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New Orleans drainage system readies for Ida despite power, pump problems

For the rest of the city, the concern continues to be electricity to run the 96 of 99 drainage pumps that are working.
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NEW ORLEANS — Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Ghassan Korban struck a confident tone Friday ahead of Hurricane Ida in spite of lingering power and pump problems in the city’s drainage system.

Speaking at a news conference at City Hall, Korban sought to assuage fears for residents in the section of Lakeview known as West End, around Fleur de Lis Boulevard. The area is drained by a small pump station with only one pump. The area flooded during heavy rains on Aug. 5, 2017, and March 24, 2021.

But now, the pump at Drainage Pump Station 12 is out of service.

The pump suffered seven separate power outages before and during heavy rains in the early morning hours of March 24, according to pump logs. That caused the pump to run backwards and draw water directly out of Lake Pontchartrain, sending it back into the neighborhood it was supposed to drain.

Korban said the mere fact that the pump is not working is an improvement over-pumping backwards. He said two other larger pump stations, Pump Station 6 along the 17th Street Canal and Pump Station 7 on the Orleans Avenue Canal, should have the firepower to pick up the slack for the whole Lakeview area and help drain West End, too. He said the area drained by Pump Station 12 comprises less than 10 percent of the areas drained by the other two stations.

For the rest of the city, the concern continues to be electricity to run the 96 of 99 drainage pumps that are working. About half of those pumps require an old-fashioned type of electricity called 25-cycle power, which is produced by in-house generators and turbines or by converting Entergy’s 60-cycle electricity to the slower frequency by using large pieces of equipment called frequency changers.

Korban said Turbine 6, a new gas-fired turbine purchased by the Army Corps of Engineers and installed in 2016, will be a primary source of 15 megawatts of power. Turbine 5, an older gas turbine that blew up in December 2019 and was down for long stretches, is now back online with 20 megawatts. Korban said the 1920s-era Turbine 4, which used to be the system’s workhorse, will be tested Saturday in hopes it can bring another 18 megawatts to the table.

The agency isn’t counting on Turbine 4, which has been repaired several times since 2012 at a cost of more than $40 million because it keeps breaking down.

Korban said four of the five electro-motive diesel generators, or EMDs, are ready to go, providing another 10 megawatts of 25-cycle power. The EMDs were purchased to serve as backups after widescale failures in 2017, but the city has had to rely on them as primary power while Turbines 4 and 5 were both down over the last year.

Even if Turbine 4 cannot go Sunday, the Sewerage & Water Board will be able to produce about 45 megawatts of 25-cycle power to run the older drainage pumps, plus whatever it can convert from Entergy. The most power the city has ever produced at one time was 48 megawatts during a flood on May, 2019.

The one EMD that’s out of service is being upgraded for soundproofing, Korban said. Neighbors of the Sewerage & Water Board’s Carrollton Power Plant have been clamoring for some kind of sound reduction since last year. When the EMDs are in use the noise levels exceed 100 decibels – equivalent to a running motorcycle.

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