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St. James water demand outpacing supply

Webre said because of the freezing temperatures, there’s been a 40 percent increase in water consumption across the parish since Sunday. T

ST. JAMES PARISH, La. — Like many folks across Southeast Louisiana, James Melancon made sure the water pipes outside his St. James Parish home were ready for freezing temperatures. 

“I put a blanket on the mainline that comes in and I put two lights,” said Melancon. “It just keeps it warm enough, so it doesn’t freeze.”

What he’s not doing is dripping his faucet inside, which is exactly what parish leaders are asking of everyone in St. James Parish.

“It happens almost every time we have a major winter storm so there’s always mitigation actions that we have to take,” said Rick Webre, parish director of operations. 

Webre said because of the freezing temperatures, there’s been a 40 percent increase in water consumption across the parish since Sunday. That’s a demand of 3 to 4 million gallons a day, putting a strain on storage and the parish’s two plants that only produce about 3.2 million gallons a day.

“We anticipated this coming in,” said Webre.

Webre said the biggest concern is being able to provide enough water for drinking and fire suppression. Two house fires the last couple of days have added to the demand and the need for advisories for water conservation. 

When initial advisories started to go out, water consumption started to go down a bit, which is good news for supply. If that track does not continue, there will have to be rolling water outages parish-wide. 

“Right now we’re holding on but it’s right on the margin,” said Webre.

To prevent outages, Webre is asking folks in St. James Parish not to leave faucets dripping, use a washing machine or dishwasher or fill a bathtub. That could all lead to longer outages. 

“They sent out alerts saying they’re going to shut the water off,” said Melancon. Melancon says he’s never dealt with a rolling water outage in the 40 years he’s lived here and already filled his bathtub when he heard what may happen.

 “I knew something was coming because the pressure has been getting low,” said Melancon.

With crews working to keep the pressure moving, they’re hoping to not have to completely stop it.

 If necessary, outages could last a couple of days. Parish leaders said it all depends on how fast those plants can get water levels back up. Any rolling blackouts would lead to boil water advisories.

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