Beauty and the Beast, Wonderland marred by outages

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Keyser Avenue Monday, Feb. 15 around 10 a.m. was competely blanketed in white. Very few vehicles were out and about to mar the pristine layer of snow. Photo by Juanice Gray

City Director of Utilities Matt Anderson said Tuesday, “Today is a great day. We have filled the tanks and all customers have water as of about two hours ago (2 p.m.) and we will build up even more tonight.” Anderson was talking about the water shortage that began last week when temperatures dipped to single digits. The storage tanks were filled prior to the snow but dissipated quickly when the cold temperatures arrived and triggered leaks all over the service area. Anderson said he had never seen this magnitude of low water before with consumption reaching the 6.5 million-gallon capacity each day, what he called overwhelming. Normal consumption is 5 million gallons per day.

The City of Natchitoches Utility Department implemented a water filling station at the Police Jury Parking Lot at the corner of Church and Third Streets. Residents must provide their own containers.
Photo by Hannah Richardson
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There were eight main line breaks, mostly cracks, then residents began dripping faucets. As the pressure dropped, water pipes, both old and new, began to shift with some breaking. The drain on the water supply peaked Feb. 16 a 1 p.m. according to Water Plant Manager Bronnie Odom. Anderson gave an interesting fact that helps explain why the water pressure dropped. The City has 9,038 water meters. The storage capacity and one days water production is 6.5 million gallons. Divide 6.5 million by 9,038 and divide that by 1,440 minutes (minutes in 24 hours), then each customer has to drip only about 1/2 gallon to deplete the 6.5 million gallons produced. Then add in other usage and water loss and it’s not hard to see why the shortage happened.

During an emergency meeting of the City Council Sunday, Anderson said he had never seen the water system in this shape and 40 percent of the 9,038 customers were completely out of water. Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr. said the psi reading was 25 over the weekend, but had risen to 51 by Monday. Williams said he expected the psi along I-49 to rise by Tuesday morning and water was beginning to reach the Oak Grove residents.

Water pressure is measured in psi, or pounds per square inch, and represents the force at which water enters your home from the water main. Normal psi for a home pipe system is 30-80 psi with 60 ideal. Boil advisories are issued when an unexpected condition caused a potential for biological entities in a public water system. Common reasons for a boil water notice include loss of pressure in the distribution system, loss of disinfection and other unexpected quality problems. Williams said he did not know when the boil advisory for Natchitoches would be lifted. Even though water pressure reaches the normal psi, it must be tested in Baton Rouge and there is a backlog because of water shortages across the state. Anderson said he is waiting on the La. Dept. of Health for guidance on lifting the boil advisory, primarily for Natchitoches Regional Medical Center.

 

Williams and the council expressed its thanks to the City utility department workers trying to restore the water pressure. Many worked in the extremely cold temperatures and slept in their trucks while having no water at their own residences. Williams said that 100% of electrical power was also restored, another reason he thanked the utility workers.

Williams said the City has three water treatment plants but needs to build a fourth. While a fourth one would not have prevented the water shortage, it would not have been as problematic. In his State of the City address Feb. 2, Williams alluded to the problems with the water treatment plants. He said to rehabilitate the existing #3 plant would cost $4 million and to add a fourth plant would cost $13 million.

He said the City’s antiquated system of iron water pipes would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to replace. In Louisiana about 82,000 people in Louisiana lacked access to water by Monday morning, according to the state health department.

In the Thursday, Feb. 26, 2021, print edition