Tommy: The Sewerage and Water Board Fiasco

Tommy Tucker, WWL First News
August 09, 2017 - 1:38 pm

Just in case you’ve been on the moon or out of town, there was a flood on Saturday. For whatever the reason, the bad weather descended upon certain portions of New Orleans and it rained…and rained…and rained…and rained some more. For some, it meant flooded. For others it meant flooded homes or business. And some others wound up with both.  

After that flood had ended, another one soon began. This, however, was not the result of water. It was the result of anger.  Were the all of the pumps working? Did any fail?  Why wasn’t the city government better prepared? And finally, why did we flood?

One of the worst things you can do when someone, not to mention an entire city, is angry is to lie to them.  That’s what the Sewage and Water Board tried to do, and they failed miserably. The underground infrastructure of the city may be old, but the old structure above the ground may be part of the problem. Clancy Dubos, WWL-TV's political analyst and the co-owner and political editor of Gambit, said some major changes may be needed:

"The Sewerage and Water Board does not answer to the Mayor.  They're a legislatively-created body that was created more than a century ago...The Mayor is just one vote out of 11, and he doesn't control it.”

Dubos went on.

“Maybe we should look at reigning in that separate, independent fiefdom over there known as the Sewerage and Water Board because even if you bring it under the control of the Mayor and Council, people will say, 'Ohh, you're going to politicize it.'  It's politicized already except they don't answer to anybody.”

He said it would take a change to the city charter and from the legislature, but it may be needed to put it more in line with how other cities and areas do it.

You can check out my whole conversation with Clancy below.

Clancy Dubos on the Sewerage and Water Board

Now you’d think if there was a better way to do it, New Orleans would scour the world to find a municipality that does it better. No need. There’s one right across the 17th street canal.  Mitchell Theriot, the Director of the Drainage Department for Jefferson  Parish gave us a history in how a pumping system should work. And the system in Jefferson Parish does work.  

Theriot talked about the capabilities of the pumps – the familiar “1 inch for the first hour, half an inch an hour after that” - and the rigorous testing the pumps go through – regular maintenance and sampling they go through.  Take a few minutes and listen to our class, Drainage Systems 101.

How do drainage systems work?

There are still a lot of questions and not many answers.  What’s that old saying? “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”.  New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams must be a fan of The Who because “he won’t be fooled again.”  He talked about the need to 

“Because of all the mistatements and lies and contradictions, we've got to rebuild trust, not just rebuild the system.”

 He knows there are problems and he seems to be determined to find solutions.  Williams said he wouldn’t rule out fixing the above ground problems with the Sewage and Water Board, including eliminating it.

“There is absolutely a will to make whatever changes need to be made to make sure there is constant and transparent accountability throughout the year.”

Jason Williams on the Sewerage and Water Board

Politics and physics make for strange bedfellows. We learned that lesson the hard way from Katrina with the underfunded and underbuilt flood protection that system that left us low and wet. I hope this time physics asserts itself and kicks  politics out of bed.  Politics can be manipulated but physics has a hard head.

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