department of Health’s new grading system for community water systems. In addition to the 64 Fs, 66 systems earned D grades. The 130 systems supply water to 450,000 residents, according to LDH data. These preliminary grades, published Jan. 1, are assigned to the 954 community water systems In Louisiana. The vast majority of the grades were good: 776 of the 954 water systems graded, covering some 3.9 million people, earned an A or B, according to LDH’s data. Most major cities — including New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Shreveport — had water systems that received at least a C. But Jefferson Parish’s west bank water system, which serves about 160,000 customers, received a D. It was the largest system to receive a failing grade.

Our infrastructure needs work which is shown daily.

The water systems were graded in a number of weighted categories, including water quality violations, infrastructure and operations and maintenance. A failing grade, LDH notes, does not mean the water is unsafe. Rather, it indicates the system may not be viable long-term. These grades are not final; water systems have until the end of this month to submit data on financial sustainability and customer satisfaction before final grades are issued May 1.

The example of one of the F’s shows how inaction and old pipes go together.

Opelousas resident Brandi Smith Zeringue has seen the city’s water problems up close. On Dec. 23, Zeringue posted a picture on Facebook showing a test tube full of murky brown water. The post garnered nearly 80 comments, many from others frustrated for the same reason. Since then, her Facebook feed has been peppered with people making similar posts. “I just filled my dog’s water bowl, he looked at me like I was crazy,” one commenter wrote. “That’s a bloody mary,” wrote another. “You can’t wash your dishes because of the water pressure,” Zeringue said. “And if you try to wash your clothes, it turns anything white yellow.” Opelousas Mayor Julius Alsandor did not return calls and messages for comment.

The grades are posted and this is the result of a new requirement.

The grades are, published on LDH’s website and are the first public evaluations of systems under a new program passed by the legislature in 2021. The grades highlight worries from many state and parish officials that Louisiana could see a situation similar to what happened in Flint, Mich., when lead from outdated pipes filtered into the water supply and caused a health crisis; or Jackson, Miss., where a flooding river caused a water plant failure and left more than 100,000 residents without water service for several weeks. In Opelousas’ case, the city’s water system earned only 42 out of a possible 80 points. The biggest deduction was 15 points on its grade for “unresolved significant deficiencies” with the water system’s infrastructure. Another 10 points were deducted for federal water quality violations, defined as those that “may pose a health risk over an extended period of time,” according to the city’s LDH grade sheet. Other water systems around the state face similar problems. Finding and training staff to the proper certifications is also difficult. State officials have questioned whether many systems can continue to operate and encouraged systems to consolidate in an effort to generate more revenue and reduce demand for workers. Sen. Fred Mills Jr., R-New Iberia, who sponsored the 2021 bill to create the grades, said he hoped the preliminary grades could jumpstart those discussions. “My hope is that it prompts some local conversations,” he said, comparing it to the school system grades issued every year. Customers of systems with poor grades should be “contacting leaders in their community,” Mills said.

LDH will work with the D’s and F’s but this may require a lot of money.

LDH officials will work with the leaders of systems that score a D or an F to raise their grades, according to the LDH website. THey are also required by the law to notify the State Bond Commission, the Public Service Commission, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor and the Attorney general to ensure those agencies are able to provide oversight on spending and debt. In extreme cases, LDH may seek to take over systems that remain in noncompliance, the law says. But some officials cautioned that many factors not under their control could affect the grades. Jefferson Parish Waterworks Dist. 2, which received a D, was dinged by the Louisiana Department of Health for infrastructure deficiencies as well as federal water quality violations. Jefferson Parish Water Department Director Sidney Bazley blamed most of the problems cited in the system’s grade sheet on Hurricane Ida. “We had a lot of damage in Grand Isle,” Bazley said, adding that the island was under a “do not drink” order for months after the storm and water quality violations stemmed from that period. The system was also penalized after an inspection noted a leak at a water tower in Harvey, something Bazley said was already being fixed. Bazley is hopeful that the state will take the parish’s ongoing remediation efforts on Grand Isle and with its water towers into account. Louisiana Department of Health officials declined a request for an interview and did not answer a series of questions posed by email.

Many systems have water pipes and the other items needed that are over 50 years old, just look at some of our pumps at the Water and Sewerage Board.

Approximately half of the state’s approximately 1,200 water systems — including many that are not subject to the grading system — have infrastructure that is more than a half-century old, according to a 2017 estimate from the American Society of Civil Engineers. And as populations have shrunk in many areas, maintenance and upgrades have been deferred. At a series of meetings around the state last year for rural communities, aging water systems were a central topic. Blake Fogelman, an engineer with the Louisiana Department of Health, said at those meetings that the state’s water systems need around $7 billion in upgrades over the next 20 years. The legislature last year set aside $450 million for water and sewer system upgrades. Fogelman warned, however, that water systems were going to have to show that they could remain viable. “You need to prove to us that you can continue to operate,” he said.

We don’t have brown water but we have lost pressure.

How is your water system rated – for us a C
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