NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The problems at the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board keep making their way to the surface, most recently with an unknown amount of diesel that leaked into the city's drainage system.
The Aug. 5 flood exposed broken pumps and turbines and clogged catch basins.
On Tuesday, FOX 8 revealed the agency's manpower shortage of nearly 300 unfilled positions. Then late Tuesday night, after receiving complaints about a strong fuel odor in the air from residents, hazmat crews found diesel was spilling into the drainage system.
Department of Environmental Quality and Hazardous Materials crews mopped drainage canals and placed oil booms on both sides of Pumping Station 6 in an effort to keep the diesel from entering Lake Pontchartrain on Wednesday.
New Orleans Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell said it is believed that a million-gallon diesel tank that fuels S&WB's Carrollton Plant in the case of a power outage was leaking. The tank is inside a diked area, but officials don't know how the fuel got into the drainage system.
"Although we feel very confident that that's our source, we have not yet determined how it got from inside the containment area into this...drainage and sewer system," McConnell said. "We are trying to determine that now. There is not threat to public safety. Drinking water is not affected."
It is unknown how much diesel leaked into the system, but the fuel traveled more than a mile through the canals.
Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave an update on the drainage system's diminished capacity.
"Until we have the additional turbines come back online, which could be several weeks, there's going to continue to be some risk to our drainage capacity," Landrieu said.
The city has brought in 26 generators to help power pumps and stations during the event of rainstorm, but Landrieu admitted that neighborhoods west of the Industrial Canal remain at an elevated flood risk.
"We believe we have what we need in the event of a typical rainfall, but we still do not have what we need in the event of a deluge or a major rain event or - God forbid - a major tropical storm or hurricane," he said.
The city is also expediting the hiring process to get more employees at S&WB and adding temporary labor to clear 15,000 catch basins and drain lines.
"We're going to have more details that are going to be presented to the City Council over the next few days. We expect that the cost of this particular project will be $22 million," Landrieu said.
Landrieu is also requesting funding for warning systems at underpasses prone to flooding for drivers.
During a news conference, Landrieu denied knowing about the problems facing S&WB before the Aug. 5 flood, even though at a March finance meeting it was revealed that none of the city's six turbines was operating.
"That issue was not brought to me. If someone brought me an issue that said all the turbines are down and the city is at risk, we would have taken the actions that we are taking right now," Landrieu said.
At the March meeting, the board made an emergency declaration to make repairs.
The mayor's representative was not at the meeting, but his deputy mayor, Cedric Grant - who is also S&WB executive director - was present.
"It causes me concern. The chairman pro tem was there. Other board members were there. It was a public meeting. The press never reported on it. It's an issue that I think we have to look at. This is what ringing the bell looks like," Landrieu said.
A special council meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday to address the issues at S&WB.