Gov. John Bel. Edwards joined officials in the town of St. Joseph, LA Thursday to unveil the new Comprehensive Water Distribution System Replacement Project and lifted the public health emergency declaration. St. Joseph has experienced major water problems for more than a decade due to a poorly maintained and deteriorating water distribution system. Shortly after taking office, Gov. Edwards made a commitment to the people of St. Joseph to address their water problems, and in less than two years, the community has a brand new water system and residents have consistent access to clean, clear and safe drinking water.
“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. “Water is a necessity 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 the 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.”
Prior to the new system, St. Joseph suffered frequent breaks in its water distribution system that posed a potential health risk due to the drop in water pressure. Initial tests by the Office of Public Health found elevated levels of lead and copper in the town hall building and three homes. Gov. Edwards immediately ordered the state to test the water in all homes, schools and businesses. A public health emergency was declared, and out of an abundance of caution, 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 supplied both bottled water and 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, 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.”
St. Joseph is located in Tensas Parish and is represented by Sen. Francis Thompson (D) of District 34 and Rep. Andy Anders (D) of District 21.
“This has been a long time coming for the people of St. Joseph, and I am grateful to Gov. Edwards and his administration along with the DRA for making this happen so expeditiously,” said Sen. Thompson.
“Clean and clear water is one of the most essential and basic needs of a community,” said Rep. Anders. “This new water plant is an investment in our people and has given us the momentum we need to build a better future.”
The new Comprehensive Water Distribution System Replacement Project for St. Joseph includes:
The construction team included all Louisiana founded and based small businesses: consulting engineer H. Davis Cole & Associates; contractors Womack and Sons Construction Group and Lowland Construction, and construction management by Bryant Hammett & Associates. The project was completed in four phases: Phase 1 – installation of new water lines and water meters; Phase 2 - rehabbing the existing water plant; Phase 3 – building a new water plant; and Phase 4 - drilling new water wells.
“This project is an excellent example of what can be accomplished when federal, state and local governments and the private sector work together for a common goal,” said Construction Manager Bryant Hammett.
“Completion of this project within the highly aggressive schedule could not have happened without the full cooperation of Gov. Edwards’ administration,” said Project Engineer Davis Cole. “The success of this project shows how critical it is to invest in the infrastructure of communities statewide.”
“We are very excited to join this great coalition of contributors in alleviating the public health emergency in St. Joseph,” said Glen Womack of Womack and Sons.”