Sewerage and Water Board shifts focus to drainage canals

S&WB focusing on clearing underground canals

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -The head of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board says the agency is prioritizing efforts to check and clear underground canals following recent widespread flooding during heavy rainfall.

The City Council’s Public Works Committee discussed drainage issues during its meeting on Wednesday (Sept. 11) at city hall.

Resident Danil Faust chastised the S&WB over the recent discovery of a vehicle inside the Lafitte Canal.

"And you’re pulling out a car from a canal, a big old canal. That has been missing since Katrina, that means nothing was done,” said Faust during the public comment phase of the meeting.

Ghassan Korban, Executive Director of the S&WB, said debris inside canals is a problem.

"It was not a surprise that we found what we found, The one surprise was the vehicle, of course, but the larger items were not surprising because the entry way is so large, and we have been witnessing a lot of illegal dumping that happens near the open drainage canals,” said Korban to council members.

He said the agency is putting more resources into checking and clearing canals.

“We certainly have shifted our focus to canals and we are in control, we are in a more proactive mode. We’re looking into the canals one at a time. We obviously started with the Lafitte canal which was a problematic one for us and we found lots of debris in excess of 22,000 tons of debris that exist there,” Korban said.

Lately, residents and businesses in the downtown area have complained about experiencing more flooding than normal.

Council President Helena Moreno brought up the issue during the meeting.

"I'm seeing flooding downtown even during times when we do not have significant rain, and I'm hearing from business owners and residents downtown who say we are flooding downtown when there is not a significant amount of rain, something is different,” said Moreno.

Korban said they are checking canals that affect the downtown area and there are no indications that those canals are to blame for the recent flooding.

"The preliminary reporting of that is that we're not finding anything of concern, so those canals are in good condition and fairly clean,” he said.

Still, council members are pressing the S&WB and the city’s Public Works Department for more progress in improving the drainage system, including checking more pipes and keeping debris out of catch basins.

Councilman Joe Giarrusso, who is chairman of the Public Works Committee, said improvement is imperative.

“I think the piece the council was concerned about as you heard today was only four percent this year of the total three million feet of pipe have been inspected. We want obviously more of that to be done,” said Giarrusso.

And he said the council will keep pushing for solutions.

"Until there has been a full inspection of all the canals, until we know what's in there, the public, we're going to continue to speculate, and so we want to make sure that not only the work is done, but it's being told to everybody about what's there and what's being cleaned out,” said Giarrusso.

Korban said each day they are working to improve the system.

“We are in stable condition, but we still have a lot of fragile components within the system that we’re targeting and obviously it’s one component at the time with limited funding associated with the drainage,” said Korban. “We trying to be as thoughtful and as systematic as we can be to target what really needs to be done today versus tomorrow.”

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