The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office released a report stating the Office of Public Health needs to strengthen its monitoring and enforcement efforts to ensure the safety of the state’s drinking water.
Daryl Purpera, CPA, CFE, with the LLA, says there were several concerns to note, chief among them that each water system collects its own samples, which in turn calls into question the integrity of the samples.
“Performance auditors noted several concerns in their report, including the fact that OPH relies on the water systems to collect most of the samples used to test for contamination,” he said. “The agency has had to do that since 2012 because of reductions in its staff, and because of a new federal Environmental Protection Agency rule that requires increased sampling. As a result, OPH cannot ensure that the samples are properly collected.”
Sam Mims, vice president of the Central Water System in Dubberly, agrees with the report, saying there is no assurance that samples are properly collected because the state does not collect them anymore.
“They don’t have any assurance that the water came from where I said it came from,” he said. “The state used to collect the samples. They paid a person to come around and collect the samples. They knew where the samples came from.”
In the city of Minden, Rick Broussard, with the city’s water department, says each sample is collected from a certain collection point, he said, adding the city has 60 collection points.
“We test 30 each month, and we rotate them out,” he said, adding that the samples will not pass inspection if they aren’t collected properly.
Scott Day, a contract water operator, says to combat that issue, a third party is paid to collect samples from the six collection points for Dixie Overland Water Works.
“That way it can’t be manipulated,” he said. “It’s taken by someone we’re not affiliated with.”
Each month, all water systems must test for bacterial contamination, and every three months many systems must test for chlorine byproducts. Day says some systems only have to test for chlorine byproducts once per year. Every three years, all water systems must collect samples for lead and copper.
The report shows that between 2009 and 2014, several water systems in Webster Parish had some violations, some more than others.
The City of Minden only had three violations, two for disinfectants/disinfection byproducts and one for total coliform. Springhill only had three violations as well, two for total coliform and one for violation of a state rule.
State rules include violations not regulated by the EPA, such as some chlorine and turbidity violations.
The water system with the highest number of violations during that time period was the Cullen Water System with 24 violations. Eleven of those violations were for disinfectants/disinfection byproducts, four were for total coliform, one for surface water treatment, and eight for CCN and public notice reporting. Several water systems had no violations, including: Bistineau State Parks 1 and 2, Champion Park Speedway Water System (before it closed), Dixie Inn, Gil-Gal Water System, Hickory Hollow Mobile Home Park Water System, Muddy Bottoms ATV and Recreation Park, Shongaloo Water System and Thirsty’s Drive Thru.
The report says since systems began collecting their own samples, the number of violations skyrocketed by 193 percent.
Purpera says it recommended that OPH reconsider using additional staff with funds from Act 605, which increases the Safe Drinking Water fee. The legislation is expected to increase OPH’s revenue by about $13.5 million per year by increasing the fee from $3.20 to $12 per customer per year.