New federal flood maps show lower risk for much of Jefferson Parish, could reduce insurance costs _lowres (copy)

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD – A bicyclist passes the giant pipes of the federal Pump to the River project at Powerline Drive and River Road in Harahan in February 2015. 

The oft-delayed "Pump to the River" project in Jefferson Parish is still a few months away from completion, but the parish could soon begin manning the Harahan station during storms and using it to ease flooding there and in River Ridge.

Parish President Mike Yenni reached out to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week about using the massive new pumps even though the decade-old project is not due to be officially completed until as late as November.

Yenni said almost all the work that remains on the project is unrelated to its basic function, and that the Aug. 5 rainstorm, which flooded streets in the area that would benefit from the new system, made it clear that Jefferson shouldn’t wait any longer than it has to.

“We’re ready to man it,” he said. “We’ve been ready to man it for over a year now.”

Corps spokesman Ricky Boyett confirmed the discussions Friday and said the agency supports such a move.

Boyett could not estimate when the parish could gain access to the system. But he said the only thing that stands in the way of the Corps issuing a notice of completion for the functional elements of the project is the removal of a dam that was built to aid construction but is no longer needed.

Once that happens, he said, the system would be available for manual operation during rainstorms while the Corps completes the rest of the work.

Water is removed from the Harahan and River Ridge area today through a convoluted process that pumps it all the way to Lake Pontchartrain, even though these communities are next to the Mississippi River.

Water travels through a seven-mile network of canals before it reaches the Elmwood pumping station and is moved to the lake.

The $100 million Pump to the River project uses the more common-sense approach of pumping the water into the Mississippi.

The project began in 2007 and was built in five phases as part of the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, known as SELA. It includes the Harahan pump station and 8,700 feet of buried 84-inch steel pipes capable of pumping 1,200 cubic feet of water per second.

Once it is operational, water will drain at the intake basin on the Soniat Canal to the pump station, which will move it through discharge tubes to the Mississippi River levee. There, it will be siphoned over the 26-foot levee and across the batture into the river.

Jefferson Parish Drainage Director Mitch Theriot and Parish Councilman Paul Johnston, whose district includes Harahan and River Ridge, said after the Aug. 5 storm that the new system would have alleviated street flooding in those neighborhoods. Water reportedly got into some homes near the river.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.