City officials want more information on water treatment capacity after freeze

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - City officials are trying to determine whether the city's water treatment system was up to capacity during last week's extensive boil water order.

Documents acquired by FOX 8 show that 18 years ago, the board posted an intake and treatment capacity which was nearly a third greater than what city officials are claiming they had last week.

The city's interim Sewerage and Water Board director has been on the job for 15 days. She now says she wants to learn more about a water intake and treatment system that was put to the test during last week's water emergency.

The City of New Orleans has a massive water system, which according to documents obtained by Fox 8, is designed to treat up to 250 million gallons of water a day.

But during last week's water emergency, which resulted in a two-day boil water order, the system was taking in far less.

"We usually put out 135 million gallons a day. But at one point during the freeze we were moving 170 million gallons of water to maintain water pressure," said interim Sewerage and Water Board Director Marcie Edwards.

New Orleans city council members want to get to the bottom of that and a plethora of issues dogging the sewerage and water board.

Tuesday, they questioned at length Edwards. Of particular concern were ongoing problems at Lambeth House retirement community.

"They emailed us saying they have four water leaks, one for four years," said New Orleans City Council Woman Susan Guidry.

Edwards says half of her tenure so far has been devoted to last week's freeze crisis, including 256 calls to shut off water to homes and businesses with broken pipes.

"To this day, the freeze caused 452 work orders for repairs. We have closed up 143 of them," said Edwards.

The boil water order was issued when pressure in the pipes dipped below 15 pounds per square inch due in part to leaky pipes and people running streams of water to keep their pipes from freezing.

But a former board worker tells FOX 8 that at one time the system produced 270 million gallons a day during a prior freeze event and the board documents show an East Bank intake and treatment capacity for freeze events of a quarter billion gallons a day, far greater than what board says they produced last week.

That water production could have helped maintain pressure that might have limited extent of the boil water order.

Board spokesman Richard Rainey says, "There are filters that need repair, and we are working to fix that."

"In all this infrastructure, there's a diminished capacity that we need to get remediation plans in place," said Edwards.

She will only serve as interim director through May 7.

She says she's trying to get the rebuilding process started for whoever her permanent replacement will be. At this point that search is ongoing.