There's a crisis in small-town Louisiana -- and it's only getting worse

June 2019

Maybe the population numbers are not that big, and that’s one of the problems, but there is a crisis in small-town Louisiana.

Daniel Webster famously said of Dartmouth College that it is a small place, but there are those who love it. The people remaining in little hamlets across Louisiana may love them, but their economic capacity to go on is increasingly limited.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said his staff counted 850 separate water systems in the state. “That’s a lot,” he said. “And it just may no longer be possible to have a water system serving 300 households.”

Purpera’s office is ground zero of the financial crisis in "Mayberry, Louisiana." The auditors who evaluated water systems last year won a national award for their work.

With drinking-water crises in St. Joseph in northeastern Louisiana, the issues have become front and center in public attention. St. Joe alone cost the state millions to fix the most urgent problems. But it is accepted as given that a lot more crises are just waiting to happen.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ task force on water infrastructure looked at data from the auditor’s office and found at least 10 that were near financial collapse.

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