Ferriday marks anniversary of water crisis

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 23, 2000

FERRIDAY, La. – Those who experienced it firsthand cannot believe it has been one year today that a state boil notice was issued for the town of Ferriday.

That notice was in effect for 120 straight days.

&uot;How about that? I hadn’t thought about it … it doesn’t seem that long ago,&uot; said Tommy Massey, administrator of Heritage Manor Nursing Home in Ferriday. &uot;The water is so much better now.&uot;

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On Aug. 24, 1999, the Louisiana Office of Public Health issued a boil water notice for Ferriday because the town’s water plant kept shutting down, apparently due to lack of maintenance and operator error.

The town had issued its own notice three days earlier.

The notice was in effect for the town’s 4,200-plus residents and dozens of businesses.

And to get the notice lifted, crews had to complete dozens of repairs, from working on filters and chemical pumps and installing a new operations computer to making electrical improvements. The cost of those improvements was about $470,000 and was covered by grants.

The water crisis also resulted in a lawsuit being filed Oct. 25 against the town, engineering firm Owen and White of Baton Rouge and plant manufacturer U.S. Filter by resident and Brocato’s Restaurant owner Gloria Martello.

&uot;It was horrendous,&uot; said Massey, referring to the water crisis, when employees had to haul water from National Guard tanks parked outside.

For three days at the start of the notice, Ferriday did not have any water service at all due to a complete shutdown of the town’s water plant.

&uot;We had to haul water from outside to even be able to flush the toilets,&uot;&160;said Massey, whose nursing home had about 80 residents at that time.

&uot;It was quite traumatic. And it shows how much we take having water from granted. It’s kind of like the old saying, ‘You don’t miss the water ’til the well runs dry’,&uot; Massey said.

&uot;It was quite an inconvenence, since we use so much for cooking, drinking and bathing here,&uot; said Bertha Matthews, owner and director of BMJ Childcare Center, which had 57 children enrolled at the time of the water crisis.

&uot;We had to buy so much of it, and I hauled some from my home, too,&uot;&160;she added. Matthews lives outside the town in an area served by Concordia Waterworks District No. 1.

But improvements made to the plant seem to have yielded some improvements in the quality of the town’s water.

&uot;It’s clear for the most part, except for times when a line breaks and the water seems a little bit cloudy,&uot; Massey said. &uot;But it’s much better than it was.&uot;

&uot;It doesn’t look as bad as it did, but sometimes it tastes a little … different,&uot;&160;Matthews said.

The sometimes bad taste of the water is due to high levels of manganese in the water the town gets from Old River. When water levels get low during dry weather, the concentration of manganese in the water rises and causes a bad taste and, often, a bad odor and brown color.

&uot;The water plant’s fine — it’s the source that needs changing,&uot; said Ferriday Mayor Glen McGlothin. &uot;And finding a new source for the town’s water is still one of my top priorities.&uot;

One possible solutions is for the town to drill two wells near Lake St. John and pay Concordia Waterworks District No. 1 to use the district’s newly installed transmission line to transport the water to the town’s water lines.

In July 1999 the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would make $1,137,000 available to the town to create treatment ponds and make other improvements at the water plant. That included a $775,000 grant and $362,000 loan.

That money is still available, and USDA representatives have said they are open to using the money to drill wells at Lake St. John if that is feasible.

Town officials and Town Engineer Bryant Hammett have yet to schedule a meeting with Concordia Waterworks representatives — but that meeting will be set as soon as possible, McGlothin said.

&uot;They just have their own problems to concentrate on right now,&uot; he added, referring to a water shortage Concordia Waterworks is facing due to drought conditions.

For now, Massey seems satisfied that the water crisis is far behind him now — and that local officials are pursuing new water sources for the town.

&uot;We’re still going to have to look at alternative water sources,&uot; Massey said. &uot;I think our (water) situation will get better.&uot;