NEW ORLEANS — With Barry’s biggest threat to New Orleans likely to be rainfall and flooding, the Sewerage & Water Board is once again the center of public attention – and worry.
At the city’s storm briefing Friday, Director Ghassan Korban said most of the shortcomings that hampered drainage during some recent floods – many exposed in WWL-TV’s “Down the Drain” investigative series – have been corrected.
One pump has been deactivated in Algiers
Korban said the only downgrade from Wednesday’s surprise storm and widespread flooding was the de-activation of a drainage pump in Algiers, bringing the total number of pumps available from 118 to 117 out of 120.
Korban re-iterated that pumping capacity was not an issue during Wednesday’s storm – which led to flooding of streets, cars and buildings in wide swaths of the city from Uptown to Mid-City to the French Quarter. The amount of rainfall – more than eight inches in some spots – was simply too much for the drainage system to handle, officials said.
Even with one pump taken off-line, Korban stressed the number of pumps available leaves the agency close to “optimal capacity.”
Korban said the loss of the one pump is due to the de-activation of a power line that crosses the river to Pump Station 11 in Algiers. By taking out that power source, one of the four pumps at that station will be off-line, with a second pump switched to generator power.
He said the loss of the pump will diminish the pumping station’s capacity by 15 percent, a situation that shouldn’t result in any additional threat.
“We are not concerned about that, only because the area it serves is in the Algiers area and there’s a lot of storage and a lot of green space and capacity so we’re not concerned in terms of that specific loss,” Korban said. “And we feel it’s a good decision, a pro-active decision, to avoid damage to our infrastructure.”
In other critical areas, Korban said the Sewerage & Water Board is operating at peak efficiency.
'All hands on deck'
As for manpower, he said the agency has “all hands on deck.”
“All critical positions are staffed,” he said. “All critical personnel are present and ready to respond to whatever comes our way.”
Another major area that has failed in the past is power generation. But ahead of Barry, Korban said the utility has more than enough power, even if there are Entergy outages.
He said five of the agency’s six power-generating turbines are operational, providing up to 77.5 megahertz of power. To power all drainage operations, the agency’s needs don’t top 50 megaherz, even at peak times.
Even with the major factors – pumps, power and manpower – operating near capacity, another area of concern is growing.
Catch basins clogged
Korban and other city officials stressed that clogged catch basins can diminish drainage. With more than 68,000 of them, the city concedes it doesn’t have the manpower to keep all of them clear, so officials are urging citizens to clear debris wherever it has accumulated.
For its part, the Sewerage & Water Board said it spent some time since Wednesday clearing larger pieces of debris from canals and screens protecting the large drainage pumps.
“We have been monitoring our canals and were able to retrieve some large objects throughout the canals that happened or occurred during the Wednesday storm,” Korban said at Friday’s briefing.
“A trampoline,” Mayor Cantrell chimed in.
“A trampoline was one of the objects we removed,” Korban confirmed. “How it made it there, who knows.”