Building better pump

CHERYL GERBER PHOTOGRAPH

The names of once-obscure manmade waterways in New Orleans became synonymous with disaster as breaches in the 17th Street, London Avenue and Orleans Avenue canals flooded much of the city after Hurricane Katrina. But a monumental new flood protection project set to begin as soon as this month aims to vastly improve the ability of these canals to safely drain the city.

This spring, the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a contract worth $675 million for permanent pumping stations for these canals, replacing interim stations that were rushed into service before the 2006 hurricane season.

“This is a huge milestone in reducing risk for the people of the greater New Orleans area,” says Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, commander for the corps’ Mississippi Valley Division. 

The contract was awarded to CBY Design Builders, a joint venture of the three out-of-state engineering and construction firms. The stations will be designed to provide storm surge protection from a 100-year storm, the term for a hurricane with a one-percent chance of occurring in any given year, and they’ll be built at the canals’ mouths on Lake Pontchartrain. The contract calls for a combination of gates to block storm surge from the lake and pumping stations to simultaneously move rainwater from the canals into the lake. 

These permanent pumping stations represent the final phase of the corps’ Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System on the east bank, a network of water management projects begun after Katrina to better protect the area.  

Some state and local officials had lobbied for a different approach, the so-called “pump to the river” plan, which would have directed rainwater from parts of Jefferson Parish to the Mississippi River to reduce the load on the 17th Street Canal. Another alternative plan called for deepening the canals to allow water to flow to the lake by gravity and reduce the need for interior pumping stations. These plans were deemed too expensive by the corps. However, in an agreement with local officials, the new pumping stations will be designed to accommodate future “pump to the river” or canal deepening projects should Congress decide to fund them. 

The corps says the three stations will be built simultaneously and they’re expected to be ready for service in about three and a half years. Until then, the temporary gates and pump stations now in place will serve the canals.

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