Water worries

Governor, speaking in Lake Charles, says state needs to spend $10B in next 20 years on water systems

<p class="p1">Louisiana needs to invest more money into improving outdated and neglected water systems and preserving them over the long term, Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a stop in Lake Charles on Tuesday.

<p class="p1">Edwards told Louisiana Rural Water Association members that the state has to spend about $10 billion over the next 20 years to maintain and improve its water systems. He said more than half of the state’s water systems are over 50 years old and that many are in distress, especially those in rural areas.

<p class="p1">“We cannot ignore it, and we can’t take it for granted,” Edwards said of providing residents with clean drinking water. “We have a long road ahead of us.”

<p class="p1">To address the problem, Edwards said his administration created the Rural Water Infrastructure Committee. The group, which includes officials from various state agencies, is tasked with recommending funding sources to help local districts.

<p class="p1">“We want to help communities find real solutions,” he said.

<p class="p1">The ultimate goal, Edwards said, is for local officials to sustain water systems without state or federal assistance. One method is offering an incentive for parish leaders to create a reserve fund dedicated to maintaining water systems.

<p class="p1">“It’s much cheaper to maintain a system than to replace one,” he said.

<p class="p1">Edwards said committee officials are visiting areas that need help in addressing critical short-term water infrastructure needs.

<p class="p1">The governor said water rates should be set to where enough revenue can be collected to maintain the water systems. He said that asking residents to pay more for water or any service isn’t easy, but usually “is the best course of action.”

<p class="p1">Edwards said there is a lack of new workers on water systems and that current employees are “spread thin.”

<p class="p2"><strong>Interstate 210 bridge</strong>

<p class="p1">Edwards said that improving the Interstate 210 bridge is needed to lessen traffic problems once construction on a new I-10 bridge begins.

<p class="p1">The bid offered by Metairie-based Kiewit Louisiana Co. has a one-year timeline for construction. The work calls for redecking the bridge’s 930-foot main span; building an inspection walkway underneath the bridge; improving barrier rails; and installing lighting.

<p class="p1">The contract, Edwards said, includes a $25,000 penalty for each day the work goes past schedule.

<p class="p3"><strong>Hurricane season</strong>

<p class="p1">Meteorologists announced earlier this month that this year’s Atlantic hurricane season may not be as active as initially predicted. Edwards said the state is prepared for whatever may happen, but doesn’t want to be tested.

<p class="p1">Residents should be able to care for themselves for at least 72 hours after any disaster, he said. He recommended visiting getagameplan.org for a list of steps to take to prepare for a hurricane.

<p class="p1">Edwards praised the state agencies and local volunteers for helping evacuate Texas residents who were stranded after Hurricane Harvey’s landfall and subsequent flooding last year.

<p class="p3"><strong>Coastal recreational projects</strong>

<p class="p1">Later in the day, Edwards returned to Baton Rouge to announce $60 million in coastal recreational projects that will be paid for by settlement funds from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. 

<p class="p1">Of that, $7 million will be spent on a science center in Lake Charles. The project was submitted by the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

<p class="p1">Another $2.42 million will be used to build and renovate cabins and restrooms at Sam Houston Jones State Park. The Louisiana Office of State Parks submitted the project for consideration.

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