Oil spill raises concerns over some communities' water supply

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by Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on June 14, 2010 at 6:13 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 14 at 6:16 PM

GALLIANO, La. -- As the oil spill pushes deeper into Barataria Bay and inland marshes, there are new concerns about how to protect the water supply in some south Louisiana communities. While most of metro New Orleans and Grand Isle use water from the Mississippi River, some communities draw their water from nearby bayous -- like in Lafourche Parish.

At Duets Bakery in Galliano, their bottom line is all about bread. Business there remains brisk, thanks to a high demand for Po-Boy bread loaves.

"We're helping to feed the people on Grand Isle, Fourchon and supply restaurants with bread-- the men that working down there," said bakery owner Burt Theriot.

On any given day, Theriot makes about 8,000 loaves of bread. Making all that bread requires water; he uses about 100 gallons a day. All of it comes from the very waterway just outside the bakery's door: Bayou Lafourche.

More than 30,000 people rely on Bayou Lafourche for their running water. They are connected to it through 800 miles of pipe. The bayou stretches down the length of Lafourche Parish, down to the coastal marshes near the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, those marshes are now under constant attack from oil -- and that is causing concern among water district managers further upstream.

"We have plans, you know, when you have minor leaks into the bayou and how to handle it -- we all have that," said Dirk Barrios, who heads up Lafourche Parish Water District No. 1. "But this is, by far, a completely and entirely different thing."

Barrios said Bayou Lafourche draws most of its water indirectly from the Mississippi River to the north. Over the years, though, the system has run into problems, with salt water intrusion pushing up from the south into the bayou.

Now, officials are in the early stages of planning for how to handle oil, if it should it happen to travel up that same path. They have already placed oil containment and absorbent boom at the water intakes in Lockport.

"We're going to try to be getting some type of monitoring equipment that would give us a heads up if something should happen, that we wouldn't be aware of by just going and looking," Barrios said.

The State Department of Health and Hospitals monitors and tests the safety of drinking water in Louisiana. So far, officials said the drinking water is safe, but a spokesperson said the agency is monitoring the oil spill.

"The reality is that current protocols for water treatment already treat for hydrocarbons present in oil, so unless it was a massive contamination for a prolonged period of time, those chemicals would be treated before going into people's homes," said DHH spokesperson Olivia Watkins. "Having said that, large amounts of oil are also very bad for the mechanics of the systems, so the priority is to keep it out."

State and local officials plan to meet on Tuesday, to discuss what equipment may be needed to keep the oil out of the drinking water supply.

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