Although the fire-damaged backup power system to the city’s pumps has now been repaired, the city has identified 17 of its 120 pumps that are out of service and need emergency repairs, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Saturday morning.
The Sewerage & Water Board has “two immediate major issues,” Landrieu said in a news conference Saturday morning — the power system and the pumps themselves. After a small fire Wednesday night at a turbine that provides backup electricity to the pump system, the power system was the primary focus.
The turbine that caught fire has been repaired and is back in service, Landrieu said. Two others that were previously down remain under repair and are expected to be restored in the coming months, while a fourth turbine remains out for long-term repairs.
“I don’t know why the fire occurred,” Landrieu said. “It was enough to shut the turbine down. I don’t know what the nature of the fire was, or the cause.”
The system has been restored enough to handle an average amount of rain, though a general risk remains until additional turbines can be brought back online. The city has now received 18 emergency generators that are in the process of being set up and connected, and that work should be complete by Monday. Eight more are still on the way.
Of the city’s 120 pumps, 103 are available for service, but 17 are out and being assessed for emergency repairs, Landrieu said. The city is in the process of posting the status of the individual pumps and a schedule for their repairs on the Sewerage & Water Board website, he said.
In the meantime, Landrieu urged residents to “remain vigilant” about the weather. Saturday forecasts call for a 60 percent chance of rain, but any summer thunderstorm can bring up to 2 inches to a single area, Landrieu noted.
“We have what we need in the event of a typical rainfall,” Landrieu said. “We do not what we have in the event of a deluge or a major rain event.”
Landrieu reiterated that high-water vehicles are being stationed around the city, and barricades are ready near low-lying areas such as highway underpasses in case of flooding. Sandbags are being prepared for distribution at Perdido and South Lopez streets, with more locations in the works, Landrieu said.
Landrieu said he expects the independent analysis of the Sewerage & Water Board and after-action report that he ordered to reveal more details about the nature of the flooding issues exposed over the last week. With the turbine back online, the current focus for the city is finding out exactly what future repairs are needed, how fast they can be completed, and how much it will cost.
“Of course all of it comes with a cost, and it’s way to early too figure out what that’s going to be,” Landrieu said. “I can tell our citizens this without any fear of equivocation: We have a big system. It’s very expensive, and there’s a lot of need.”
All the contracts related to the emergency work are being reviewed by the Inspector General, Landrieu noted. And none of the changes he is proposing are intended to be long-term structural changes — those decisions are for the next mayor and City Council.
“I do not intend to privatize the Sewerage & Water Board, first of all,” Landrieu said. “Secondly, I don’t intend to sign any long-term contracts that would bind the next mayor or next administration.”