NEW ORLEANS -- Two heavy rainstorms in the past month have left Mid-City and Lakeview with water in the streets. Last Saturday’s sent water into homes and businesses, yet New Orleans city leaders have repeatedly said all the pumps that push rain water out of the city were operating at their full capacity.
“The pumps were on the entire time. I appreciate the fact that in some areas it didn't look like that. But they did work the entire time,” said Sewerage & Water Board General Superintendent Joe Becker.
But Becker later admitted eight of the city’s 121 pumps were out of service last Saturday, down for scheduled maintenance.
“We don't take all of the pumps out at one time to do preventative maintenance. We are very selective of how we do that. When you get 9 1/2 inches of water in a three-hour period, if all 121 pumps would have worked, we would have been in this situation. If we had 200 pumps we'd have been in this situation,” Becker said.
But pump logs from the July storm, obtained through a public records request by fixthepumps.com blogger Matt McBride, show that during the July flood, one of the three major pumps at station 7, which serves Mid-city and Lakeview, was out for repair.
Late Monday, the S&WB confirmed it was one of eight pumps down: one in Mid-City, four that service Uptown, two in New Orleans East, and one in Algiers.
When asked whether routine maintenance should be done during hurricane season, Becker was unequivocal.
“Yes. The preventative maintenance should be done year-round, around the clock," he said. "We don't want to have a situation where ... a pump is not able to function just because it's hurricane season.”
An interoffice memo shows Deputy Mayor and S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant signed off on the $595,000 contract to do what’s called “rewinding” four of the city’s pumps at the beginning of April. Contractors have been performing that maintenance work at three of the pumps that help drain Uptown, and a pump at the Mid-City station.
The work was supposed to be completed in 90 days.
The contract originally went out for bid last fall, but only one "unresponsive" bidder wanted to take on the job. The city re-bid the contract early this year.
A fourth Uptown pump station was out of service for unknown reasons during both rain events. While Uptown streets did flood, that part of the city didn't receive nearly the amount of rapid rainfall as Lakeview and Mid-City.
Becker said late Monday that despite the eight pumps out of service, the system was pumping at max-capacity.