Officials Giving The Runaround

Reporting from Sulphur, Louisiana: Would You Drink This Water?!

Sulphur, LA, we have a problem.

Corruption, cover-ups, lies, and suppression. No, I’m not talking about a daytime soap, this is the real-life day-to-day BS that citizens of the most powerful nation in the world have to endure.

Let me say it again for those in the back: your zip code, your mayor, your city council members, the local media… should not determine if you have safe and clean water to drink. Water is necessary for life.  

Here’s the SOS letter I received from someone on this newsletter list last week:

We really need some help in Sulphur, Louisiana. The mayor continues to give us the runaround— the water is orange, brown, and stinks. They flush a hydrant down from my house every morning, the street is now orange. We have been dealing with this since 2017, and it’s getting worse.

-Terry Anderson, 13-year Sulphur resident

The pictures really are worth a thousand words.

The city of Sulphur, with a population of about 20,000 residents, needs to be giving interim water to every citizen with water that looks like that, until you fix the problem, starting immediately. Don’t serve this water to your customers and say it’s “safe to drink.”

First of all, this system has reported health-based violations with the EPA.

When you have people sending you these kinds of photos, reporting rashes, hair loss, cancer and autoimmune health issues, telling you brand new appliances are failing and falling apart because of the water, YOU NEED TO LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE.

Terry says the water issues started at her house around 2017.

“It’s been an ongoing battle,” she said. “I’m waiting on test results now to see my lead and metal counts. The city budgeted 3 to 4 years ago with the previous mayor to fix this problem and that money has now gone poof! And it was never fixed. The problem is that we have a mayor and city council members, who don’t care much about the water situation, but as you can see, this water is making people sick. We keep getting lied to and told they are making changes, but the only thing they do is flush a hydrant.”

Markel Andrepont, has been making noise about the water issues in Sulphur for the last eight years or so, saying that city officials blame the problems on the wells.

“They say the wells are old and bad, they are pumping up a lot of iron and sediment,” he said. “They’ve changed the filter medium to pump that dirty water through the filters and the filters do absolutely no good. The 30-year engineer for the city admitted that even a bigger filter wouldn’t do any good because the well is just pumping too much sediment and too much iron.

But instead of building a new well, they are scheduled to change the filter vessels for $7 million. What would help is to build a new well, which costs about $850,000. If you pump clean water through a filter, the filter’s job is easy. At the last council meeting, they hadn’t even applied to put a new well and said it’s a long drawn out process to get that done.”

He’s referring to a presentation at the April 12 Sulphur City Council meeting by Byron Racca and Wayne Harris of Meyer & Associates, who gave a lengthy status update.

If you’re not up for watching the almost two-hour meeting, here’s the cliff notes:

Mr. Harris discussed the history of all the water wells and the upcoming projects to help alleviate the discolored water.

The city has two water treatment plants. The North Water Plant, which was built in 1980, and The Verdine Water Plant, was built in 1993. The Verdine plant is the one causing trouble, because it has had “significant changes in water well quality” and “the iron content has doubled since plant was first built.”

At one time, there were four wells that served that site, and now there are only two. The treatment facility is using almost half million gallons of water per day to backwash the filters, while producing about 2.4 million that goes to customers, wasting about 500,000 gallons every day. The water is corrosive.

The council members passed a resolution that night, authorizing the city to accept bids on water filters for the Verdine water plant.

Shortly after I posted photos of the water on Facebook and Twitter, I received a message from Erica Martin:

You can tell me all day that there’s nothing wrong with the water, but as long as it looks like that, I’m not drinking it.

All I did was put up a picture of the water. Now, you want to convince me the water is fine? That’s called gaslighting. I’ll never forget when I was working in Hinkley, and officials there told me they were working on fixing those two-headed frogs and that green water.

It’s time for elected officials to stop gaslighting people and do your damn job.

When I returned Ms. Martin’s call the next day it went to voicemail. I left several messages at city hall and did not receive a call back.  

We were not able to obtain more information about plans or specifications for any of the completed or proposed work from the city.

In 2020, the local news reported on the water issues and the city’s plan to fix them. Here we are a year later and people are still complaining.

There’s a Facebook group for Sulphur residents posting photos and getting organized, if you want to support!

America, we have a PROBLEM!

Thousands of people shared the Sulphur FB post and wrote comments, either in disgust or stating that the water in their town looks similar.

I live in Shreveport Louisiana. This is exactly what our water looks like when the water gets shut off then turned back on.

Used to live there. Reported more times than I can count funky colored water. They excused it as a test. Moved north and my son's eczema cleared up.

How about this?? This has been the drinking water in Nespelem, Washington. Our people have been complaining about this for some time with no results

Our water looked like this in Lawrence, Indiana. They told us it was rust!!!!!!

Louisiana PERIOD!!! Pointless Water committee the Governor created is a disgrace!!!!!

Looks like our water in Welsh, La. Just down the highway from Sulphur. It’s been a problem for years.

This is what our water looks like regularly in McRae, GA. It will be clear one day and orange the next. It stains our shower curtains, toilets etc., and we constantly have to buy bottled water.

You need to check out the water in Baltimore, OH. Not much different.

Singing Those Infrastructure Blues

When I talk about system failures, I’m talking about institutions, policies, and laws that are outdated and no longer working to protect the people. Infrastructure is much more than pipes and bridges. We need a major overhaul.

President Biden made his first trip since taking office to Louisiana on May 6 to discuss his proposed $2 trillion infrastructure package. He visited Lake Charles, a mere 20-minute-drive from Sulphur.

Did anyone get him a glass of water to drink from the Verdine Water Plant? How about a tour? I’d like to see the president, the governor, and the mayor drink that water and tell me it’s fine.

Politicians need to get on the ground and talk to the people. They need to LISTEN.

If I was in charge of this state, I would be fining this municipality every day until the water ran clean… you think it would take 5 or 6 years to make it right? Doubtful.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards recently discussed his plans for the more than $1 billion the state could receive from the American Rescue Plan and how it will impact communities like Southwest Louisiana.

The state itself received a “D” on its infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

This is the same state that was one of the last places in the country to enact environmental protection laws and home to Cancer Alley, the stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is peppered with more than 150 industrial facilities, causing sky-high rates of cancer and other health issues. This is not ok.  

Officials need to stop giving residents the runaround. Don’t play games. This is a water crisis!!!

And for a history of problems in Sulphur, check out this wonderful clip from a 1984 documentary on toxic chemical contamination of groundwater and communities, featuring the incredible Peggy Frankland. Her work was groundbreaking, and we should never forget our history. These contaminants may still be a part of the problem here.