Report details long list of critical issues with New Orleans drainage, S&WB operations

sewerage and water board building new orleans

NEW ORLEANS — Widespread equipment deterioration and “reactionary maintenance” at the Sewerage & Water Board leaves New Orleans residents at a “high level of risk” when it comes to drainage in the city, a new report says.

The equipment failures and risk analyses are included in a new report published by Veolia, the company hired by the Sewerage & Water Board to assess the agency and perform risk analyses after the Aug. 5 flood and subsequent problems that the major rain event brought to light.

Veolia tested only a small percentage of the drainage system’s infrastructure, according to the Sewerage and Water Board, only 1 percent of catch basins and 1 percent of pipes. Of the 35 underground feeder lines the company tested, 30 of them failed.

“Although the ‘availability’ status of pumps and generators have been accurately communicated to the public, the ‘capability’ of much of this equipment is in a degraded state, which compromises safety margin and escalates risk of failure,” the report says. “The current condition and management of the drainage system is at a critical crossroad requiring a new path to correct issues and reduce the high level of risk it imposes on the residents of the city.”

Sewerage and Water Board interim director Marcie Edwards notes that “while the S&WB will take all these findings under serious consideration, the agency did not wait for final results before embarking on serious improvements after August 2017.”

Some of the repairs Edwards mentions include repairs to some of the power turbines and replacing the feeders to critical drainage pumping stations.

“We appreciate the work that went into producing these reports and are already implementing many of the recommendations contained in them,” said Marcie Edwards, Interim Executive Director for the Sewerage and Water Board. “I’m proud of the work Sewerage and Water Board employees and contractors have performed under emergency conditions to stabilize and harden our power and drainage system since last August, but the job is far from done. Our system is old and breaks too often. More resources and manpower will be needed to provide our customers the drainage system they deserve.”

Veolia recommends that the S&WB take the following measures to restore faith and safety in the drainage system and the Sewerage and Water Board as a whole:

  • Full transparency to the public on the system’s “true capacity”
  • More investments in electric supply power generation assets
  • A “culture change” to improve employee performance and operations: Veolia says the “S&WB operates in a reactive mode that is now ingrained the everyday behaviors and operating practices of staff. Veolia regularly experienced resistance to new ideas and processes by staff.”
  • Long-term capital planning
  • More data-driven decisions
  • Improved safety culture at the Sewerage and Water Board
  • A public awareness campaign to educate about the effect of litter and dumping