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Day 618: Of Pumps And Levees

Washington Avenue Canal on May 4, 2007 – Originally uploaded by Editor B

Regarding Friday’s rains, Professor Bob Bea’s proclamations on area levees and the National Geographic multimedia presentation, Mark Folse brings up a couple of good points:

“… there is nothing in this article or graphic that should surprise anyone here who’s been paying attention … everything in there we all know. Most of it in the city is addressed by the floodgates. The real problem is how to get the rain water out of the city.

“Anyone who thought that areas east of the Industrial Canal would be safe in less than a decade and without massive expenditures not yet authorized by Congress has not been paying attention. The Corps has never promised to have those levees up to authorized spec by 2007. For the city (and by that I mean the core west of the Industrial Canal) the real two issues are the pumps, which [are] problems the National Geographic [article] skips right over, and the integrity of the west side Inner Harbor Navigation Canal wall.”

To which Ray responds, “… we are relying on Scuba Steve to clear sediment and debris from the floodgates in the event that they need to be closed. If those gates can’t even be closed then the whole thing comes apart.  The fact that the Inner Harbor levees are already leaking on a sunny spring day is [also] worrisome.”
If you’re keeping track at home, we now need:
a) pumping capacity,
b) the integrity of the west side of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal wall
c) more than a squadron of scuba divers to make sure the floodgates close in the case of a tropical event and,
d) the levee along the London Avenue Canal fixed … YESTERDAY.

According to Matt McBride’s latest scathing post on the recent rainfall and attendant flooding, the Corps New Orleans District is way behind on bolstering this critical piece of flood protection.  (emphasis mine)

Whenever there is a major or minor rainstorm, the place to check for problems west of the Industrial Canal is along London Avenue, since its SWL is so low, and can be exceeded with a heavy rain combined with a wind out of the north. We had both of those circumstances on Friday.

… The Corps New Orleans District keeps shrugging off permanent pumping capacity decreases along London Avenue (which drains a huge area that includes the French Quarter) as no big deal. The first couple of times the canal depth either got close (December 21, 2006) or exceeded (December 30, 2006) the [Safe Water Level], I was the one that broke the news because the New Orleans District didn’t have the guts to admit what happened, even when they were given the opportunity to do so in an open, public forum (New Orleans City Council Public Works Committee hearing of January 8, 2007).

I guess they got tired of having their dirty little secrets exposed. So this time they decided to get out ahead of the story, but not without some typical, mendacious spin. Check out this quote from resident Corps spokesbot Vic Harris in an AP article about Friday’s rain: “Now everything is copacetic,” Harris said. “This is not an uncommon thing. We make those adjustments commonly when the water goes up.”

First off, the Corps doesn’t make the “adjustments,” the Sewerage & Water Board does. Secondly, the only reason the S&WB has to do this is because the [Corps] New Orleans District hasn’t done any-damn-thing to address the weakened walls along London Avenue. Sure, they have an idiotic plan to do “testing” at the weakest section of eastern canal wall south of Mirabeau Avenue, but we’ve been hearing about testing for literally months, and nothing has happened.

the Corps New Orleans District continues to delay fixing the London Avenue canal walls for what can only be described as insane reasons. We’ve already had New Orleans’ pumps in PS#3 turned off twice (that we know of), and have been close a third time. How much more of this idiocy do we have to tolerate? Do they really, really want a levee breach? Just drive the damn sheet piling, and fiddle with the testing or whatever later. For God’s sake, it’s not hard.

McBride also expresses frustration at the local paper and TV media for not getting their facts straight before releasing news on this subject.

There were no “new” pumps involved in Friday’s storm. I can only assume that someone very clueless threw the word “new” in there because of the recent AP coverage of the floodgate pumps. I tried to call a correction into the T-P newsroom three times on Saturday, but no one picked up. I guess there was no news on Saturday.

But on the point about the floodgate pumps, let me make this very clear to the Times-Picayune, local video editors at our TV stations, and everyone else in the media: THE FLOODGATE PUMPS WILL ONLY BE TURNED ON WHEN THE GATES DROP DURING A TROPICAL EVENT.

… when the story is about a non-tropical rainstorm (as it was on Friday), please stop showing archive footage of the floodgate pumps and stop mentioning them as if they play a role in non-tropical systems. This is a basic fact that the local electronic media seem to be incapable of grasping. I constantly see chyron graphics over anchors’ shoulders – including this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – showing the floodgate pumps whenever there is a drainage story. Such sloppiness only serves to confuse the public and obscure the very real problems we will face when a real tropical storm approaches.

Do any of my readers know high muckety-mucks at the T-P and local TV stations, and are discretely willing to pass on this information to them?  This is precisely why the role of PumpWatcher has to be dispersed among our community at large and not rest on the shoulders of one tireless man.  It’s not enough for five or six bloggers to read this analysis and pass it on, especially not when more (ostensibly educated and up-on-the-news) people exist in this city who are either sure that the Corps and Water Board are doing their jobs or certain that the entire city will turn into Venice by the end of this year.  Knowledge helps combat such extreme notions and fosters rational decisionmaking.

Therefore, if you are a blogger and/or a concerned citizen (whether you love blogging and computers or not) and would like to watch and report on the pumps and levees, please consider starting a blog and publicize it.  Otherwise, contact Matt McBride to let him know you are willing to learn from him and then share the knowledge.

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