In a city that sits below sea level and is surrounded by water, drainage projects can be complex and crucial undertakings. Now more than halfway complete, the Pump to the River project will improve drainage in part of New Orleans by increasing capacity and shortening the distance to the basin.

Designed and constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the project spans almost two miles and is broken up into five contracts, each with different general contractors. Discovery of subsurface material, the design of a complex siphoning system and coordination with local businesses have proven difficult, but the project is still on schedule.

Five ‘Big Easy’ Pieces

The $100-million project aims to improve drainage in the New Orleans suburbs of River Ridge and Harahan. Kazem Alikhani, director of the Jefferson Parish Public Works, says the idea for the project arose following a May 1995 flood that overwhelmed the canals and flooded thousands of homes. Post-disaster investigations found that pumping from River Ridge and Harahan to the Mississippi River instead of to Lake Pontchartrain could dramatically improve drainage.

The Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA) was founded in 1996 as a result of the disaster with the aim of completing more than 50 flood-control projects by 2017. As one of those projects, Pump to the River will cut three miles off the distance water has to travel, thus reducing volume and easing flows in the Soniat Canal. "The new [route] will tremendously lower the stage of the Soniat Canal and will significantly improve drainage in the Harahan and River Ridge area," says Alikhani. "It will be a big improvement for flood protection in the area."

The project spans almost 10,000 ft from the foot of the Soniat Canal to the Mississippi River. The system starts with the $10.7-million intake basin (SELA 09a) that takes water from the Soniat Canal and Mazque Ditch to a transition box culvert in the Harahan Pump Station. It is being constructed by Veteran's Contractors Group JV LLC and consists of 600 linear ft of underground culvert.

The $29.4-million pump station project (SELA 09) broke ground in September 2011 and is roughly 80% complete. It is being constructed by MR Pittman Group and consists of three 400-cfs vertical diesel pumps that push the water on its trek to the river. After leaving the station, the flow runs into the 1,600-ft north discharge tubes (SELA 07a) and then to the 4,500-ft south discharge tubes (SELA 07b) being constructed by Conti Enterprises for $23.8 million. The entire system ends at the discharge basin (SELA 07c), a $24.4-million project being built by B&K Construction Co. It consists of 2,000 linear ft of steel pipe, a pile-supported concrete discharge basin and a cathodic protection system.

Rachel Calico, project manager at USACE, says it took careful planning to divide up the project and ensure that all the contractors were in sync. While they managed their own individual parts, they all needed to communicate where the segments met or overlapped. The Corps has also been working closely with Jefferson Parish, the city of Harahan and the Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development as well as local businesses affected by the construction.

"It's a big site, and there are a number of [contractors] involved, but we haven't had any major issues. It has been going very well with all involved," Calico says.

Minimizing Impacts