Gov. John Bel Edwards said he was glad to be in Lake Charles on Tuesday and was grateful that Hurricane Barry didn’t bring as much rainfall to the state as initially anticipated.
“Earlier, I thought I might be in Baton Rouge at the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness trying to figure out how to respond to Barry,” Edwards told Louisiana Rural Water Association members on Tuesday.
Not enough people are “getting into the profession of water management,” Edwards said. One shortage in particular is certified operators.
“That means many of you are spread thin, and I know how frustrating that can be,” he said. “You don’t always have the appropriate resources to properly do your job.”
Roughly 58 percent of Louisiana’s rural water systems are at least 50 years old and in distress, the governor said. Fixing smaller issues, he said, only leads to bigger and more expensive problems down the road.
“Once we get that far behind in proper maintenance, it’s almost impossible to catch back up,” Edwards said. “We don’t want to have to wait until there’s an emergency to have the ability to address a problem.”
The Rural Water Infrastructure Committee, created by Edwards’ administration, is made up of officials from various state agencies who work to help local water districts.
The Legislature approved a bill to create a rural water infrastructure body to accomplish several goals.
One is to create standards water systems must meet in order to keep receiving state funds. It will also create financial incentives for systems that are fiscally responsible and compliant.
Smaller, struggling systems will be consolidated. The body will also create educational support for municipal and non-profit boards and operators.
Non-compliant water systems will be held accountable with a required legislative audit and more management training, multi-agency inspection and enforcement processes.
“Now, that’s a lot,” Edwards said of the goals. “But we are trying to address more water systems earlier in the process and make sure if we’re going to invest money in a water system, there is a good plan to maintain that system.”
Edwards said the effort is ongoing and will take time to be effective.
“We are already making progress,” he said.