Robottom: No. 1 concern is drinking water safety

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, November 4, 2014

As Parish President, I am ultimately responsible for making sure the drinking water is safe, and I take that responsibility very seriously.

I am also responsible for complying with the Emergency Administrative Order issued for Water District No. 1 and developing a comprehensive approach to doing so. This approach is being directed at the department level with oversight by third party consultants and DHH and is meeting or exceeding the required level of 1.0 mg/l Chlorine Residual at all sample sites.

Accountability at all levels is critical and is being dealt with on an individual basis. There are rules governing management of employees, and employees must be afforded due process.

These rules do not address the two criminal indictments being handled by the Attorney General’s Office. This process was directed by DHH, investigated by State Police, indicted by a Grand Jury and will be prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office. These indictments are not related to training, management or oversight.

The indictments address failure to perform their duties and fraudulent data that was recorded and could not be verified by GPS data, and the cases will be settled in court.

I want to reassure the residents of Water District No. 1 that the water is safe to drink and use for all purposes. There have been no reports of illness or death associated with the ameba, and Chlorine levels required by DHH are well below the upper limit of 4.0mg/l.

With consistent levels of Chlorine in the water for seven weeks, this eliminates conditions that breed the ameba and restores water that is safe for all purposes.

This was confirmed by Dr. Jimmy Guidry, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospital’s Medical Director, who said the ameba is probably out of the system, based on the amount of flushing and the current chlorine levels that have been maintained over the past seven weeks.

He said, “We feel that at this point, there is plenty of chlorine in the water, that the ameba’s probably not there.” Additionally, the ameba does not thrive in cool temperatures.

Our focus is on keeping the parish’s water system safe and complying with the Emergency Administrative Order. Unfortunately, much of the political rhetoric and pandering is not based on fact or reality and suggests a lack of understanding of the Utilities Department.

It is not in the best interest of our residents to change leadership of the department with only 13 days left in the 60-day Chlorine Burn. In addition to the normal sampling requirements, 70 new sample sites are being monitored, as well as two water tanks in Water District No. 1.

The Utilities Director oversees 62 employees who are responsible for water treatment, water distribution, waste water treatment and waste water collection.

The Director’s responsibilities also include management of the Non-Domestic Program, Backflow Prevention Program and millions of dollars of construction projects currently under way. No one can step into this position and manage its personnel or maintain the integrity of the Utilities Department without support, and it would be irresponsible to remove the department head in the middle of an emergency, thus putting all of our residents at risk.

The parish is complying with all DHH requirements and is well on its way to completing the Administrative Order; any change could jeopardize the progress made thus far.

We are also working with our attorneys on ways of helping residents with elevated water bills, and all vulnerabilities exposed during the recent events will be addressed through organizational, structural and personnel changes at the appropriate time.

For clarification purposes, there has been only one Administrative Order issued related to Chlorine levels, and it was issued on Aug. 27, 2014, for Water District No. 1. A 2009 Administrative Order was issued for the Lions Plant, and all but one item has been corrected and the remaining item will be addressed with a new filtration system. A Modified Administrative Order (4/26/12) issued for the West Bank was reduced to two items, as many of the previous items from 2005-2009 were corrected.

The amendment allowed for substitution of a water line under the river for a second clarifier. Construction of this project is under way and should be completed in the Spring of 2015.

Other items were related to THMs, not Chlorine levels.

Natalie Robottom is parish president for St. John the Baptist Parish.