To lessen flooding in New Orleans, a civil engineer looks to some lower tech solutions

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Every leaf, and every shred of debris piled up inside New Orleans drainage catch basins has the effect of slowing water moving through the city's network of drainage pipes and canals.

While the city often urges residents to keep the catch basins clear of debris prior to rain events, civil engineer H.J. Bosworth says most residents cannot provide the kind of maintenance required.

"Catch basins are not easy to clean," Bosworth said. "The cover is over 400 lbs, getting those things off if you're not careful, you could injure yourself, lose a finger maybe."

As it developed, New Orleans built arguably the largest system in the world designed to pump out rain water.

That includes the largest pumping station in the system, No. 1, on Broad St.

"When it was first constructed in 1905, this station was at the far outskirts of the city and it pumped into the swamp," said Joe Becker, Superintendent for the Sewerage and Water Board.

As the city drained the swamp and marsh in coming decades, including neighborhoods such as Lakeview and Mid-City, it eventually amassed 24 different stations with a total of 121 individual pumps.

"I have the ability to fill a swimming pool in about 1.5 seconds," Becker said. "I can fill the Superdome in about 40 minutes all the way to the roof."

The Landrieu administration has suggested it wants to study the idea of firing up the giant new pumping stations on the outfall canals, which were designed to be used only in tropical events when the flood gates on Lake Pontchartrain close.

Bosworth points out the water would still have to travel to the lake from other pumps closer to the interior of the city before the new outfall cans would be of much use.

"Saturday provided us a lesson to let us know that, hey, we can do a better job," Bosworth said.

While Bosworth said the city could add another pumping station in Lakeview, he believes a more cost effective solution might simply be to add public works crews and vacuum trucks to service the catch basins on a more routine basis.
"It's expensive, but everything else is," Bosworth said. "So is flooding. So are the consequences of losing a few hundred cars like people did on Saturday."