KIRAN: State warns of possible ‘public health emergency’ over water in Clinton

A 9News Investigation

Town of Clinton water system under investigation

CLINTON, LA (WAFB) - The East Feliciana Sheriff’s Office is investigating the Town of Clinton’s failure to maintain an acceptable public water system.

The town’s water system is in bad shape, according to a letter from the Louisiana Department of Health that cited 22 violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The LDH sent the letter to Mayor Lori Bell in September and gave her 90 days to respond with plans on how to correct the issues. However, last week town Alderman Mary Dunaway said nothing has been done.

Dunaway said the mayor never told the town’s Board of Aldermen that the LDH had sent such a letter, thus, the board was never given an opportunity to fund repairs or help in any other way to fix the town’s water system.

Now, Dunaway says, the LDH may levy fines against the town for ignoring the violation notice.

But after Bell’s administration spent the $97,000 the town had reserved in two certificates of deposit, the town has neither the money to pay for fines nor a new water system, Dunaway said.

East Feliciana Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Greg Phares confirmed his office is investigating the situation.

“We are investigating this as a possible criminal matter and that when they received the letter, that created what is called a ministerial duty that is required to fix the water system,” Phares said. “Providing clean water is about the basic of services a town can provide and is required to provide.”

Town residents have faced numerous outages and water-boil advisories over the past year — the side effects of an aging water system running on a single working pump.

Resident Raymond Taylor said the community is never notified in a timely manner when a boil advisory goes into effect.

“It’s a common thing,” Taylor said. “Once or twice a week, you have to go buy bottled water to keep a steady supply of good drinking water.”

“We have had innumerable outages and water boil advisories,” Dunaway said in an email. “We are running on one pump 24 hours a day to supply the town with water. This pump/well will certainly give out in time putting us in a crisis situation of no water for the town.”

The violations noted by the LDH include a leaky pipe, a broken sample tap, a pump motor not bolted down, no water-tight seal on a pump casing, and several others.

The LDH also noted the town has only one source of water — a groundwater well on Taylor Street. Regulations require a minimum of two active groundwater wells for a community.

“The problems with the water issue are close to being pretty grave, I think,” Dunaway said. “We have had lots of boil advisories. We have had water outages. We have had lots of leaks. We have problems with our equipment. Citizens are constantly in an uproar asking when are we going to get some answers about our water.”

In an email Dunaway scoffed at the mayor’s backup plan should the last pump shut down: “We are mandated to have two sources of water, but the mayor’s plan should our only pump fail (which she voiced in the recent council meeting) is that the state would bring us ‘bottled water.’”

LDH Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry said the town could end up in a “public health emergency” if its last remaining well goes out.

“If that water well goes out, it loses power, then the town and city does not have water,” Guidry said. “If they lose pressure or loss of power, then there is the ability for contaminants to get in the water system” ... “Health is being put at risk if we don’t address these deficiencies.”

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