Residents in the small town of Mamou have concerns about whether their water is safe.
"The water keeps getting worse and worse," says Mamou resident Junior Lavergne.
Fill up a bathtub in Mamou, and you’ll notice an orange tint. Then there’s the smell.
"You got that sewer smell," Lavergne says, noting some days the smell wafts throughout his entire house. "You know, people will come in and they say, ‘What that is?’ It’s the water."
Lavergne, who worked previously as the Town of Mamou Water System superintendent, is concerned, and he’s not the only one.
"It’s dangerous for little children to drink," suggests Mamou resident Debbie Fontenot.
"Well, I’d like to be able to make my coffee with it," says Fermin Guillory.
According to microbiologist Wilma Subra, the color is caused by iron and manganese, secondary contaminants that are considered only aesthetic nuisances and are not enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The smell, Subra says, is hydrogen sulfide, another substance that’s not regulated as harmful.
"It’s not something that will impact your health," Subra says.
Armond Benoit, the Town of Mamou Water System superintendent, is familiar with the complaints and admits the water is discolored. But he maintains the water is still safe, pointing to the town’s latest water samples as evidence of its cleanliness.
"The water is good to go. I drink about a gallon a day," Benoit says.
‘This water isn’t understandable’
But past tests weren’t always so clean. Since 2010, the Louisiana Department of Health has issued three violations against the Town of Mamou Water System for inadequate chlorine levels, seven violations for excessive fluoride – which occurs naturally in the Evangeline Aquifer that supplies the system’s water – and two violations for excessive levels of trihalomethanes, a disinfectant byproduct.
While under-chlorinated water can transmit bacteria and excessive fluoride can cause permanent teeth discoloration, excessive trihalomethanes can act as a carcinogen, Subra says.
"When it goes over that level there’s the danger of causing cancer in the people who are consuming that water," Subra says.
If you live in Mamou and have concern about your water, you’re not alone. KATC Investigates compiled documents from water systems across Acadiana and found dangerous violations in every parish.
"The major problem is the lack of infrastructure," Subra says.
While Mamou has been issued 15 violations since 2010, others have reached higher numbers. Examples include the Chataignier Water System in Evangeline Parish (27), the Grand Prairie Water System in St. Landry Parish (26), and the TESI Lakeview Estates system in north Lafayette, which has received 37 violations since 2010 – with 34 of those violations for excessive levels of arsenic, a known carcinogen.
The problems with Louisiana’s water infrastructure are reaching a critical stage, with the EPA projecting in 2011 that it would cost $5.3 billion to repair all infrastructure over the next two decades.
Small systems like Mamou make up 80 percent of the state’s water violations, according to a March report from the state Legislative Auditor’s Office. But those systems are often the least able to pay for maintenance and upgrades, with their expenses exceeding their revenues and their rates stuck at fixed levels.
Although federal grant money can help alleviate the costs, Benoit says the pool is limited and the application process lengthy – although he’d like to receive grant money to replace the town’s water system.
Meanwhile, Mamou residents are left with few options but to wait.
"I like the people in town here," Lavergne says. "They’re good people, understanding people. But this water isn’t understandable."
How is your water quality?
KATC Investigates compiled Acadiana water system violations for the last seven years and compiled them into the database here, along with a collection of our coverage of Acadiana’s water. The database is organized by parish and water system, and options are available to search the violations by contaminant (for example chlorine, lead or e. coli). Meanwhile, what does your water look like? Send us comments, photos and videos on Facebook or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include which water system you use.