FEMA wants your ‘crazy’ ideas for reducing impact of new 200-foot water towers in Carrollton

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A diagram explaining the function of the water towers planned for Carrollton. (via Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans)

A diagram explaining the function of the water towers planned for Carrollton. (via Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans)

In the coming years, two 200-foot water towers — perhaps emblazoned with the popular Sewerage & Water Board logo — will become a feature of the Carrollton-area skyline, and federal preservationists want to hear your best ideas on how to lessen their impact on the historic New Orleans neighborhood.

The water-treatment facility on South Claiborne Avenue has suffered from a series of temporary power outages in recent years that have caused water-pressure to drop around the entire East Bank of New Orleans. The water towers are a method to prevent that — if power is lost, their 2 million-gallon reserves will maintain water pressure to prevent a boil-water notice, said Gail Lazarus, a historic preservationist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

One of the towers will be near the entrance and visitor parking area near South Claiborne, and the other will be closer to the rear of the plant by Panola and Leonidas. Construction will begin later this year — after the drainage canal on South Carrollton is finished — and be complete in 2018, with far less disruption to residents than other major public-works projects.

“All the construction’s going to be inside the plant,” Lazarus said Thursday night to the Carrollton Riverbend Neighborhood Association. “It’s not going to be bleeding out onto the roads.”

The historic preservationists have already begun making recommendations about the design of the towers, suggesting that a more angular, “composite” tower with a solid, conical stem may be more appropriate than the modern spheres that sit atop tall poles such as in Jefferson Parish. She emphasized, however, that they will not be a mere replica of a historic tank — just something that incorporates ideas from the same era as the neighborhood’s founding.

“You’re not making a fake historic thing,” Lazarus said. “You’re putting something that blends in.”

Preservationists have recommended a color that echoes the smokestacks at the Carrollton plant for the stem, and a lighter color that somewhat blends in with the sky for the upper area of the tank, Lazarus said. As for the labeling directly on the towers, Lazarus said, that remains under consideration, but one suggestion has been to use the moon-and-stars S&WB logo that is already a part of the New Orleans identity.

This image created by the Sewerage & Water Board approximates the shape and placement of the two towers, but not their scale. They may appear larger, particularly the one in the rear, officials said. (via Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans)

This image created by the Sewerage & Water Board approximates the shape and placement of the two towers, but not their scale. They may appear larger, particularly the one in the rear, officials said. (via Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans)

Historic preservationists have evaluated the $48 million FEMA-funded project and concluded there is no feasible way other than the towers to accomplish the Sewerage and Water Board’s goals, Lazarus said: smaller towers simply do not achieve the same results. But the preservationists do recognize that the towers in the sky will alter the historic area’s appearance, and federal laws require FEMA to seek out ways to give back to the community that is affected.

“That’s pretty much the exact language, to ‘consider’ the impact on historic properties. This law encourages historic preservation; it does not mandate preservation,” Lazarus said. “But the visual effect on a historic neighborhood is one kind of effect.”

In many cases, Lazarus said, FEMA creates projects to highlight the history of the impacted entity. For example, she said, the agency actually recreated the school room where Ruby Bridges was taught after integrating New Orleans schools.

For the Carrollton project, Lazarus said the Sewerage and Water Board plant and systems themselves are a crucial part of New Orleans history, and she might like to see ways of emphasizing that. The agency has considered creating some sort of history exhibit, or perhaps signage in more commercial areas like Oak Street that would educate the public about it. Because of homeland security concerns, however, there are limitations to what can be done on the site of the plant itself, she noted.

Members of the Carrollton Riverbend Neighborhood Association asked what kind of budget the mitigation project might have, and Lazarus said FEMA discourages setting a firm budget beforehand. It might discourage ideas from being submitted, she said — and the number is also difficult to gauge because the historic preservationists may do much of the work themselves, rather than contracting it out.

“Even if the idea is crazy, and there’s no way we can spend that much money, maybe we can take a portion of it,” Lazarus said.

The project drew little outright opposition from the association — perhaps because of its seeming inevitability — but members did express interest in contributing to the mitigation effort.

“I’m going to do a little research,” said association president Barry Brantley. “I don’t know what’s reasonable to ask, but I feel like it’s our responsibility to have a voice.”

Anyone who has an idea should submit it before the March 25 deadline, either online at www.crt.state.la.us/culturalassets/fema106/ (where you can also read comments that have already been submitted) or by mail to the FEMA Mail Center/Historic Preservation, 1500 Main Street, Baton Rouge, LA, 70802.

15 thoughts on “FEMA wants your ‘crazy’ ideas for reducing impact of new 200-foot water towers in Carrollton

  1. This is my neighborhood. No need to worry about the towers, you can’t
    lift your eyes from the street anyway or you’ll get swallowed up by the
    giant potholes. Why doesn’t this money and energy go towards re-paving
    the streets which are some of the worst in the city?

