Friday, August 11

"Before New Orleans flood, audit warned of drainage system's deficiencies"

By Mark Schleifstein
August 11, 2017 - 2:51 PM CDT - The Times-Picayune newspaper (New Orleans)
Before they were thrust into the spotlight this week, many of the deficiencies of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board's operations and antiquated infrastructure were documented in an audit. Published 10 months ago, the audit warned:
  • Maintenance costs of the drainage system were outstripping revenue
  • 29 percent of the agency's maintenance staff was eligible for retirement or would be within five years
  • 24-hour, seven-day operation of its unusual power plant was possible only through employees working overtime.
The audit covers 2015 and was submitted to the board in October 2016, and it includes results of a 2016 inspection of water board assets such as drainage pump stations. The audit was conducted by the national firm of Black & Veatch, which has been reviewing the agency's records for more than 30 years, with assistance from local firms Julien Engineering & Consulting and Bruno & Tervalon accountants.
In 2015, the water board's drainage system had revenue of $54.4 million, up about 10.9 percent from the previous year. But the audit said operation and maintenance costs had jumped 22.4 percent.
That left $13.3 million for capital expenses in 2015. But the audit warned the capital money wasn't enough to meet the needs of the system through 2020.

Pumps inoperable
Teams of auditors also inspected the drainage pumping stations in May and June 2016 and gave them a mixed review. "It should be noted that some stations did not have completed repairs at the time of inspection or are out of service due to pump maintenance issues," the audit said. "While all stations are operational, several stations are not at full capacity due to inoperable pumps or the use of temporary pumps," the audit said.
And at the time the report was written, the capacity of the Carrollton Power Plant, which provides electricity to the east bank water treatment plant and the pump stations, was only 40 megawatts -- less than its 61-megawatt design capacity. One turbine was under repair, and a second was scheduled for maintenance once the first was returned to service.
There is plenty more in the report, including this jaw-dropper:
Behind on repairs
The audit also raised major concerns about the agency's ability to keep up with rehabilitation of its sewer and water distribution systems, including the continued need to over-produce drinking water for a smaller population, the result of water line breaks dating from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"The water distribution network that was damaged by uprooted trees and other debris during Hurricane Katrina has not been fully repaired," the audit said.
So it seems there is time, and then there is New Orleans time. Maybe in 20 years or so they'll get around to making all the repairs from Katrina. Yes yes I know there were a lot of repairs needed because of the hurricane but a well-functioning water distribution system is crucial.    

The report features scores of pictures of the recent flooding in the city. Waist-deep water in some places.  [shaking her head]


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