Baton Rouge, La — The Department of Health and Hospitals on Wednesday issued an emergency rule requiring that water systems in the state maintain a higher residual disinfectant level and increase their number of sampling sites by 25 percent. Most drinking water systems in Louisiana will be required to meet this new higher standard by February 1, 2014.
State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry and DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert signed the rule on Wednesday, following discussions with scientists, federal officials, industry leaders and water system operators. The Emergency Rule is based on scientific data and recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relative to the control of the Naegleria fowleri ameba that was discovered in two public water systems in the state.
Secretary Kliebert said, "These rules will help parishes maintain quality, safe sources of local water for residents. The ameba has been traced back to a treated drinking water system, which is why we must take action now to ensure the safety of our people. We will continue to work with local water system officials to answer questions and provide technical assistance so that we can meet our shared goal of keeping our water safe."
State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry said, "We are taking this measure today to ensure that we have safer, healthier water for everyone in the state. This action will help our water systems protect against parasites like Naegleria fowleri in the future. Our water is safe to drink; this change will simply make our water safer for all uses."
Prior to the Emergency Rule, Louisiana's regulations, which were implemented in 1995 in accordance with federal guidance, stipulated that drinking water systems were required to have a "trace" or "detectable" level of free chlorine residual at all points of their system at all times. Under the new rule, drinking water systems must have a minimum disinfectant residual level of 0.5 milligrams per liter throughout all of their distribution lines. This 0.5 mg/L level is known to control the Naegleria fowleri ameba.
Some water systems may choose to conduct chlorine flushes or burns to raise the level of free chlorine in their water lines. During this time, the water will remain safe to drink, but could change slightly in color and odor. DHH encourages water customers to contact their water company if they have questions about how their drinking water is disinfected.
DHH is also convening a Scientific Workgroup of experts from Louisiana and across the nation to discuss the Naegleria fowleri ameba and Louisiana's regulations regarding disinfecting its water and if they are sufficient to control the ameba. DHH may amend its emergency rule in the future as additional research and data become available.
DHH's Emergency Rule does the following:
• Increases the minimum disinfectant residual level to 0.5 mg/L (measured as free or total chlorine) in the water being delivered to the distribution system, in finished water storage tanks and in all points of the distribution system by February 1, 2014 for most water systems;
• Increases the number of residual measurements taken monthly or quarterly by twenty-five (25) percent.
There are 1,389 public drinking water systems in Louisiana. Drinking water systems may take immediate steps to comply with the Emergency Rule or, by February 1, 2014, submit a written request for additional time in order to make significant infrastructure improvements if necessary. Currently, 31 systems hold waivers that allow them to use their water without disinfecting it using either chlorine or chloramines. The Emergency Rule generally keeps these waivers in place as DHH works with these 31 systems to give them sufficient time to come into compliance with the rule.
The Emergency Rule also requires that water systems develop and submit a revised monitoring plan for bacteriological and chlorine residual monitoring by January 1, 2014. If a system disinfects using chloramines, which is chlorine with an ammonia addition, as opposed to free chlorine, it must submit a nitrification control plan to DHH by February 1, 2014.