The Port Allen drinking water system to earned a “D+,” according to a state audit published last week. The audit reviewed the cost of water system operations compared to rates being charged for maintenance and business.
The “D+” on the state audit reflects the ability of the water system to cover its expenses, not the quality of the drinking water. The city of Port Allen has “A” status with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals regarding the quality and safety of the drinking water system.
Port Allen’s grade on the state audit was just slightly higher than the state’s overall rating, which was a “D.” Small systems dragged the state’s overall grade down because a lot of small drinking water systems don’t charge for the cost of doing business, state health officer Jimmy Guidry said.
A plan and action will be established in upcoming months since this is not an emergency situation, Port Allen Mayor Richard Lee said. The issue will be presented at the upcoming City Council meeting, he said.
Port Allen was one of seven systems in the capital region that has been operating at a deficit for the past three years. Three water systems operating in red are located in Iberville parish with the rest located in Livingston, Pointe Coupee and East Feliciana parishes.
“Funding and the lack of customers to pay for infrastructure upgrades, chemicals and monitoring is a statewide issue for all small systems,” the auditor’s report states.
The cost of chemicals, treatment plants and business operations make small water systems expensive and sometimes unaffordable, Guidry said. According to the audit, 41 percent of government run drinking water systems brought in less revenue from customers than was spent on operations and maintenance between 2013 and 2015.
If increasing useage and late fees will bring the grade up, that’s what will happen, Lee said. It is important that water systems generate revenue to maintain their systems and repair them efficiently, Guidry said.
More than 60 percent of Louisiana water systems are between 30 and 50 years old, Guidry said. As these water systems age, maintenance and repairs become more and more expensive, he said. Systems that go extended periods of time without repairs lead to a public health emergency and a costly replacement, like the town of St. Joseph.
After neglecting repairs, a public health emergency was issued for the town of St. Joseph. The water system was ridden with leaks and its 400 connections became contaminated with lead and copper, Guidry said. Replacement of the system will cost the town $8 million. Citizens have to use bottled water until the project is complete, Guidry said.
Combining water systems and increasing prices are solutions to the deficits that water systems across Louisiana are facing, Guidry said.
“We as a society have to decide what our priorities are,” he said.