The bitter cold snap that wreaked havoc on underground water pipes last week has cost Jefferson Parish taxpayers at least $175,000 so far, parish officials said Friday.
The tally thus far includes what the parish has paid out to a private contactor and in employee overtime as of Wednesday to repair more than 400 water mains, fire hydrants, service connections and meters that were damaged in the freeze. It does not include the cost of materials, which the parish could not immediately provide.
Parish President Mike Yenni's administration is using money from the water and streets budgets to pay for emergency repairs, spokesman Antwan Harris said.
A hard freeze hit the area last week, with temperatures dropping to about 20 degrees in the New Orleans metro area. Residents were advised to run their faucets, causing a striking drop in water pressure as demand shot up.
That prompted boil-water advisories on the east banks of Jefferson and New Orleans, as well as the closure of schools and businesses.
Falling pressure prompts a boil-water order when it goes below 15 pounds per square inch. To keep up with high demand, the parish pumped out about twice as much water as normal for both sides of the river.
Jefferson lifted its boil-water advisory, the first the parish had issued since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, on Jan. 20. Residents on the west bank of Orleans, meanwhile, had to boil water for two days this week after a water main broke.
Jefferson Parish employees and crews with Fleming Construction worked, in some cases around the clock, on 419 work orders related to water infrastructure on the east and west banks of Jefferson Parish as of Wednesday, according to Harris and Water Department Director Sal Maffei.
Fleming is also handling some repairs for the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, which has yet to detail how much it has spent since the freeze.
Of the 419 problems in Jefferson, close to half were water main breaks or leaks.
More than 100 parish Water Department employees worked 3,400 overtime hours last week, costing about $75,000. “A rough cost of overtime for a normal day would be $5,200 for both east and west banks,” Harris said in an email.
Jefferson expects to pay its contractor at least $100,000 overall.
As of Wednesday, the parish’s water pressure was within its normal range of 55 to 56 pounds per square inch, having returned to normal the previous Friday, Maffei and Harris said. Jefferson Parish water plants were pumping out about 39 million gallons a day on the east bank and 30 million gallons on the West Bank, close to the daily averages.
Jefferson loses an estimated 20 percent of its water production because of pipe leaks, while New Orleans loses 40 percent.
Residents in Jefferson may have noticed that their tap water tasted different immediately after the boil-water order was lifted. That's likely due to the fact that the parish increased the amount of chlorine it normally puts into the water in response to the loss of pressure. The chlorine level still was “well within” state and federal guidelines, Maffei said, and it was dropped back to normal on Sunday.
Residents hoping for a break on their water bills after their pipes burst should hang onto their receipts from their plumbers, Harris and Maffei said.
“If property owners experienced breaks within private property and those breaks were repaired by a plumber/contractor, or if they made the repair themselves and have receipts to show what materials were used for repair, then with proper documentation from the property owner, an adjustment to the water bill is generally made,” they said.