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City now uncertain about 'inch of rain pumped in first hour, half an inch after' assessment

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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -

For years, City of New Orleans officials have said the city's drainage system can pump an inch of rainwater in the first hour and half of an inch of rain every hour that follows, but after major problems with the system have been revealed, the city is no longer standing by that assessment. 

When asked directly about the city's drainage capabilities, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office responded with a statement saying, "At this time, Sewerage and Water Board is conducting an assessment of the drainage system to determine its exact capacity."

During Saturday's flood, 14 pumps were not operating, two stations were working at 63 and 52 percent and three turbines were out, according to city officials. 

But while the city tries to determine how much water it can pump out, it is also working on a strategy to see how much water it can take in.

"We know that the capacity of the [engineered] system is at its limits," New Orleans Chief Resilience Officer Jeff Hebert said. "So we've already been thinking for the past two years about how to go beyond that and do some other projects."

The city is working on a project to use areas of green space for flood protection. A total of 13 projects costing $200 million will work similarly to the way Jefferson Parish floods Pontiff Park during major rain events. 

"I would say in the next two years you're going to see at least half of them in the ground or construction in the ground, you'll see in the next two to four years. So you're looking at sort of a six year project to get many of these off the ground but the first third of them are well underway and close to finished design," Hebert said.

But while the city touts its project aimed at mitigating flooding in the future, State Rep. Stephanie Hilferty wants immediate repairs to the drainage system, especially during the peak of hurricane season. 

"That's a planning strategy that we need to implement, but that doesn't help us for the water that could come for tomorrow or the next day or over this weekend. So the immediate thing is we need to look at these stations and make sure that the pumps are operating," Hilferty said. 

Hilferty also said she'd like to see the city streamline the process to notify residents of flooding issues in their area. 

During Saturday's flooding event, the city sent the first alert to residents two hours after it began raining. 

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