SWB: City Drainage Power Supply an “Alarming Situation”

Image courtesy of SWBNO

With severe weather possible this afternoon and into tonight across the New Orleans area, the head of the Sewerage & Water Board (SWBNO) is concerned about the “fragile state” of the city’s drainage system.

The network of pumping stations that the city needs to mitigate the flood risk during heavy rains relies mostly on outdated 25-hertz power generated in-house by SWBNO and on more modern 60-hertz power provided mainly by Entergy. However, two of the turbines used to generate the 25-hertz power – Turbines 4 and 5 – are currently under repair, and are not expected to reenter service until May and early June, respectively.

During a board presentation last week, SWBNO revealed that Turbine 1 was also having problems, requiring the use of a “vacuum hog” in order to remain in service. This is very similar to what happened with Turbine 3 in 2020 shortly before it was removed from service indefinitely.

“We are in a fragile state, and we have minimal – if at all – backup to what we have currently in the minimal arsenal to combat drainage in heavy events,” said SWBNO Executive Director Ghassan Korban. “It’s not a panic situation, but it’s a concerning and alarming situation to be just as blunt as I can be.”

Currently, Turbine 1 is available with a capacity of 6MW and has four out of five electro-motive diesel backup generators to provide an additional 2.5 MW if needed. Turbine 6 is also operating and creates 60-hertz power, and can be used to provide an additional 3.5 MW of 25-hertz production if needed. However, according to SWBNO, the city’s drainage system needs 52 MW of electricity to run at full capacity.

In his presentation, Korban noted that the electro-motive diesel generators have become “kind of the saving grace,” for the drainage power supply. “The EMDs were never intended to serve the way they are serving us today.”

The National Weather Service placed Orleans Parish in its enhanced risk category for severe weather today, meaning there is high confidence that storms moving through later today and tonight could result in damaging winds, severe hail, heavy rain, and tornadoes. While the main line of storms isn’t expected to move through the area until between 6 pm and 11 pm, rain is possible earlier in the day. The New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness is urging residents to prepare for the possibility of severe weather and street flooding. The city has lifted parking restrictions and residents living in flood-prone areas may move their vehicles to neutral grounds until 9 am Thursday.

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