Sunday, February 07, 2016

Beyond Flint: In The South, Another Water Crisis Has Been Unfolding For Years

Feb. 6, 2016

It's not simply Flint that has bad water. The Michigan city, which has grabbed headlines recently for its rampant water contamination, is joined in that dubious distinction by another town, much farther south: St. Joseph, La.

"It's just a given fact that at some point during the week, you're going to have brown or yellow water," says resident Garrett Boyte.

Boyte says there have been problems with the water there for a decade, but it's only in the past few weeks that St. Joseph has gotten any media attention.

"What's happening here in St. Joseph got the attention it's gotten because Flint has made water a public issue," he says. "And what I try to tell people is, this isn't just happening in St. Joseph or in Flint. It's happening in Louisiana, it's happening in Kentucky and Tennessee and Mississippi and in areas of poor and disenfranchised communities across the country."

The cause of the dark water in St. Joseph seems to be a broken pipe in the community's aging system. While local officials have said it's not dangerous, the break in the pipe could be a warning.

"Most of their issues seem to be around pipes that are 90 years old and are constantly being repaired," says Jimmy Guidry, Louisiana's state health officer.


And the aging water system has been an issue not just in St. Joseph, according to Guidry, but in other communities throughout Louisiana and other states, as well. He says it's "cost-prohibitive" for small communities to address the mandates from the Environmental Protection Agency on water standards.

"If you have enough customers, you tend to replace infrastructure over time, because you have a funding source. But when you don't have a funding source, you're looking for a low-interest loan if you can afford it or you're looking for a grant, which there aren't many of those around," Guidry says. "It's very difficult for them to meet the standards that are required and then give them the quality of water that they want."


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