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Ribbon cut on new water system for St. Joseph; emergency lifted - KATC.com | Continuous News Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette

Ribbon cut on new water system for St. Joseph; emergency lifted

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One of two water buffaloes stationed outside of the Tensas Parish courthouse in St. Joseph, Louisiana, on May 16, 2017. Residents have been drinking water from the buffaloes since the state found lead contamination there in December 2016. One of two water buffaloes stationed outside of the Tensas Parish courthouse in St. Joseph, Louisiana, on May 16, 2017. Residents have been drinking water from the buffaloes since the state found lead contamination there in December 2016.

The ribbon was cut today on the new Comprehensive Water Distribution System for the community of St. Joseph.

Gov. John Bel. Edwards declared a public health emergency in the town in 2016, after tests found elevated levels of lead and copper in the water supply. The town had ongoing issues with its water, and frequent break-downs in the system causes health concerns. To see our Emmy-nominated KATC Investigates piece on the issues, click here

Today, the governor lifted the public health emergency declaration. One of Edwards' first actions as Governor was to promise the town the water issue would be resolved.  

“After living for more than 10 years with discolored water, the people of St. Joseph now have a new water treatment and distribution plant that is fully operational, providing high quality drinking water daily to homes, schools and businesses,” said Gov. Edwards. “This is among the basic necessities that every community deserves, and as a result of the new system the public health emergency has ended. The completion of this project would not have been possible without the dedication of many people including local, state and federal partners, the community and volunteers. Thanks to the engineers and project manager that timetable was accelerated, and the use of innovative technology provided an overall cost savings. St. Joseph highlights how critical infrastructure investments are for improving and growing our communities.”

After the public health emergency was declared, the Louisiana Department of Health recommended that an alternative source of water for personal consumption be used. The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) supplied bottled water as well as provided water buffaloes for the community to have access to clean, clear and safe water until the new system was available.  Additional bottled water was made available by the town and volunteers.

The Louisiana Department of Health conducted one of the most comprehensive responses to lead exposure – spending more than $220,000 in testing more than 430 sites, performing environmental assessments to all homes with lead levels in excess of 50 parts per billion and reviewing blood lead levels of children under the age of six.

“When the problem of lead came to our attention, we immediately began working with all homeowners who would allow us by testing their water before construction began and afterwards,” said State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry. “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. This is a great day for St. Joseph, and my staff and I remain committed and available to this community as it moves forward.”

The project was funded with nearly $8 million in state capital outlay funds and nearly $600,000 from the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), which makes strategic investments in rural Delta communities.

“This project is an excellent example of how DRA partners with the governors and leadership in our region to fund infrastructure improvements in rural areas,” said DRA Chairman Chris Caldwell. “DRA is committed to making investments like this that enhance infrastructure, promote the health of our residents and encourage economic development across the Mississippi River Delta region.”

The new Comprehensive Water Distribution System Replacement Project for St. Joseph includes more than 75,000 feet of new water lines, more than 500 new water meters, and about 125 new fire hydrants. The project also rehabbed the existing water plant, built a new water plant and drilled new wells. 

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