CLAYTON, La. (AP) — A Louisiana mayor says the town stopped paying its water system contractor because it can't afford the bills.
Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a water emergency Friday in the Concordia Parish town of Clayton after learning that the contractor had quit running the system because it hadn't been paid.
Mayor Josephine Washington said Saturday that town officials are considering increasing water rates to pay the bills, KNOE-TV reported. Washington said she would talk to legislative auditors Monday to discuss the next steps.
However, some of Clayton's 700 residents say they believe a poor working relationship between Washington and town aldermen is part of the problem.
"If the mayor would answer some questions and work with her board, I think the town would be better, because the board could communicate with the residents and the residents would know what we to do and be better informed on what's going on," said Valine Atkins, a Clayton resident.
Residents also say the town's water quality has long been poor.
"It's been a problem since I been living here with mom and daddy," said Judy Crews, a Clayton resident
Health officials said that without an operator, the water would become undrinkable in less than 24 hours.
Edwards issued the emergency declaration Friday and directed the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to forge an emergency contract with the operator, JCP Management. Edwards says the emergency contract will cost taxpayers more than $5,200 a month.
"Clayton currently has safe and clean drinking water, but without an operator, the water system can suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure and create an imminent public health emergency. That is absolutely something that we do not want to happen, and have the ability to prevent," Edwards said in a statement.
The governor said the state Department of Health, the Rural Water Infrastructure Committee and others are reviewing additional possible actions that can help the water system continue operations, including putting the system into receivership, seeking a fiscal administrator to manage both the system and the finances of the town, making an alternative source of drinking water available to the residents or connecting to another nearby water system.