St. Joe H2O

Jan 26, 2018

This is a happy ending story. "Thank you, for the citizens of St. Joseph," Mayor Elvadus Fields said to the Fiscal Review Committee on Thursday.

You see, the Tensas Parish town of St. Joseph had been under a boil water advisory since December 2012. And in January 2016, after the Flint, Michigan water crisis made national headlines, so did a Facebook video Garrett Boyte posted showing St. Joseph tap water.

"Don't want to bathe in it. You can't drink it," he says as the bathtub fills with fluid closely resembling Yoohoo chocolate drink.

State Public Health Officer, Dr. Jimmy Guidry, was inundated with reporters asking about the cloudy brown flow from St. Joseph's resident's taps. "It's not a risk to their health. It's bad-colored water that needs to be treated more," he said of the water that tested extremely high for iron content.

Lawmakers allocated state funds for fixing the water system, but town couldn't pass an audit.

"The former mayor did everything, and nobody else knew anything. And there were no files, no records; couldn't find contracts; couldn't find invoices," explains David Greer. He's the court-appointed financial administrator for St. Joseph, who took over management of the town's finances in June 2016, at the request of the Attorney General's office.

In December 2016, a new mayor was elected. But then, a few days later, testing showed water quality had worsened, prompting an emergency order from Gov. John Bel Edwards.

"We did have some specific tests that revealed the presence of lead in excess of 50 parts per million," the governor announced. "That's why we have to get this fixed."

Over the course of the past year, at a cost of $9-million, new wells, pumps, meters and waterlines have been installed. And now David Greer is about to return management of St. Joseph to its elected officials.

"That's all fixed," he told the Fiscal Review Committee. "We now have good records. We have a town clerk who's very conscientious, is doing a good job. Is it perfect? No. But it's in good shape."

Town Alderman John Lewis told the panel, "We're thankful for Mr. Greer. We appreciate him. We appreciate the state of Louisiana for giving us that money so we could get this water system up to par."