  2. OK, so the water we ‘drink’ is pumped from the western edge of the city to the entire city. Why not put the elevated tower or towers closer to the center of town – near the hospital complex – where there are already a few multi story buildings and they will not be so obnoxious. If all they do is store water – with greater kinetic energy – for the city to use at times of mechanical and electrical failures. Putting them in the center would be reasonable. The S&WB would need to have some way to control the filling and emptying process from their plant – but it is 2015 folks- we can do that from a computer in Toronto!

    • Wouldn’t it be much more inefficient to pump water several miles then elevate it 200′ than to elevate it at the source of production. This project is also within the property of the S&WB why acquire land elsewhere? Why make the project much more expensive than necessary?

    • Hate to be a stickler here, but I’m a nerd…the “stored water” represents potential energy, not kinetic. Once the water begins to flow from the tower towards the homes with the aid of gravity, it transitions from potential energy to kinetic energy.

  3. Please please please do not try to disguise the things as trees! In New Orleans, historic tall towers were often brick, like big smokestacks, and some were metal framing — there was a “shot tower” around St. Mary Street and I think there may have been some arc light towers downtown that were of metal framework in the 19th century. There is a lot of 19th century photography of New Orleans and odd towers were not unusual. I like the logo idea and I like the trying to match the sky color, with a pale grey blue background, maybe with the S&WB logo in white, silver, or reflective. It is the shape of the thing that can fit the turn-of-the-20th-century look of the neighborhood: not a modernist shape but a classic Victorian one. What did Brunel’s bridge towers look like?

    • The shot tower was my first thought too. Another idea would be to have 4 tall skinny brick chimney looking towers coming out of the S&WB building, and for the water to be stored in the top of those. It would fit in with the building and neighborhood very well.

    • Michael, the Chicago Water Tower is actually a standpipe which although performing the same function, is substantially different from an engineering standpoint in that the column of water itself is what provides the pressure, whereas in a water tower, it is the distance between the water and the ground of the water taken as a whole. This means that standpipes only regulate pressure when constantly refilled so that the height of the water column remains the same.

      SWB had considered the use of standpipes but we’re advised that they would be required to use much taller structures and to have at least eight of them onsite. Within the parameters of SWB’s need to maintain a constant pressure on their system in the event of a power loss turning off their pumps, water towers are the functionally best option as they release nearly all of their stored water at the same high pressure regardless of whether the tanks are full or not.

      That said, a vintage look can be obtained via augmentation of modern tower designs. I came up with the design I’ve posted above by deconstructing the design and components of another famous Chicago area historic water tower, this one in Riverside, and then figuring out the cheapest and simplest means of replicating that historic tower’s appearance through minimal alteration of the modern tower SWB and FEMA are pushing.

      In the photo below, I’ve photoshopped my recreation using the SWB tower into an original photo showing the original Riverside tower. Only three changes were required to the SWB design to achieve this: 1. Change the exterior shape of the tank which is low-cost and easy from a fabrication standpoint for their manufacturer, 2. paint the body of the tower and tank with the chosen historic paint scheme, & 3. Attach three modular decorative metal components.

      Only those three simple changes took the modern monster pictured in the SWB photos above, to this. Although not identical, it gets very close to the architecture of the historic original at a fraction of the costs:

  4. I had proposed something along this design which would be low-cost because it uses the SWB manufacturer’s stock design whilst only modifying the shape of the tank itself and then calls for attaching decorative metalwork indicative of New Orleans architecture, water cisterns, and period water towers of the era by either bolting it or welding it to the exterior of the tank itself.

    Although I was told the idea had merit, it was rejected due to fear the decorative elements could come off in a hurricane (would not be an issue if welded rather than bolted) and because the State’s office of historic preservation opposes designs that reflect what would be historically accurate to the period in favour of the generic modern ones everyone in Carrollton keeps saying they hate.

    • I like this idea. Instead of disguising the towers and trying to pretend they aren’t there, celebrate them! This is a much more New Orleans attitude. Make the best of what’s in front of you.
      As far as relocating the towers to a more central location: The current distribution system is designed for one way flow. The sizes of the pipes, their turns and angles and intersections. Relocation would mean a huge disruptive reworking of the system.

    • My suggestion of something like the Chicago Water Tower was because it took the completely utilitarian function of providing water to the city and elevated it to the status of architecture by encasing it within a building façade with architectural decorations.
      Why not design the towers so that they can be architectural and blend in with the S&WB building? Because the decorative elements can come off during a hurricane? Then design them so that they DON’T come off during a hurricane.

  5. You install a backup generator and run a second electric feeder from Entergy to the treatment plant. Gives you 3 feeds. State-of-the-art transfer switch selects backup feeder or emergency generator. Not rocket science. But then they couldn’t keep power on during the Super Bowl. I see political kickbacks written all over this idea.

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