Thursday, August 9, 2007

Sad Irony -- New Orleans Needs Water

excerpt from:


New Orleans needs water to rebuild, but an antiquated, dying system and a lack of money to fix it threaten the recovery

Wednesday, August 08, 2007
By Michelle Krupa

Turning the spigot outside her empty house in early 2006, Tanya Harris expected another disappointment.

Safe drinking water had been restored months earlier to every other neighborhood in New Orleans. But because of the catastrophic damage in the Lower 9th Ward, faucets there still ran dry.

So when Harris felt the gush as she cranked the small handle attached to the water meter, she let out a scream. Then she danced around her muddy yard.

Of course, all my copper pipes were broken, so it was flowing all over the house. It was a shower inside the house," recalled Harris, a community organizer. "But it was a welcome sight. I was just thinking: This is the beginning of me coming back home."

It would take another six months or so before the water running through Harris' faucet would be certified as safe to drink, marking a significant milestone in the patchwork restoration of an east bank system totally disabled by Hurricane Katrina for the first time since its construction began in 1906.

Today, water continues to flow to every corner of Orleans Parish, suggesting perhaps that trouble has waned. But local and federal officials say the system, which limped along before the storm with aging equipment and leaky pipes, is nearing its breaking point.

Water pressure throughout the city can plummet without warning, forcing coffee shops to close and hotel showers to trickle. When the river level drops, officials say, the system gets dangerously close to sucking too little raw water into the purification plant, meaning the city's water supply could simply vanish. And with underground pipes already highly pressurized to compensate for thousands of leaks, it may be impossible to produce a "surge" to fight a major fire.

"We are operating today on what we call 'little miracles,' " Sewerage & Water Board executive director Marcia St. Martin said last month.

A water board consultant estimates it will cost $3.2 billion over 25 years to replace the pipe network, one-third of which is almost 100 years old. The agency needs $100 million more for the east bank purification plant to update pumps, filters and equipment that processes chemicals to clarify and disinfect raw water. A separate plant that serves Algiers needs $4 million in upgrades

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