Baton Rouge Water Co.

At Baton Rouge Water Co., it is all about what is not in the water, and the company is doing everything it can to protect its purity. Rated several years ago as the second-cleanest municipal water in the United States by Men’s Health, the company attributes its pristine drinking water to deep aquifers that require very little treatment and no filtration. 

“If you speak to hydrogeologists, the water that we produce from our deeper aquifers, and which the people in Baton Rouge drink, hasn’t seen the surface of the Earth since Christ was alive,” President and CEO Patrick Kerr says. “Ours is a very, very pristine source of water. We bring it to the surface, chloraminate it and deliver it to our customers, making sure it doesn’t pick anything up along the way.”

Baton Rouge Water provides water service to customers in the city of Baton Rouge and to the parishes of East Baton Rouge and Ascension. As the parent company to Parish Water Co. and Ascension Water Co., the company operates 80 wells and has 174,000 active metered connections. It provides, on average, 66 million gallons of water per day from wells ranging in depth from 600 to 2,800 feet each screened in one of the various confined aquifers of the Southern Hills Aquifer system. 

The water, taken from deep wells throughout the service area, is collected and distributed by Baton Rouge Water. Because it does not have one central plant, Baton Rouge Water does not have to rely on one source to provide water service. “It has never happened, but if we had a problem with one well becoming contaminated we could discontinue pumping from that well and continue to operate our system,” Kerr explains. 

Salt Prevention

Maintaining its pristine drinking water is the No. 1 priority at Baton Rouge Water, and one of the biggest issues that has worried the company since the 1950s is saltwater getting into the aquifers. To combat this problem, the company in March completed a $3 million “well-couple” in Baton Rouge. Two wells were drilled: one completed near the bottom of the aquifer that withdraws and disposes of the salty water; and a second completed in the upper part of the aquifer which produces freshwater we deliver to customers.

“It is generally believed the salt domes to our south are the source of the encroaching chlorides which imperil our water supply,” Kerr explains. “Salt domes are basically big lumps of salt deposited underground eons ago. As groundwater moves past those domes, salinity increases imperiling some of the source waters we rely upon. There is an imperfect fault that runs east and west through the southern portion of our service area. Water on the south side of the fault lacks the qualities of water to the north of the fault. It is often more mineralized and much of it is salty. Some of that lower quality water is leaking across the fault and moving toward our production centers on the north side.” 

Lula is the company’s second largest pump station and accounts for 20 percent of its production. Lula has six wells completed in the 1,500-foot aquifer. Baton Rouge Water was concerned about the increase in chloride levels at Lula and the “well-couple” was designed to extend the useful life of the Lula station. “The well-couple we installed is doing what it was designed to do and should add 50 years to the life of the critical wells we operate at our Lula station,” Kerr says.

Although Baton Rouge Water does not have one “Achilles heel” in its operation, Lula Station is critical to operations and the company took action to protect it. Lula was the most threatened by saltwater of all the company’s well fields and Kerr does not expect to drill a similar well in any other location anytime soon. “Everyone we talked to has said the well is doing what it should and will add 50 years to the life of the wells,” Kerr says. “Others in the industry are considering doing it. This thing does work.” 

‘Well-Couple’ Success

Baton Rouge Water began drilling its new well two years ago after conducting two independent studies to find the best solution to the problem of saltwater encroachment in the 1,500-foot aquifer it relies on at Lula. “We are now taking enough salty water out to arrest its movement toward Lula,” Kerr says. “We are really excited about the results.”  

The new well was designed to allow water to flow in horizontally instead of pulling down from the top to prevent a cone of depression, Kerr explains. “We experimented with the model to determine how much water to draw from each section and we are pretty satisfied that we are reaching the outer reaches of salt water that comes across,” he adds. “It looks like a wedge from an aerial view and we stuck this connector well in the middle to dissect the entirety and draw the salt out.”

Baton Rouge Water is proud to have acted rather than continuing to study a problem, which is not going to resolve itself, Kerr says. “We have put in this system and it’s been a good experience,” he adds. “It’s a good process and it is doing what we intended it to do. We acted on it rather than continuing to study it. When we got to the point where this imperiled our future supply we acted.”

Baton Rouge Water cannot afford to let problems stack up and be foisted on the next person in charge. “I want my successor to start with a solid foundation,” Kerr says. “Baton Rouge Water has provided water service to the people of Baton Rouge since 1888. We’re in this for the long haul. I think that changes the way we look at things versus a superintendent who works for a system with a shorter time horizon.”  

Infrastructure Improvements

For a company that prides itself on not letting issues grow into major problems, Baton Rouge Water got a wakeup call 10 years ago when Hurricane Katrina hit. The natural disaster pointed out problems the company never knew it had with its standby power generation capacity. Baton Rouge Water never lost pressure following Katrina, but “We rocked along for several decades feeling pretty comfortable and we were woefully underprepared,” Kerr admits. “We lost wells, struggled to keep water flowing and had a problem with the three contracts we have for diesel fuel because they couldn’t help us.” 

When Hurricane Gustav hit three years later, Baton Rouge Water lost power to 79 of its 80 wells, but had invested several millions of dollars in standby generation to run its wells 24 hours a day in an emergency. Baton Rouge Water now owns tank trucks to re-supply the 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel its generators can burn daily. “Areas around Baton Rouge lost power and water pressure for a full week after Gustav, but the people of Baton Rouge never did lose water service,” Kerr notes. “It paid huge dividends with public trust and leadership because we were ready. We knew we needed to fix this and make an investment. We got it done just in time.” 

Baton Rouge Water took in about $50 million in revenue last year and is spending upwards of $18 million in infrastructure improvements to prepare for growth in Baton Rouge. “I think we are going to see an increase in industrialization in the area and while we don’t serve commercial and industrial markets, we serve the people who work for them,” Kerr says. “We are spending the capital to make sure we are ready when they get here.”

The company’s goal is to make sure regardless of how many people call Baton Rouge home, every time they turn on the tap there is safe and reliable drinking water. “That’s a never fail responsibility of ours that we take very seriously,” Kerr says. “I can see Baton Rouge’s population increasing significantly in the next 15 years and we will be there to support it.”

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