UPDATE (Jan. 20, 3 p.m.):

The boil water advisory for New Orleans East has been lifted, but residents have been urged to continue low water usage.

S&WB warning: New Orleans could fall back under boil-water advisory if usage isn't lowered


ORIGINAL STORY:

Residents throughout most of New Orleans' east bank were told Friday night they no longer have to boil their water, though pressure in the Sewerage & Water Board's system remains low.

However, residents in New Orleans East and on the east bank of Jefferson Parish remained under a boil-water advisory Friday night, though warmer temperatures and climbing water pressure presented a brighter outlook for the weekend.

S&WB officials announced testing showed the water system covering the east bank except for New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward was free of contamination Friday night, but they urged residents citywide to continue to conserve water as crews work to improve the pressure in the pipes.

Jefferson Parish's water system was also being tested, though results did not come back by Friday evening and residents there were told to continue to boil tap water for a full minute before consuming it.

New samples from New Orleans East were taken Friday evening, opening the possibility that state officials would give that area an all-clear by Saturday night.

Parish leaders urged residents to conserve water and repair or shut off any broken pipes on private property, so that water pressure could continue to stabilize.

Repair crews in both parishes continued their hunt for broken public infrastructure, with New Orleans calling in private contractors to assist as the city's repair list grew.

"While the condition is still serious for many families and businesses due to the freeze’s impact on water pressure, we are in a much better position today than we were yesterday," Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.

While pressure in New Orleans' east bank water system continued to rise throughout the day Friday, officials said some areas were still significantly below normal pressure. 

Meanwhile, businesses large and small — many of which had shut down or scaled back service Thursday — seemed to be in better shape Friday, as pressure rose enough for toilets to flush and water to flow from the tap.

The two parishes continued to pick up the pieces as the last vestiges of this week’s glacial weather system moved out of the region. Its arctic temperatures and intermittent rain, sleet or snow had paralyzed a Southern area ill-equipped for such a freeze.

It left in its wake ice-slicked roads that proved dangerous to many travelers, including an 8-month-old baby and a 57-year-old man who perished in vehicle accidents Wednesday, and a troubling drop in water pressure as tens of thousands let faucets flow to avoid pipe breaks, some of which happened anyway.

Boil-water advisories on the east bank of Orleans and Jefferson parishes were issued Thursday morning. Such advisories are issued when water pressure drops below 15 pounds per square inch, low enough to allow contaminants to leak into the system. Once pressure had risen high enough in both parishes to be able to test water quality, such samples must sit for 24 hours before officials can determine that water is safe to drink.

Orleans and Jefferson were just two of the 40 parishes across the state that reported boil-water advisories on Friday amid the arctic weather, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. Systems in Allen, Calcasieu, Morehouse, St. Landry and Iberia parishes reported no water at all, spokesman Robert Johannessen said.

Though boil-water advisories have become fairly routine in New Orleans, the lack of pressure created new challenges. Restaurants and hotels, left without the ability to flush toilets or get water from the taps, were forced to close their doors or transfer their guests to other properties. Water pressure had returned in many places by Friday.

"It's still imperfect right now," said Stephen Perry, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO. "We’re not fully back at the pressure levels we want to be, but we’re quickly regaining our ability to fully service and take care of all our guests, and we’re anticipating a very, very positive weekend ahead now."

Over the course of the freeze, Perry said, the S&WB and Landrieu's office were in constant contact with the hospitality industry — communication that had been lacking when problems had cropped up previously.

Meanwhile, the troubling scenes that occurred Thursday at Louis Armstrong International Airport, after water pressure dropped so low that travelers were unable to use the restrooms and the airport’s boilers were unable to generate sufficient heat, had been alleviated Friday, Director of Aviation Kevin Dolliole said.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the worst is over, and we will be able to pursue normal operations after the weekend,” he said.

Many of the area's public and Catholic schools remained closed on Friday, though most expected to reopen on Monday. 

Most hospitals also had their pressure restored and were adhering to their boil-water advisory protocols, officials said. A spokeswoman for Ochsner Health System said its campuses and clinics were open and operating normal business hours. 

The Sewerage & Water Board, meanwhile, was moving to repair New Orleans’ broken infrastructure with 70 of its own staffers and 41 contract employees, interim Executive Director Marcie Edwards said.

More than 150 public leaks had been identified, and 40 had been repaired as of Friday morning, she said. The agency had also repaired the five water mains that were reported broken Thursday.

About 72 public leaks were fixed in Jefferson as of Thursday, Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni said. Overall, the parish found 115 broken water lines on the east bank and 20 on the West Bank, Water Department Director Sal Maffei said.

West Bank communities in both parishes experienced far fewer issues, even though there was no significant difference in temperature between the two sides of the Mississippi River.

Exactly why the West Bank was largely spared isn't clear, but officials said that in both cases, relatively newer water systems and a smaller customer base appeared to have played a role.

Both Orleans and Jefferson operate water plants on the West Bank that are separate from their east bank operations. With fewer customers dripping their pipes there, less pressure was being taken out of the system. And the newer pipes likely played a role in keeping down the number of cracks and breaks in the lines that allowed water to gush out, reducing the pressure.

"It’s in better shape, the pipes are younger, and there’s less customers," S&WB Communications Director Rich Rainey said of the West Bank system. "It is keeping up with demand."

Still, more leaks could be found within the next few days as temperatures continue to climb and frozen pipes thaw — another reason why watchfulness is important as the systems continue their road to recovery, said Edwards, the S&WB director.

“The faster the community continues to fix the problems in their homes and the faster we continue to fix the problems in our system, the pressures will rise more rapidly,” she said.


Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.