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Wastewater treatment program under scrutiny

Many Louisiana towns and parishes struggle with wastewater treatment and disposal, especially given the number of protected marsh areas. Residents and businesses are deeply involved in the debate over one controversial approach, and both sides argue that scientific evidence supports their position. The treatment in question is called wastewater assimilation, and the outcome of the dispute in Hammond could affect not only how wastewater is treated across the state but how companies do business as contractors with government agencies.

A water discharge pipe in Hammond stretches over 6 miles from a sewage treatment plant to the northwest part of a protected marsh. The pipeline runs over city land and is meant to reduce costs for treating wastewater. Promoters of the idea say that wastewater assimilation in wetlands allows for natural removal of pollutants, nutrients and impurities and even supports the growth of damaged wetlands areas. However, even supporters say that the water has to be treated before it is released into the marshes. If the city's treatment process is insufficient, it could lead to greater pollution in the marsh and damage to the wetlands.

Some residents say that water in areas surrounding the marshes shows a higher level of ammonia content than it should, indicating that water that was not sufficiently treated was directed to the marsh. Critics have drawn attention to the use of a contracted lab to analyze soil and water samples, saying that some samples went untested, allowing problems to grow.

Wastewater treatment is a significant concern in a state so tied environmentally and economically to the wetlands. Therefore, any contractual agreements with government agencies to handle wastewater may be held to the highest level of scrutiny. Companies working with government agencies to manage water treatment or assess quality can work with an attorney when negotiating contracts or addressing disputes.

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