Some 560 households in Concordia Parish do not have drinkable tap water.
Of those households, the majority lives in Clayton and Ridgecrest and have been dealing with water issues for years.
Clayton and Ridgecrest have similar situations that exacerbate problems for the residents who live within the communities. Both communities have weak tax bases and aging infrastructures.
Additionally, both communities have the maximum allowable level of trihalomethanes (THM) recorded in their water this year, according to a Louisiana Department of Health report.
THMs are the result of a reaction between the chlorine used for disinfecting tap water and natural organic matter in the water. At elevated levels, THMs have been associated with negative health effects such as cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes.
Along with the maximum allowable level of THMs, slight levels of barium, cadmium, mercury and nitrates have been recorded in Clayton’s water, according to the report.
People who live in these communities receive notice of violation letters on a regular basis.
The problem with these letters is that residents usually receive them a month after the date recorded on the letter, said Mike Smith, a resident of Clayton.
Smith and his wife, Darlene, have been living in Clayton since 2011 and always dealt with undrinkable water.
“The water has never been good in Clayton,” Smith said.
Cooking and drinking the tab water is nearly impossible, Smith said.
“We cook with it to a certain extent after we boil it,” Smith said. “We buy cases of (bottled) water to drink and gallon jugs of water to cook with.”
The couple bathe in the water, but Smith said there have been times he experienced skin irritations and wonders about micro-organisms.
“We never had to go to the doctor about it, but it does make you wonder,” Smith said.
Smith said the answer to Clayton’s water problem is found in the ancient pipes that transport water to each house.
“It has to have something to do with the pipes,” Smith said. “We have a new water plant, but our pipes are old. There ought to be a way to flush them.”
The water quality has improved in Clayton since JCP Management Inc., who is once again contractor water plant operator, flushes the lines, Smith said. But, he said there are times when the water is still discolored.
In October, Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency in Clayton after JCP Management walked out after not receiving payment for services.
“I have turned on the faucet before, and the water is brown and black,” Smith said.
Clayton residents are not alone in their drinkable water plight. Ridgecrest residents are suffering from undrinkable water that has a foul smell and is orange in color.
In the regular May meeting, residents filled Ridgecrest’s town hall to air complaints about the water situation.
One vocal resident at the meeting was Jacqueline Davis.
Davis is the caretaker of her son, Kenneth Trowel Jr., who is an Army veteran and has lived in Ridgecrest since 2002.
Davis suffers from Graves Disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism. With this disease a person’s immune system attacks the thyroid and causes it to make more thyroid hormones than the body needs.
“My son suffers from skin irritations because of this water,” Davis said.
Like Clayton residents, people living in Ridgecrest cannot wash their clothes or towels without staining them, Davis said.
“This water is horrible,” Davis said. “I cannot do recreational things like put up a swimming pool because of the water conditions. I had to clean the water before I put up an aquarium in my house.”
Davis, who lives on a fixed income, says Ridgecrest’s water has put a strain on her finances.
“The water bill has went from 40-something to $60 some things and now if we tap into Ferriday it will probably go up to $100 a month,” Davis said. “I also buy bottled water to prepare our meals and brush our teeth”
In order to repair Ridgecrest’s water problem, Davis said the community needs to “come together.”
“We have elderly people and sick people like myself living in this community,” Davis said. “We need to know what is going on. We want to know what we can do to help (Ridgecrest).”
Daniel Harris and his wife, Tab, were also at the May meeting and have organized meetings in their home where concerned citizens can gather and discuss possible answers to Ridgecrest’s water problem. The couple have also started a Facebook page called Ridgecrest Citizens where information is posted concerning the water situation and what people can do to help.
Harris, an Army veteran from Tennessee, suffers from non-Hodgkin’ lymphoma, a group of blood cancers that includes all types of lymphoma except Hodgkin’s lymphomas. Symptoms include enlarged lymph nodes, fever, night sweats, weight loss and tiredness.
“This affects my skin and my immune system,” Harris said. “It causes skin lesions and it causes rheumatoid arthritis and lupus at times. My skin feels like it is ripping, cracking and itching at all times. One of the best reliefs I get is from a hot Epsom Salt bath, and I haven’t been able to do that in months.”
In order get drinkable water, Harris and his wife purchase or go to the water buffaloes located in Ridgecrest for their water. Harris said he also flushes his hot water heater, dishwater and washer machine lines to keep the appliances working.
“It is not just discolored, but when you run (the water) it has settlement,” Harris said. “It is that color because of the rust and iron.”
Filters at Ridgecrest’s antiquated water plant are too worn to catch much of the settlement, a problem Mike McGuffee, JCP Management operator, acknowledged at the Town Council meeting.
“The filters at the plant are not doing much,” he said. “They are worn out.”
Water buffaloes are still stationed at the plant and the town hall but residents continue to wait for a response from a request to the governor for bottled water.
Two weeks ago Concordia Parish Police Jury president Jimmy Wilkinson requested seven pallets of bottled water.
As of Wednesday morning, Police Jury officials said they have not heard from the governor.
Clayton and Ridgecrest residents do not know when they will have drinkable water, but as Harris explains they do know how important it is.
“Bottom line, everything revolves around water,” Harris said. “All life has to have water, and right now that is what the citizens are fighting for. We are fighting for the basic necessities of life period. Water affects your career, your shelter. It affects everything.”