Tapped Out: DHH assesses water quality statewide

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BATON ROUGE, La. (KNOE) - Water quality across the state of Louisiana is bad...really bad.

Courtesy: KNOE 8 News

"The water infrastructure in the country got a D," State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry said. "Louisiana has a D-."

If anyone knows how bad the problem is, it's Dr. Guidry.

"I've been State Health Officer going on 21 years."

But lately, he's as busy as ever.

"My life is a lot more complicated."

The state's water problems really stem from old systems in dire need of repair. There are 1300 water systems throughout the state of Louisiana, and 50 percent of them are more than 50 years old.

"It's going to be tougher and tougher to protect it because we have such aging infrastructure," Guidry said. "So, we have to focus on maintaining it."

But how?

The state is on a tight budget, facing a $1 billion fiscal cliff in July of 2018. Plus, Guidry knows what it would cost to replace every pipe in the state.

"$5 billion....plus," he said.

So, he's thinking of other ways to solve the problem.

"There are too many little systems that can't afford to do what they need to do," Guidry said. "And, there are too many people that can't pay what it costs to do it. So, literally what we've seen in other states, is small systems coming together and combining, because the larger your customer base, the more you can afford to have one treatment plant serve a huge community."

But, is that feasible here in Louisiana?

"What we're finding is when a system fails, and we come in and start working with them and saying 'you've got to invest in this, you've got to invest in this.' Then they say, 'We've got to raise our rates,'" Guidry said. "And people don't want to pay more. So, what we find with these systems that are not very big [is people say], 'I'm done.'"

But it's more than that. The Department of Health is putting more boots on the ground, testing more systems than ever before. This week, they went inside homes in Enterprise to test water for the first time.

"We collect a lot more samples, and we're able to monitor better to catch things early," Guidry said. "But it helps us. Now the water system doesn't say 'I don't want to do all these tests because it's too expensive.' No, we do these tests, and we do it because we think it's important, because it gives us the data we need. And we'll do it for free."

Guidry thinks more tests will hold the water companies more accountable for their product, because he says bad water is a problem that will take everyone in the state to solve.

"We all own a piece of this," Guidry said. "But, I can't be responsible for the water systems. I can only regulate and monitor. They still have a responsibility. The consumer has a responsibility to report it so we can find it. So it takes all of us to work this to figure out the solution."