Extended freeze blamed for water pressure concerns; Public Schools extending school day

Published 12:13 am Saturday, January 6, 2018

RESERVE — The extraordinary length of frigid to below-freezing temperatures experienced in St. John the Baptist Parish is blamed for the extended loss of water pressure and its negative impact to schools, homes and businesses.

Though low temperatures are not unheard of in the area, the recent Arctic blast had a pronounced impact on the region because of its longevity, St. John Utilities Director Blake Fogleman said.

He said the weeklong hard freeze put a tremendous strain on facilities since cold spells typically last less than a day and a half.

Other Parishes across the state are experiencing similar concerns, Fogleman said, and he dispelled rumors that St. John the Baptist Parish is borrowing water from New Orleans or other municipalities.

Traci Musso of Belle Pointe in Reserve experienced effects of low water pressure, including not being able to flush toilets for a few hours and having limited water for showering.

However, she said she anticipated the drawbacks of freezing temperatures and kept a “this too shall pass” mindset.

“It’s an inconvenience, but nothing major,” Musso said. “The most difficult part is the boil water advisory. The Parish has done a good job of calling, texting and making sure everyone knows.”

St. John Councilman Thomas Malik said he isn’t surprised the cold weather impacted the Parish so dramatically.

“In South Louisiana, we’re not engineered for hard freezes,” he said.

Malik said Cain Dufrene and other representatives from Fire Services diligently worked alongside the Utilities Department to restore water pressure.

Compliance with water conservation efforts, although burdensome, is the best way residents can aid water pressure restoration, St. John officials said.

Freezing temperatures, broken pipes and dripping faucets clearly put a strain on potable water systems, according to Fogleman, who said local residents need to be aware that dripping faucets overnight does more harm than good when temperatures hover above freezing.

“The only time dripping pipes is effective is if it’s a below-freezing temperature,” he said. “The freezing temperatures might have only lasted for four hours, and the faucet was dripping eight hours overnight.”

Fogleman said residents who run water should only drip the faucet furthest from the water entry into the home, allowing water to run throughout the household and limiting the chance of fluctuations in water pressure.

The Utilities Department received approximately 50 calls about water pressure by Thursday morning, Fogleman said, with many coming from Reserve, Garyville and Mt. Airy in Water District I.

“It has affected a significant amount of businesses who rely on running water,” Fogleman said. “We’ve been working with the car washes that have contacted us to provide as much pressure as we can.”

Additionally, residents in Water District I were placed under a boil advisory as a precaution due to low water pressure levels.

Diminished toilet flushing and building heating capabilities forced public schools to close Thursday and Friday, but School District spokesperson Jennifer Boquet said she expects schools to reopen Monday.

Due to closures on Thursday and Friday, all St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools — with the exception of Lake Pontchartrain Elementary — will have school hours extended by 10 minutes daily for the remainder of the school year.

The new schedule goes into effect Monday, and principals have been notified to use the extra time for instruction, according to Assistant Superintendent Heidi Trosclair.

Lake Pontchartrain Elementary students have been operating on a 7-minute school hour extension since the beginning of the school year to account for extra days off as students transition into a new building, she said. The new Lake Pontchartrain Elementary opens Monday.