Fire at turbine threatens New Orleans drainage pump system


Street flooding in New Orleans Aug. 5. - PHOTO BY WILL COVIELLO
  • Street flooding in New Orleans Aug. 5.

A fire at a turbine that supplies power to drainage pump stations on New Orleans' East Bank has threatened the city's ability to pump water out, as another round of rain is expected to dump water on the city.

Speaking at an emergency Sewerage & Water Board meeting Aug. 10, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said a "whole army" of people are working on repairs, and he expects the turbine to be back online soon, adding, "I'll believe it when I see it. I'm hopeful."

The fire damaged one of five turbines on which the S&WB relies for its water drainage pumps as well as its water treatment plant. (According to the mayor's office, the city's drinking water is unaffected.) But there already are three other turbines down for repairs — leaving only one working turbine left.

Landrieu said he learned this morning that the S&WB has no redundancies in place to back up the system in the event all turbines are down. "As though it couldn't get worse, it did," Landrieu said.

S&WB officials also revealed that the total number of downed pumps on Aug. 5 was not 14, as previously reported — but 16.

Nine major drainage pumps were down, as well as seven smaller "constant duty" pumps. (Officials previously reported only six major pumps and six "constant duty" pumps were down.)
Landrieu requested immediate emergency repairs and ensured repair crews will "work with haste, get these items in place, and make sure the people of New Orleans get what they deserve."

Landrieu also is urging S&WB to approve a third-party review of the agency and to hire an interim management group, after S&WB director Cedric Grant announced his retirement from the agency this week in the wake of controversy and misinformation.

Officials announced S&WB General Superintendent Joseph Becker and communications director Lisa Martin have resigned after Landrieu called for their firing at a press conference Aug. 9. Becker failed to satisfy the New Orleans City Council's questions about the flooding — including whether officials were aware of downed pumps prior to the storm and how that was communicated to the public.

City Council President Jason Williams told board members at the meeting that the S&WB and officials "have to act as if this is an emergency."

"Frankly, any time any pumps are down for any reason, it should be treated and baked into the policy of the S&WB that it's an emergency," he said.

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