By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT — New Orleans flooded this weekend. Again.
A heavy deluge of eight to ten inches fell on the city in a short time Saturday flooding homes, cars, businesses and creating havoc throughout the city. People in New Orleans realize that their city is basically a below-sea-level bowl and flooding is always an issue, but there is also an extensive system of pumps, drainage, and catch basins that work to keep what happened this weekend from happening.
Last year the New Orleans City Council approved $3 million to work on drainage infrastructure and repairs, however the Landrieu administration has not yet started repairs because they’ve been waiting on an environmental review…for over a year.
The Department of Public Works contends that just because the $3 million hasn’t been tapped, they have not been ignoring daily repairs and cleaning of catch basins.
Obviously drainage was not a Landrieu priority last year; Mitch was much more focused on monuments and equity circles.
In a press conference Saturday, Cedric Grant, head of the Sewerage and Water Board attributed much of the problem to climate change, saying this type of flooding will happen more often.
As their city flooded once again, many residents took to social media to deride Landrieu for spending money on monument removal rather than drainage.
For his part, Landrieu suggested citizens clean out their own catch basins:
“These no-notice rain and flooding events can be very dangerous, but luckily, there was no loss of life,” Landrieu said. “Today, we begin the hard work of assisting those who flooded and getting our streets passable for regular traffic. With additional rain expected today and the rest of this week, I would encourage all of our residents to clean in front of their catch basins.”
It’s admirable and expected that citizens to take responsibility for their own safety of course. There are over 68,000 catch basins in the city:
The Department of Public Works’ maintenance department is responsible for cleaning and clearing catch basins of debris. There are 68,092 catch basins in the City. Each year the City budgets resources to clean approximately 3,500 catch basins.
The broken and clogged catch basins have been a source of conflict for over a year as some members of the City Council question the lack of maintenance from the Department of Public Works. In April, a dead body was found in one catch basin and workers had to dig out clogs and termites to get to the body of Joseph Consonery who had been murdered.
New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina, supposedly put drainage and the pump system as top priority:
Sewerage & Water Board officials have said city’s drainage pumping system is designed to handle an inch of rainfall during the first hour of an event and a half-inch each hour thereafter. Officials said all 24 pumping stations were on and working on Saturday. The temporary pumping stations at the ends of the 17th Street, London Avenue and Orleans Avenue canals only operate when the floodgates blocking water from Lake Pontchartrain are closed, and thus are not operated during a rainfall event. The three permanent pumping stations under construction at the ends of those canals are not yet complete, but will operate in the same way.
Officials said the city’s public safety agencies, including police, fire and emergency medical services, responded to more than 200 emergency calls related to flooding.
City residents are not satisfied with their capacity, however, as the social media outrage reflects. Even the French Quarter, and Bourbon Street, which seldom floods, was inundated and several beloved restaurants took in up to three inches of water.
Once again it seems that Mayor Landrieu’s priorities are askew. We can’t fault him for a significant rain event (can we?) but certainly it is under his leadership and responsibility that the pumps and drainage system are properly maintained. And to send his minions out to blame the mess simply on climate change and tell people to clean out their own drains is, well, just typical of him.
If what’s in my catch basins are termites and dead bodies, I’m probably not going to be too excited about that project.
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.