Majority of New Orleans Water Pipes Over 100 Years Old

A new interactive map released on Tuesday (May 14) by the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (SWBNO) shows that the majority of the city’s water mains are over 100 years old.

“Although much of historical New Orleans is cause for celebration, the age of her water pipes is not,” an SWBNO official stated in a press release.

Graphic courtesy of SWBNO

According to the utility’s website, industry standards suggest that water mains be replaced when they are around 50 years old. Approximately 34.3% of New Orleans’ water mains are more than twice that old. In addition, the map only shows the age of the pipes; it does not account for their condition, which could be affected by a number of factors, including city flooding.

SWBNO Executive Director Ghassan Korban further illustrated the issue during his state of the utility address on Tuesday. According to Ghassan, New Orleans currently averages 67 repairs per 100 miles of pipe each year. That’s far above the 14 breaks per 100 miles each year averaged nationally. Additionally, the SWBNO loses 55.3 percent of the water it treats, compared to 16 percent nationally.

Other takeaways:

  • 47.9 percent of the city’s water pipes are at least 80 years old
  • 23 miles of pipes were replaced using FEMA disaster funding after Hurricane Katrina
  • Only 21 pipes have been installed by the SWBNO since 2000

The graphic comes just under two weeks after a 114-year-old water pipe burst on May 3, flooding parts of Uptown’s Freret neighborhood. That 30-inch cast iron water main took around 24 hours to repair and resulted in a boil water advisory that lasted until May 5.

Shortly afterward, Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Gov. John Bel Edwards reached an agreement that will provide $50 million to the SWBNO in the coming weeks for infrastructure repairs. The money comes from a combination of funding from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and state disaster money.

An additional $26 million per year in recurring revenue will come from raising taxes on short term rentals and hotels, raising property taxes in the Central Business District, and rededicated money freed by merging two tourism marketing agencies.

According to the “New Deal, New Day” master plan outlined by Korban, that money would be used in the following ways:

One-Time $50 million

  • $34M to pay vendors and drainage’s debt to water and sewer systems
  • $16M for projects (Hazard Mitigation Grant Program reimbursements)

Recurring $26 million

  • Increase the New Orleans Public Works Department budget
  • Start addressing aging water infrastructure
  • Modernize the drainage system, replacing steam with electric power

Currently, three of the SWBNO’s drainage turbines use outdated 25hz steam power. Turbine 1 was installed in 1909, Turbine 4 was installed in 1915, and Turbine 3 was installed in 1929. There are also steam-powered water pumps at the Carrollton water plant. According to the new master plan, these would be replaced with electric turbines and pumps.

You can click to view the interactive graphic here.

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