Tulane geologist says N.O. sinkhole problem 'likely to get worse'

Tulane geologist says N.O. sinkhole problem 'likely to get worse'

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Keeping the water out of New Orleans is usually the concern, but in recent weeks, large sinkholes and the collapse on Canal Street revealed the growing problem of the massive amount of water leaking underneath the city.

"We have about 40 percent of water that are bleeding out of our pipes," Mayor Mitch Landrieu said last week hours after the busy street collapsed.

It is not hard to find spots where that 40 percent seeps out constantly.

"It will probably get worse before it gets better," Tulane geologist Stephen Nelson said.

Nelson points out many of the water pipes were installed in the early 1900s. Since Hurricane Katrina, a large portion of those pipes are starting to fail, and the water is eroding much of what you can't see under the surface.

"In the long run, it's the well-being of the city. We don't want cars falling in sink holes. Fortunately, none have yet, but that's the ultimate result of sinkholes forming in urban environments. When a car drives over and it falls in while that car is sitting on it, then we've got a real problem," Nelson said.

One seep is at arguably one of the city's most important buildings, the Orleans Parish Courthouse on Tulane and Broad. Algae is growing in the stream to a drain nearby, and the infrastructure around it is crumbling.

"In the long run, until those pipes get fixed, we are going to have to put up with the sinkholes in the streets," Nelson said.

Thursday afternoon, hundreds made light of the problem with a "Sinkhole de Mayo" celebration, but organizers said the event brought more awareness to the issues ahead.

"We can repave the streets as many times as it takes. If we don't fix the root of the problem, we're just going to have to keep spending money on something that we shouldn't have to keep spending money on," Carson Rapose said.    ..

On Gravier Street in Mid City, there are three leaks in just one block. One of those leak looks to be seeping out from under a home.

"[Houses collapsing] is certainly something that can possibly happen," Nelson said. "I've seen places in New Orleans where it has happened on a small scale. Fortunately, no houses have fallen into them, but I've seen people's front yards collapse as a result of leaking pipes."

Many sinkholes and collapses happen after heavy rain events, Nelson said.

FEMA gave New Orleans $2 billion to fix the infrastructure, but the city says it will take $7 billion more to complete all the work needed.

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