Capitol Problem: LA Gov. talks state water woes

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BATON ROUGE, La. (KNOE) - It's life's most basic necessity. But, in Northeast Louisiana, clean water has become more of a commodity. In the past year, the area has seen three major water problems - lead in St. Joseph, a brain-eating amoeba in Ouachita Parish, and most recently, lead, fecal bacteria and other metals in Enterprise.

Courtesy: KNOE 8 News

"We have more than our fair share of small systems out there that really need help," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Help Edwards says he's trying to give small communities who can't help themselves.

"Look, I think public infrastructure as a whole has atrophied to the point where we need to make significant investments over time as we're able to do it," he said.

But, how much help can he give?

It's no secret the state is strapped for cash, looking at a $1 billion shortfall by July 2018. And, during his tenure Edwards has had to cut back over $1 billion on Capital Outlay - a program that helps repair things like water systems.

He says it's frustrating, especially since the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals thinks a water overhaul would cost $5 billion.

"Things are getting better in Louisiana," Edwards said. "But we are more constrained than we'd like to be and therefore cannot invest in all these improvements like we'd like to."

It's forced the state to find money in other places, like the Delta Regional Authority, an organization that just this year gave Louisiana $3.3 million for water. Edwards also referenced the Local Government Assistance Program, or L-Gap, which gives money to rural communities to use on water if they need to. There is still some money for water through Capital Outlay. The state used it to fix the system in St. Joseph.

But, with 1300 statewide water systems, it forces lawmakers to prioritize.

"Systems are going to continue to age, and degrade, and things are going to change over time," Edwards said. "That's why it's important to monitor these systems."

One thing that may help - an August bill passed by Representative Marcus Hunter that now forces the Department of Health to report to the legislature once a year for the next three years, about best practices and which water systems need the most help.

"Any time you have a pressing need, making sure those things are in front of the legislature is important," Edwards said.

And right now there's no more pressing need than clean water.

"Just like when you turn a lights switch you expect to see lights, when you turn on the faucet you expect to see clean water."