Down the Drain: An Eyewitness Investigation

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Down the Drain is a WWL-TV investigative project that explores what went wrong and where the blame lies for New Orleans' drainage crisis. Down the Drain was reported and produced by WWL-TV's investigative team: Katie Moore, David Hammer, Mike Perlstein, TJ Pipitone and Danny Monteverde. Infographics and multimedia design by Sam Winstrom and Kevin Dupuy.

The flash of lightning and the rumble of thunder was enough to take notice, but not to cause concern. At least when it began. A summer downpour is as routine as a muggy morning in New Orleans. However, soon came the 911 calls, from Mid-City, from Lakeview, from Gentilly.

“We’re about to take on water in our house and I don’t think the pumps are running.”

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“There’s too much water coming.  It’s flooding our house. We need help!”

The rain pounded down, more than seven inches by some estimates, inundating streets and spilling into cars, homes and businesses. For many, the same thing had happened only two weeks earlier.

MORE: S&WB could have saved millions by buying new turbine

Fear and dread gave way to anger, as residents demanded to know whether the city’s network of drains and pumps were doing all they could to keep us dry.  The City answered with assurances. The head of the Sewerage and Water Board, the agency tasked with pumping out the water, told us the system was working at “maximum capacity” and that it was just too much rain for any system in the world to handle.

Those assurances soon drained away faster than the floodwaters. The city admitted to a host of problems.  Pumps weren’t working.  Massive but ancient turbines were unable to generate electricity to send to the pumps.   Others weren’t even turned on for hours as neighborhoods went underwater.


MORE: S&WB emergency costs for power, drainage rise by $6 million

How could a city built below sea level allow its drainage system to deteriorate to this condition? Eyewitness News assembled a team of veteran reporters, researchers, experts and insiders to launch an investigation, unprecedented in its size and scope, into the Sewerage and Water Board, and the city’s handling of its drainage system.  

We found that hundreds of millions of dollars meant for the drainage system, along with public confidence in City Hall has gone down the drain. 

Are you having problems with the drainage in your neighborhood or the Sewerage & Water Board? Work with the Eyewitness News investigative team to find a solution on our Facebook group Down the Drain: A conversation on New Orleans-area drainage by WWL-TV.