The Office of Public Health Region IX covers northeastern Louisiana, including Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, and Washington Parishes. The total population served in this Region is about 438,000.
Almost all of the water supply in the region is from groundwater sources. Regarding municipal drinking water treatment in the region, plants went back online fairly quickly. Facilities dosed high levels of chlorine until microbiological analyses (sampled at SDWA sites) were negative.
Interviews with the Regional Epidemiologist and Regional Sanitarian confirmed that bottled water was an essential part of the response in the region. Also, some facilities on the boil water order list no longer exist as a result of massive hurricane-related damage.
A large proportion of the population relies on private wells for drinking water supply. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put into place mobile laboratories soon after Hurricane Katrina but these were removed before Hurricane Rita struck the area. Testing resumed two weeks after Hurricane Rita and ended last week. Families were requested to bring a drinking water sample in thiosulfate-containing sterile containers. They were notified of samples found to have total coliforms and/or E. coli. All families were given instructions on the disinfection of private wells.
As of now, a total of 43 water systems continue to be on “boil water” orders, including 34 in St. Tammany Parish and 9 in Washington Parish. Now that EPA-led testing has ceased, the regional laboratory is continuing to provide testing services for residents wishing to test well water.
Washington Parish is primarily rural, with a total population of about 50,000 persons. It is a highly impoverished area that has been relatively underserved during the post-storm period. There have not been large sites distributing water, comfort kits, meals, and other such services. Many residents may have had to be self-sufficient in this area due to a lack of extensive services from relief agencies. It would be important to understand the ways in which people have coped in this region, including with respect to household water management and hand hygiene. Other parts of Region IX, such as the city of Slidell, are more well off. They may have been better served by relief services either directly or because of proximity to New Orleans.
Municipal wastewater treatment capacity in the region was reestablished shortly after power was restored. Some septic systems were being replaced, but few problems were seen. Sewer backup issues were noted in Metairie.
Submitted by Pavani Ram and James Jensen
October 19, 2005