History of problems lead up to boil water advisory

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wwltv.com

Posted on March 4, 2013 at 7:44 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 4 at 8:01 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: pmurphy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

NEW ORLEANS -- People on the east bank of New Orleans can once again drink the water and bathe their children and pets. Monday afternoon, officials lifted a boil order that started with a drop in water pressure Sunday morning.

A small fire in the boiler room of the power plant at the main water treatment facility reportedly caused a drop in water pressure.

It was the second power outage at the same plant in the past five months that resulted in a service disruption.

Last May a citizen's task force predicted ongoing problems with the power plant.

The report titled 'Assessing the Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans: Recommendations for Sustainable and Cost-Effective Power Generation stated: "SWBNO's steam boiler-turbine systems, which produce 25-hz electricity are beyond their functional lifespan and need to be replaced."

The current standard of electricity is 60-hz.

"It seems the last two outages directly resulted from this steam generated means of powering the water system," said committee member Jeff Thomas. "The current system they use natural gas to heat water to create steam to move a turbine that creates electricity. What we're recommending is that instead use natural gas directly to create the heat to turn the turbines."

He also says a modern power plant will save money because it won't require as much maintenance.

"We think until the system is fully modernized that we're going to continue to have the risk of these outages happening."

The budget watchdog organization Bureau of Governmental Research also studied the problems at the Sewerage and Water Board.

It concluded that systemic problems there are rooted in a history of underfunding.

"Where do you cut corners?" said BGR President and CEO Janet Howard. "Well, you cut them in operations, but you also cut it in things like maintenance, and the problems become larger and larger, and I think a lot of it is coming home to roost right now."

Money is on the way to help correct some of the problems.

In December, the City Council agreed to hike sewer and water rates by 10 percent per year for the next eight years.

"The rate increases that have been approved now don't take care of the entire problem. They don't address drainage at all," said Howard.

While SWBNO repairs the problem with the power plant, Eyewitness News Political Analyst Clancy DuBos says it's too soon to make a political issue out of the boil order.

"I think if an engineering report comes out and says that the board or the mayor or the council should have done this and it was something recent, then the people presently in office or sewerage and water board will have account for that," said DuBos.

He also says problems with water and sewer service is not unique to New Orleans.

"There's no parish in south Louisiana that is totally free and clear of sewerage, drainage or water problems. We all have a combination of issues and challenges on all three of those major infrastructure needs."

City leaders recommend east bank residents flush internal and external plumbing for several minutes before using the water.

 

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