Water battle spouts to new level

Legislation would require system controls in Lafayette

Decades later, Scott Mayor Purvis Morrison couldn’t tell you which private water system supplied the water at his starter home in Lafayette Parish. He just remembers he couldn’t wash clothes there.

The faucets spat out rust. The home’s water supply stained clothing in the washing machine.

“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” said Morrison, who as mayor still fields complaints about the water in his original two-street subdivision.

Some residents of unincorporated parts of Lafayette Parish are taking their fight for clearer water to the State Capitol. The state Senate is scheduled next week to debate Senate Bill 425, which would require private water or sewer systems in areas such as Scott, Youngsville and Broussard to have iron and manganese control. Iron and manganese do not pose a health risk. However, the elements are a nuisance because they stain laundry and lower water pressure.

Any private water or sewer system that flunked three regulation tests within 12 months would forfeit its system to a political subdivision. The forfeiture is what many residents have sought for years. They want their water supply to come from neighboring towns, not a private system.

“It’s just been going on and on for these people forever, and they came to me. They’ve tried every other avenue,” said state Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette and SB425’s sponsor.

Residents listed a litany of problems for legislators at a committee meeting. They cited water boil advisories, unworkable fire hydrants, sewer problems, property value concerns and money spent on bottled water and filtration.

Jennifer Duhon, who lives in Youngsville’s Country Village subdivision, held up a shirt for legislators at the State Capitol. The boutique-purchased shirt is stained and unwearable. “I wanted to show you what the water does to our clothing. This was a white shirt, a very expensive white shirt,” she said.

Duhon’s neighbor, Cherie Sellers, showed a stack of photographs capturing cordoned off fire hydrants, stained appliances and orange-hued pool water. “This is of a tank explosion, what our dishwashers look like. Very stained. This is bath water — if you can imagine putting your child in that kind of bath water ... This is a swimming pool. When you add chlorine, it turns even more bright orange,” she said, flipping through the photographs.

Broussard resident Graeme Tuminello brought the water itself. He lined up bottles of colored water on a committee room table and offered legislators a taste.

“What do you spend on water a month? Probably 20 bucks. I spend almost $150 a month. Forty dollars to $60 for water I can’t drink,” Tuminello said. “(Then) I have to buy Kentwood water. I have to put filtration on my house. Not to mention everything it ruins,” he said.

State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, said the water reminded her of what she encountered when she visited Nigeria. She said she couldn’t bathe in or drink the water at the hotel. She said she is on the residents’ side.

“That’s a horror story. It’s substandard. It’s like we’re living in a third-world country,” Dorsey-Colomb said.

Not everyone is a fan of the legislation. Total Environment Solutions Inc., which supplies water to Duhon and Tuminello, was closed Friday for the holiday.

However, a TESI official sent legislators a letter complaining about SB425. The company, which is a private water and sewer business, said it spent millions of dollars to make vast improvements and accused legislators of allowing partisan politics into the State Capitol.

The water meets state health standards.

Cortez said residents contacted him shortly after he was elected to the Louisiana House. He continued to pursue the issue once he was elected to the state Senate. He said he’s never gotten much of a response from TESI.

Youngsville Mayor Wilson Viator said his town wanted to buy TESI’s system but couldn’t come to terms on a price. He said he wants to put residents on city water and install fire hydrants. Unless TESI sells the system, he said his hands are tied. The legislation could give him the opening he needs to extend the city water.

“It’s bad enough to where (residents) won’t drink the water, they can’t wash their clothes unless they install expensive water softening systems. It’s costing them a fortune to buy drinking water. It’s costing them a good chunk of change to put in water softeners,” Viator said.