‘Water crisis’ cripples Ferriday

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 24, 1999

FERRIDAY, La. – In what one state health official called a &uot;water crisis,&uot; residents will have to drink bottled water and Ferriday schools will be closed until the town’s water plant is up and running again.

The plant, which serves 1,460 customers, was shut down at about 1 p.m. Monday after several days of repeated problems following a routine check last week.

&uot;We were making a routine system check when they started having problems,&uot; said Michael Cazes, regional engineer with the Office of Public Health’s Alexandria office. &uot;The system went down, and they fixed it&uot; but it kept shutting down.

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He said the system being down for such a long period necessitated the complete shutdown and the boil water notice. But officials hope water service can be restored as early as today, said Town Attorney John Sturgeon. Meanwhile, Gov. Mike Foster has declared Ferriday a disaster area. The Louisiana Office of Public Health put the town on a boil notice at 1 p.m. Friday. On Monday afternoon, Mayor Odeal Montgomery was trying to get enough water from the Town of Ridgecrest to backwash debris from the system and get it working again.

Beginning at 8 a.m. today, residents can get free bottled water supplied by the Coca-Cola Co. at Ferriday Town Hall on Second Street. But some residents, including Wayne Miley, have already stocked up.

&uot;We’ve had water problems for years, but this is quite an inconvenience,&uot;&160;said Miley, a Ferriday resident for more than 30 years. &uot;We’re using bottled water … and taking birdbaths at our house.&uot;

Ferriday public schools will be closed today. A decision on whether these schools will remain closed on Wednesday will be announced to the media by 6 p.m. today. Huntington School will also be closed today. Once the system is operating again, residents will still have to boil their water until the notice is lifted – probably in the next seven to 10 days, Sturgeon said.

&uot;This situation is a true emergency,&uot; Cazes said.

The impact of this emergency will stretch into many areas of public life in Ferriday, he added. Schools must close and restaurants will not be able to function without a safe supply of water.

Cazes said he oversees 2,000 public water systems in eight parishes in Louisiana and that experience tells him that the Ferriday water problem will not be solved quickly. On July 13, the town received more than $1.1 million in federal money for plant improvements to reduce high levels of manganese that have turned the water brown and smelly for several years. It will take two and a half years to install a floating water intake device, oxidation equipment and a new filter at the plant, which is more than 10 years old.&t;