A sign on the door of a New Orleans coffeehouse during a boil-water advisory in 2013. Last weekend's boil-water advisory for the entire East Bank of New Orleans, which lasted 31 hours, inconvenienced residents as well as restaurants, hotels and other businesses, which found few updates on the situation.
New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams, who also chairs the council's Utility Committee, has called a a special meeting tomorrow to discuss last weekend's boil-water advisory on the East Bank of New Orleans — and the Sewerage & Water Board's response to the issue.
The advisory was issued Friday, July 24 at 10 a.m., about seven hours after a power surge at the S&WB's Carrollton plant fell below 15 pounds per square inch, which is considered an unsafe level. The advisory was issued after many residents had awoken, had coffee, brushed their teeth, showered and gone to work — and it continued throughout the day and evening, forcing businesses to use bottled water or find workarounds. After an initial press conference about the advisory, the city was silent, providing no updates as the Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals tested samples.
On Saturday morning, 24 hours after the event, City Hall sent out an email saying that water samples still were being tested. Then officials went silent again. During that time, Gambit
was unable to reach anyone at the S&WB's 24-hour hotline; the city's 311 line went to a recording; and the city website was not updated.
Moreover, @NOLAReady, the city's emergency preparedness Twitter account, updated on the situation once in the morning and then was silent until the advisory was lifted. Another Twitter account, @SWBNOLA, to which people had been tweeting their complaints and concerns, was deleted July 25 in the midst of the advisory, though city officials question whether that was an official account. (Brad Howard, an aide to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, says the only account to carry official S&WB news is @NOLAReady. "We coordinate all emergency and critical information during @NOLAReady," Howard told Gambit
The advisory lasted 31 hours, during which the city issued exactly three press releases (one at the beginning, one on Saturday morning and one at the end).
In response to a query yesterday from Gambit
, the city provided a statement attributed to Grant:
"As with any major incident, our teams will work together to fully review all protocols and actions taken to make necessary improvements, particularly in how quickly, frequently and comprehensively we communicate with the public. Public safety is and will remain our top priority."
A June story by Jaquetta White in The New Orleans Advocate detailed Grant's remodeling of his office at the Sewerage & Water Board
, which cost $60,000.
“Yeah, it cost a little money," Grant told the paper, "but I think it was a very wise investment in relation to our ability to manage better and bring ourselves into the modern age in relation to how we need to manage and communicate with people."
Williams doesn't seem happy with last week's communications. In a statement, he said, "The lack of communication, inconvenience, and potential threat to public health will not go unquestioned. As the Chair of the Utilities Committee and President of the Council, I feel we owe it to the people of the City to get answers. I have asked Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant, Executive Director for the Sewerage and Water Board, to present and answer questions on the Boil Water Advisory and the status of the projects using $150 million appropriated Hazardous Mitigation Grant Program repairs to the Carrollton Water Treatment plant. Gary Huntley, Regulatory and Governmental Vice President for Entergy New Orleans, will be present to answer questions as well."
Williams' meeting will begin at 2 p.m. in council chambers.