Yet another rhetorical pop quiz from the Sewerage & Water Board this past Monday left Orleans Parish residents (read: me and likely you) wondering if our one and only water supply was safe for consumption. And the solitary answer everyone can agree on equals “Maybe.” Forget that it’s the 21st century, forget that Roman aquaducts remain a marvel to humanity and civilization on the whole, and forget too that over the next five years an Orleans Parish water bill will grow incrementally like a film of algae from a broken fire hydrant to the nearest street drain. But remember this: your vote still matters. And why this will always be important remains a let-me-speak-to-your-supervisor line of thought. The S & W B does not answer to much, or do they? So who’s in charge?
The city. Kinda. And therefore (y)our city government reps. According to the S & W B website “The Sewerage and Water Board consists of the Mayor, the two at-large members of the City Council, one district councilman selected by the Council, two members of the board of Liquidation, City Debt, and seven citizen members appointed by the Mayor, in accordance with the law, for overlapping terms of 9 years. The Board holds committee and regular meetings once each month, to which the public is invited.” Reads like standard corporate copy, no? Wonder when that next meeting is? Wonder how many of our citizenry will attend? Ordinary and sincere meeting planning might be published somewhere or at least adhere to some sort of schedule like the 2nd Tuesday of each month. But then that would be sensible.The cosmic joke of a boil water advisory on Columbus Day escapes me not. At least when ol’ Chris sailed the ocean blue, the uncertainty of water sources happened to be known. What have we gained over 500 years later? And cue the chirping crickets. Not much. You could start with one of my neighbor’s (some might say humorous) observations, “What’s big and yellow and sleeps up to 6?” Pause. “A Sewerage & Water Board Truck.” Rimshot. Laugh track. Rub your eyes from the hope of a dizzy dream or tears, and alas ladies and gentlemen, it’s funny because it’s true. The work ethic of any organization trickles from the top down. The hustle of a government funded labor force peaked in 1935 WPA, when a day’s labor meant something. Today? Insert raspberrying here. Personally my family and I returned to New Orleans in October 2005 to find ample water issues rampant throughout the ravaged cityscape. Was a boil water advisory in effect then? Frankly I don’t recall, but I’m going to go out on a limb and offer no. Should there have been said advisory? Again limb, likely yes. Since then my experiences with the S & W B have been on par with what they were pre-K: slack and slow. Two summers ago I had a driveway inexplicably dug up by S & W B to repair a neighboring water issue only to wait many months later for it to be properly mended. And at that, of the many blue shirted workmen one felt no need to do much but read my newspaper on my porch. Upon my discovery of him he quietly looked up at me and asked “I’m alright?” My only response was “Will it be fixed today!?” It wasn’t. Four months later it was.
Toss your hands in the air. Slap your forehead. Stutter or exhale. But perhaps don’t think about it. Just pay your bill. And boil your water, maybe. Or don’t pay your bill. And don’t boil your water. Either way, whatever works for you. It’s only water.
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.