‘Brown Water’ Complaints Dominate Alexandria City Council Discussions

By Jim Smilie

Complaints from residents of Acadian Village about brown water dominated discussions during the Alexandria City Council meeting Tuesday evening.

Willard McCall represented the residents at the Utility Committee meeting prior to the start of the main City Council meeting. McCall said residents have been dealing with discolored water for some time, with some residents having to seek medical attention and reporting skin rashes.

Four residents shared stories of issues with the discolored water. One resident said she was treated for chlorine burns on her neck. Another resident said that she regularly finds dark flakes and other materials floating in her tap water. Some residents brought bottles of discolored water as examples.

Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy acknowledged the city has been dealing with issues of discolored “brown” water throughout the city, including his own residence. Roy said he has replaced the water lines from his home to the city water line with PVC pipe, so he believes the source of the brown water at his home comes from the city water system.

Roy said iron in the water, which occurs naturally in the water drawn from the Kisatchie water well field for the city water supply, can cause the discoloration. Also, the city has a number of older water lines that have sediment that has built up over time, which can also cause discoloration. He said the city recently did an iron test on a water  sample and “it came back a 1.8 where it should be at .3.” However, he said it is not at a dangerous level that would require action. “I believe at this point it is an aesthetics issue,” he said.

Roy and Utility Director Michael Marcotte noted complaints increased after a water main break on Applewhite Street on April 26. Marcotte said that the rupture flooded the street and basically drained the water storage tank near Peabody High School. As a result of the break, Marcotte said the city increased water production to avoid a drop in water pressure that could lead to a city-wide boil advisory. “It’s like when you drain a gas tank, when you get down to the bottom you stir up stuff,” Marcotte explained.

Marcotte urged residents to report instances of discolored water so officials can flush the lines. “We can’t fix what we don’t know about,” he said. “This is the first I’ve heard about it at this level.” Marcotte said residents wishing to report discolored water should call the city water department at 318-473-1264 or report the issue in the Alex Connects smartphone app. “We can clear it up if we know where to flush,” he said.

In addition to the broken water main, Roy said the city has been flushing fire hydrants throughout the city as part of a required inspection of the system for fire protection ratings. That process can also stir up sediment in the bottom of water lines.

“I want to stress this is not a Flint situation,” Roy said referring to the water crisis that affected Flint, Michigan. He said the city conducts water tests monthly to ensure the water supply is safe, and the water system recently received an A rating for water quality.

“I believe water is a fundamental right,” Roy said. “This is fully on our radar. My wife lives in my home. My children live in my home. I don’t want dirty water.”

In other committee action prior to the main council meeting, Roy clarified the way the city distributes information to the public during the Public Safety, Works and Transportation Committee meeting.

Roy said that effective May 15, 2023, the city will have one official source for the distribution of information. That source will be the “city’s ‘owned’ media: principally, its website, general Facebook page, Government Facebook page and Alexandria Police Department and Alexandria Fire Department Facebook pages.”

Roy explained the city is returning essentially to the policy that was in effect in 2018 at the end of Roy’s previous term as Mayor and that policies adopted from 2019-2022 in conflict with the current policy have been revoked.

During the Hall administration, press releases were typically emailed to a list of media outlets in addition to being posted on the city website and social media sites. Regarding the end of emailing releases, the administration told the council in a written update, “the city is discontinuing chain email transmissions for security and practical reasons, effective May 15, 2023. These methods create security risks and require constant increased monitoring by personnel to ensure inclusion of ‘new’ sources, which as explained is no longer technologically required or practical. Democratization is easier than ever.”

The main council meeting, scheduled for a 5 p.m. start, didn’t start until 5:45 p.m. as the committee discussions ran longer than scheduled. The meeting moved quickly as the council approved a number of routine measures to acquire supplies. The council also approved an ordinance allowing the city to be a co-sponsor of the Central Louisiana 2023 Juneteenth Celebration.

The council also formally ratified the results of the special tax election held on April 29. The tax renewal on the ballot failed with a vote of 792 yes and 809 no votes. The existing tax millage provides funding for city capital projects.

City Council President Lee Rubin said the current tax doesn’t expire until 2028, so there is no immediate impact to the city’s Capital Budget. He also noted the city has time to put the matter on the ballot again for voter approval.