St Joseph

The town of St. Joseph is located in Tensas Parish and has a population of approximately 1,100 with 77% of the population being African American (US Census 2010). The water treatment plant in the town draws its source water from two wells in the Mississippi River Alluvial Aquifer (LEAN Citizen’s Guide).

The community made international headlines in 2017 due to its failing water infrastructure. Residents had been complaining about discolored, dirty water coming from the taps for almost a decade due to precipitated iron and manganese. Iron and Manganese are secondary water contaminants and their presence in the finished water are not enforced (Desomg 2017). The water treatment plant for the community had not been adequately maintained and the pipeline distribution system was deteriorating. The water system was 90 years old. Between May 2012 and January 2016 St. Joseph issued 20 boil water advisories for their water system (LEAN Citizen’s Guide).

After decades of neglect and initial inaction from state agencies, lead was found in the drinking water. Governor John Bel Edwards issued a Public Health Emergency Proclamation for the Town of St. Joseph on December 16, 2016 and the National Guard provided drinking water while the city distribution system was replaced/repaired (Louisiana Department of Health). LEAN provided technical support to residents early on and has participated throughout the testing and response process.

The threat of an imminent public health emergency was based on levels of lead detected in the drinking water above primary drinking water standards at two locations in the Town of St. Joseph. The Governor ordered testing of every household in the town within four weeks.Based on 414 customers sampled for lead in their drinking water, 90 homes (21.7% of samples) had unsafe levels of lead (LEAN Citizen’s Guide).

Since this Public Health Emergency Declaration, the community drinking water system for the town of St Josephs has been overhauled and new distribution lines have been installed (Louisiana Department of Health 2018). However, residents whose homes contain older pipes and appliances may still be at risk of lead and other contaminants entering their drinking water. Work continues to try to eliminate these potential dangers to residents (LEAN Citizen’s Guide).

St. Joseph’s water problems are one example of approx. 400 water systems that provide inadequate drinking water to residents across the state.