In the wake of a seven-hour delay Friday morning in letting residents know that pressure in New Orleans’ pipes had dropped to levels that could allow the east bank water supply to be contaminated, the head of the Sewerage & Water Board said Monday that the agency is working on ways to send out alerts more quickly.
Delays in issuing boil-water notices have long dogged the agency, and the criticism came to a head with Friday’s incident, with many calling for a quicker response from officials.
S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant said the agency will work to make sure its staff can more quickly access information about water pressure at about half of its stations, which already are equipped to transmit real-time information. It expects to upgrade the rest with similar technology in the coming year, he said.
The next time there’s an issue, such as a power outage, staff will be told to restore the system to normal pressure first, Grant said. With that dealt with, they then would be able to gather information about stations where pressure had dropped to potentially unsafe levels within 10 to 15 minutes, he said.
“I’m never going to be satisfied until it’s done as well as it can be done,” Grant said.
Officials have stressed that the boil-water advisory was precautionary and that the high level of chlorine in the water supply should be enough to prevent problems even if some harmful bacteria get into the pipes.
The boil-water advisory on Friday was traced back to a power surge at the S&WB’s Carrollton water treatment plant about 2:50 a.m. That issue was resolved in about half an hour, and the water pressure at the plant remained at about 20 pounds per square inch, considered a safe level, according to the S&WB.
When workers arrived at their posts about 8 a.m., however, they discovered that about seven of the 16 pumping stations in the city had recorded pressure levels below 15 psi after the incident, low enough to trigger a boil-water advisory because at that pressure, groundwater can seep into the pipes.
The agency then consulted with the state Department of Health and Hospitals, and it wasn’t until about 10 a.m. that residents were warned to boil their water before using it for drinking or bathing, which meant that many had already finished their morning routines when the alert went out.
The advisory was rescinded at 5 p.m. Saturday after tests on 93 water samples, which must be allowed to incubate for 24 hours, showed there was no danger to the water supply.
Collecting the data from the pumping stations remotely would allow the S&WB to monitor pressure levels without having to wait until employees can check the gauges manually, Grant said.
The agency is also in the middle of a $150 million upgrade to its power plant and is working to build two water towers, projects that would allow it to more quickly respond to issues and keep water pressure from falling below the 15 psi threshold.
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