Officials prepare response to Ferriday water emergency

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 14, 2009

FERRIDAY — There’s water, water everywhere — kitchen sinks, bathtubs, garden hoses — but not a drop to drink, and local officials are gearing up to respond for what could be a very long boil-water notice in Ferriday.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals told the Town of Ferriday to issue the indefinite notice Monday because the roof of the tank at the town’s water plant had caved in. The tank was reportedly damaged in 2006 and caved in 2008.

The water has been tested daily, and no dangerous bacteria have been found in the water Mayor Glen McGlothin said the boil-water notice is just a precautionary measure.

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“We are still doing the monthly and daily tests, and if it changes we are sure going to let people know,” McGlothin said.

But even though the water is essentially the same water people have been consuming for years, the boil water notice means that local agencies have to adopt water consumption contingency plans.

The Concordia Parish school district took water coolers, cups and ice chests full of ice to each of the Ferriday schools rather than have students drink from the water fountains, Academic Director Paul Nelson said.

And late Wednesday afternoon a truckload of bottled water — approximately 1,300 bottles of water — was dropped off at each school, Concordia Parish Emergency Director Morris White said.

In the school cafeterias, most of the food is pre-cooked, and Nelson said the students use disposable plates and utensils, limiting the need for water there.

“If the cafeteria workers need to use water, they can draw from the bottled water,” Nelson said. “The children are for the most part drinking juice and milk in the cafeterias.”

At Riverland Medical Center, patients are being given bottled water, and water used in food preparation is boiled before use, Assistant Administrator Billy Rucker said.

“We pretty much keep a pot boiling on the stove,” he said.

The hospital’s surgery suite and laboratory have their own purifying system and are unaffected by the notice, Rucker said.

For the rest of Ferriday’s water customers, White said he is working to get water buffalos — large tanks the army uses to dispense sanitary drinking water — into the town.

The 300- to 500-gallon tanks have to be sanitized first though, and White said he is waiting on the sanitization permit to go through before they can be brought in.

“If (the state) doesn’t OK the water buffalos, I don’t know of anything else you can do,” White said.

“If they won’t let me put them in there for the public, the state will have to make another decision because at that point I will have done everything I can do.”

If the tanks are allowed, one will be placed at each school, and several others will be placed around town, White said.

When they become available, those who wish to get water from the tanks will be limited to 10 — or in some cases 15 — gallons.

Kaye’s Supermarket Manager Rodney Smith said that, while customers haven’t made a run on water yet, the store has ordered extra.

“We sell a lot of water anyway, but I am looking to sell more, so we are trying to be prepared,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, McGlothin said he is working with the area’s senators and representatives, calling members of the state legislative rural caucus and the rural water association and generally scrambling to get any help he can.

“If I were to get the money for the tank tomorrow, it would still take six months to build it,” he said.

The town already has a $2.3 million agreement with Triton Company to rebuild the tank and add a second one, as well as to rehabilitate the water plant.

But McGlothin said Tuesday that Triton is having trouble obtaining funding to start the project, for which Ferriday was supposed to pay them back over a number of years.

So while those issues are being worked out, McGlothin said two attorneys with the state bond commission are working to help the town get the financing so they can start the project as soon as possible.

“All I have to do is get the bank to give us the funding, and we can go ahead,” he said.

But until the tank is fixed, the boil water notice has to stay in effect.

And while McGlothin may not like the situation, it’s something he said he’ll comply with.

“I am going to do what (the department of health) says to do because it is the right thing to do,” he said.