S&WB rolls out new tools to handle hurricane season

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Leaders with the Sewerage and Water Board say they've made a number of improvements since the August 2017 flood that they say better prepares them for this hurricane season and summer storms.

"We are working very diligently to ensure we are prepared to handle all of the weather events effectively and efficiently," says Sewerage and Water Board Acting Director Jade Russell.

Russell says it's not just about hurricane season. As evidenced by the localized flooding we saw just last month, it doesn't take a hurricane to flood city streets. It's why officials say the board is taking new measures to get ahead of severe storms and operate with greater efficiency.

"We know that receiving real-time information is critical to any emergency situation," Russell said.

Yet, before the August 5 flooding last year, that wasn't possible. Sewerage and Water Board representatives say there was limited power, pumping stations were activated on a first-come, first-serve basis, determined by what operators saw on the ground.

"What is really been great about the last eight or nine months as we now have a much more flexible complex of power available," explained Sewerage and Water Board Interim Operations Manager Joe Sensebe.

Officials say a new system now offers automatic updates from sensors indicating what pumps are on, how much power they're using, how much rainfall they're receiving and the intensity of that rainfall at each station. They say this allows the Sewerage and Water Board to take a more proactive approach at handling heavy rains.

"We are anticipating what's going to happen next so, as we go along based on pumping activity in the station, based on your radar that we're monitoring here, we will understand and learn to anticipate how much power we're going to need," explained Sewerage and Water Board Interim Chief of Operations Eric Labat.

FOX 8 toured the Carrollton Water Plant for a better idea of what the board is working with this hurricane season, getting an inside look at turbines like number four.

"This one has a patent on it from the 1800s," Sewerage and Water Board turbine engineer Damon Adams pointed out.

The steam-powered turbine is being refurbished and, once back online, it will be General Electric's oldest operating generator in the world.

"It's a sturdy, well-built machine. It has a lot of improvements to make it more efficient and bring it into days operating range," Adams said.

Yet, in case of emergency, turbine six is the one they turn to. It's able to support other generators, if need be.

"An area threatened by high winds, one of the first things that goes is energy service. We would put this machine online to replace Entergy services within the Carrollton plant facility so, we would replace Entergy's power with our own," said Labat.

"We have learned that not all areas of the city experience the same amount of retained rainfall or flooding," Russell said.

It's one reason why the board says it's also contracting with a meteorologist this season to allow for better predictability and flexibility so officials can alert pumping stations of where the most significant areas of rainfall will be.

Sewerage and Water Board officials addressed the flooding we saw in Treme, May 18. They say they haven't pinpointed any issues and tell FOX 8 drainage pumps are working properly.

Even so, leaders say they look to do some modeling to see if any improvements can be made.