With last week’s cold snap wreaking havoc with water supply and availability in many parishes, St. Charles Parish was one that did not have to issue a boil water advisory like many of its neighbors.
St. Charles Parish Waterworks Director Robbie Brou said the parish has the ability to treat more than twice the average daily water demands of its residents, a useful distinction in these situations. That infrastructure, along with some conservation by parish residents, kept the situation from escalating and requiring a boil mandate.
“We also maintain a one day supply of drinking water in storage at our facilities,” Brou said. “These abilities were stretched to their maximum due to the number of customer leaks and people flushing water lines to avoid frozen pipes. This prompted us to ask our customers to restrict or limit water usage to avoid low water pressure in the system and the resulting boil water advisories.”
Even so, Brou admits waterworks staff and parish authorities were very concerned throughout the course of the cold weather event.
“Even with the additional capacity we were supplying more water to the distribution system than we could treat,” Brou said. “We were able to do this because of the one day’s supply of water in storage. However as the level of water in storage continued to drop during the event there was growing concern that we could not maintain the rate of flow from the plants for much longer without facing low water pressure issues.”
Brou credited the department’s distribution crews that worked diligently to locate and turn off leaking water services for both days of the event, as well as repairing the two water main breaks in the parish’s system.
The call to residents to conserve reversed the trend of having to distribute more water than the department was treating, which allowed for the chance to start filling its storage tanks.
The Department of Health requires water systems to maintain water pressure above 15 PSI. All water distribution lines have small leaks in them and the maintained positive pressure on the inside of those pipes ensures those leaks are leaking out and that nothing is leaking in.
Brou said the concern and often the need for a boil advisory comes when the pressure falls too low. That can result in ground water leaking into the water pipes and causing potential contamination.
If the water needs of residents exceed the ability to treat it, it can result in low water pressure throughout a system.
Preparation is key in any emergency situation, and this was no different, Brou notes.
“The parish places a large emphasis on our water system as it is a critical service that we provide to residents,” he said. “Well-maintained and properly-sized treatment, storage and distribution infrastructure is critical to sustaining water pressure, flow and quality in an event such as we have just experienced, but also in maintaining these every day of the year.”