NEW ORLEANS - One of the walls of one of New Orleans' interior drainage canals, the Florida Avenue canal, gave way in early August, leading to a significant sewer main break.
As crews with the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board have spent weeks trying to repair it, neighbors searched for answers about what happened, if they're at risk and what it means to have the canal shut off during storm season.
Read the Sewerage and Water Board's letter to the EPA
One of those residents is Gregory Booker. He was out in the heat mowing his lawn Monday, a lawn that looks even more immaculate across from the construction site that the Florida Avenue canal has become. Booker said the area used to be green and full of overgrowth, apparently with street debris underneath it.
“They've been having a lot of work out here. They came out, cleared all this out,” Booker said.
Since early August, the Sewerage and Water Board has been working to repair a sewage main that runs along the Florida Avenue drainage canal.
The canal is supposed to hold water from Gentilly, the 9th Ward and places in between to pump it out during heavy rains, and experts say it's a significant part of the city's drainage system.
What started the work is more disturbing.
“It caved in and nobody said anything about it.
We've been asking about it and nobody won't give you no answers or nothing about it,” Booker said.
Looking at the canal it appears a section of it has given way, caving in. While very little work was going on at the site Monday, neighbors said trucks scooped and pumped material out of the canal for weeks. We saw dumpsters lined with trash bags at the site.
The only information the Sewerage and Water Board has put out about the situation is a press release dated August 7 that says, “Residents and businesses located in a limited section of the Seventh Ward bounded by Florida Avenue, from Peoples Avenue to St. Anthony Street, will experience increased construction activity related to the repair of a 54”sewer main, the wall of the Florida Avenue Canal and an electrical feeder.”
“I want to know if that material coming out the canal is hazardous,” Booker said.
The area next to the canal used to be a debris site. A sign marks it as "Staging of Vegetative Debris and Sediment" for the city’s Department of Public Works.
After the wall of the Canal collapsed, and the sewage main broke, the Sewerage and Water Board moved all the street debris away from the site of the collapse. The temporary repair to the 54-inch sewer main that broke is now visible above ground.
A report from the Sewerage and Water Board to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality says when they repaired two breaks in the sewage main, on August 13th and again on August 14th, crews used a smaller, 36-inch bypass line. The pressure created when they turned on the sewage pumps caused two more breaks in the main, sending sewage into the Florida Avenue canal.
How much is unknown, but the board reported cleaning it up using their standard procedure to the EPA.
For more than a month, the canal has been dammed off with a makeshift barrier. Vegetation is growing wild inside of it and people have started using it as a dumping ground for vehicles.
It begs the question, where will the water go in a heavy rain event? We asked the Sewerage and Water Board that question. Their response is below:
On Saturday, August 3, 2013, the Florida Avenue Canal, a 54” sewer force main and several electrical feeders were damaged as a result of the shifting of a large pile of asphalt material located at the site of the City’s Department of Public Works rock crushing site. SWB acted quickly to repair the damage. The Canal has been cleared of all debris and is not dammed off. Emergency repairs are ongoing.
SWB is closely monitoring the Canal and is prepared for any storm event. A bypass sewer force main has been installed and sewer force main point repairs have been completed. A temporary electrical line has been installed to replace the SWB feeder that was damaged. All sewage was collected and transported to the sewage treatment plant and properly treated. Total repair costs to the canal, force main and electrical line, including emergency work is an estimated $3.5 million.
Robert B. Jackson
Dir., Community and Intergovernmental Relations
Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans