Water quality bill clears House panel

Lafayette homeowner Jennifer Duhon said the quality of the water in her home is so bad that she won’t even give it to her dog.

“I buy bottled water for my dog,” she told a House committee of the state Legislature on Wednesday.

Duhon is one of the Lafayette parish homeowners who is served by Total Environmental Solutions Inc., a private company that provides water and wastewater services to some of the unincorporated areas of the parish. TESI customers in the area have complained for years about dirty, orange water provided by the company.

State Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, is trying to remedy the problem with a bill that imposes stricter water quality regulations for his parish.

Senate Bill 425 proposes new chlorination, manganese and iron standards for water service providers. It also gives the local governing authority the ability to fine companies who fall out of compliance and use the collected fines for remediation. In the event that a company fails three times in a year, it gives the municipality the authority to take over the system.

SB425 has made it out of the Senate, and on Wednesday it received resounding approval from the Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs committee of the House. It advanced without objection.

Cortez said never in his life did he think he would propose a bill that would impose stricter regulations on an industry. But he said TESI is providing water “that you wouldn’t provide to your worst enemy.”

Graeme Tuminello, another TESI customer who lives in the Shenandoah neighborhood, said he’s struggled with water problems for 13 years.

He showed the committee a Mason jar filled with grainy, rust-orange tap water from his house. He said the water is filled with iron that ruins appliances and stains their clothing. Sometimes TESI flushes their water with chlorine to clean the water, but the chlorine levels are so high that it bleaches their clothes, Tuminello testified.

“We are demanding that it be filtered, that it be fixed, so I don’t have to bathe my children in this, so I don’t have to drink this,” Tuminello said.

Iron and manganese do not pose a health risk. However, the elements are a nuisance because they stain laundry and lower water pressure. The water is meeting state health standards.

TESI representatives were present at the hearing but they did not offer any comment, nor did they officially oppose the bill by submitting a red card to the committee.

A TESI manager declined comment by phone. However, the company has sent a letter to legislators opposing the bill and explaining that they’ve spent millions of dollars to make improvements.

State Rep. Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales, liked the bill so much he forced an amendment through that would also make it apply to Ascension Parish, despite an objection from Cortez. Berthelot said Ascension residents have also complained about dirty water in parts of the parish.

Rob Rieger, a Baton Rouge lawyer representing Ascension Waste Water Treatment, opposed to the amendment, saying that issues with Ascension water companies are unrelated to issues in Lafayette parish.

He said the sweeping legislation would make it difficult for banks to lend to the companies who may need to borrow for additional capital needs.