NEW ORLEANS – In the city’s battle to fix a beleaguered drainage system which failed residents who flooded on July 22 and August 5, it was learned on Wednesday that a severe manpower shortage is making the crisis at the Sewerage and Water Board even more troubling.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu is jumping in as the president of the S&WB. He kicked off a board meeting on Wednesday by criticizing what he called cryptic minutes of past public meetings. He then gave a play by play of work now being done to fix drainage pumps and power turbines.

“We have five different contractors that are working 24/7 to fix all of the pumps that are out of service. We also brought in technical experts to assess the true capacity of the pumps that we have that are working,” Landrieu said.

As of Wednesday, 16 out of 120 drainage pumps are still broken but one located at pumping station No. 6 is now back in service. Additionally, 26 generators are being installed and two broken turbines are now scheduled to come back online early next month. The board also discussed a manpower shortage, which includes 290 vacancies out of 1,500 budgeted employees. An additional 240 workers are now eligible for retirement.

The mayor discussed his concern at an afternoon news conference.

“Yes, I'm worried about it. That is why I continue to instruct them today to make sure that the Sewerage and Water Board HR folks are talking with the city Civil Service people to make sure we can expedite as much as possible the ability to hire the best people we can,” Landrieu said.

For now, the S&WB is filling some of the gaps at pumping stations with private contractors. Currently, the board has half a billion dollars in needed repairs across the drainage systems. Board member Alan Arnold suggested the board renew discussions about a new drainage fee to help fund the long term maintenance.

“It is a fee that would be designed to collect revenue from every single entity that receives the service of improved drainage,” Arnold said.

The S&WB can’t just assess a drainage fee, that matter would ultimately require legislative action and a city-wide vote.