The West Baton Rouge Parish Utilities Department will absorb Brusly’s Water District No. 2 next year, said Jim Rills, chairman of the district’s board of commissioners.
Rills said Thursday the state Department of Health and Hospitals urged the change to streamline services and improve communication with customers.
Rills said Water District No. 2, the last remaining independent water district in the parish, serves about 2,500 customers in Brusly and parts of Addis. The district, formed in 1959, has been governed by a five-member board of commissioners overseeing its $700,000 annual operating budget, he said.
The water district has four full-time and four part-time employees, Rills said.
“We’ve done an excellent job,” Rills said. “This is not a reflection on the board or the employees. It’s just a reporting thing with DHH. They’re just trying to get rid of these little small systems because the laws are getting more stringent every year on drinking water so the reporting is getting a lot more detailed.”
“I have mixed feelings,” Rills said. “In the long run, my main concern is that the customers still get the same good water and service. I also hope the employees don’t loose out in the end.”
West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Peewee” Berthelot said Thursday the parish’s takeover will be effective June 30.
Berthelot said the parish already had assumed control of two other independent districts, Water District No. 1 in Addis and Water District No. 4 in Erwinville. The city of Port Allen, meanwhile, owns and operates its own water system, he said.
Berthelot called the parish’s move to take over Water District 2 a “friendly merger” and added that many transition details still need to be worked out, such as what will happen to the water district’s employees.
Both sides already agreed the water district’s office in Brusly will remain open so that customers won’t have to come to Port Allen to pay their water bills.
“We’ve also agreed that any money we make off selling water in the district will be spent on waterline improvements in their district,” Berthelot said. “These water boards have been running efficient operations. They all had money in their reserve accounts and we want to keep that money and spend it on improvements in those respective districts.”
Jake Causey, state Department of Health and Hospitals chief engineer and safe drinking water administrator, said Friday that Water District No. 2 had been cited in recent years for not properly informing customers about water-related issues at one of its wells near the Wal-Mart on La. 1 south of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
“They had this weird situation where several hundred customers living within an area in District 2 were being billed for water by the parish because the waterlines to their homes were owned and operated by West Baton Rouge,” Causey said.
“But the water they received was coming from the water well in District 2,” Causey said, “so whenever we issued a public advisory to the district, those customers weren’t getting them because the water district would advise their customers through their water bills.”
Causey said some miscommunications also occurred during Hurricane Isaac last month, when customers were misinformed about a boil water advisory.
“The water district is running their system and the parish is running theirs and the two weren’t really jiving,” Causey said. “It’s really a conflict that needed resolution because customers need accurate information about the water they’re drinking.”