Restoring New Orleans’ drinking-water supply could be a year-long chore, says a water system expert whose company is familiar with the city’s water and wastewater systems.

MWH Global, Denver, has worked extensively on New Orleans’ Sewage & Water Board’s wastewater system, with peak flow of up to 230 million gallons per day, for 25 years, says Mark Swatek, president of MWH’s municipal division. The city’s main drinking water plant "is generally OK," he says, but the power is down. "It hasn’t been as significantly damaged as other elements," he says. But the water-supply system is almost entirely under water. It must be flushed and probably disinfected. "It could easily be a year," he speculates.

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  • Washed Away

    Along with many other things, Katrina’s floods washed away a $650-million capital improvement program to increase the capacity and improve the structural integrity of the city’s sanitary sewer system. MWH was the program manager. Vice President Marty Dorward says MWH had completed 100% of the planning, 50% of the design and 30% of construction. Originating from a 1998 consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Louisiana Dept. of Environmental Quality and the City of New Orleans, it was on schedule to meet its December 2010 completion date.

    Completed construction covered underground pipelines and sewer manholes, says Dorward. Work on the gravity pipeline was "well under way," he says, and MWH had completed the first phase of design for upgrades to 26 of the system’s 83 pumping stations and replacement parts for 24 others. The pumping stations alone would cost about $150 million more, Dorward estimates. MWH was planning to advertise for bids in October and the company was about to initiate design on one of the system’s two wastewater treatment plants.


    New Orleans’ depressed elevation requires about 1,000 pumping stations "the size of a fire station" in Jefferson Parish and New Orleans itself, three times as many as a typical municipality, says Swatek. Only a few were operational on Sept. 6 (see related story). Accurate assessment of the damage will have to wait until the Army Corps of Engineers can seal off the water from Lake Pontchartrain. "Most are specific-design pumps–custom," he says. That will further complicate the recovery.

    In addition, "the wastewater plants are virtually all under water," Swatek says. "Most are probably at the tail end of their design life," and the city has been evaluating what to do with them. MWH has been doing $15 million in annual business with the city for the last couple of years, and also has been doing municipal engineering work in Slidell, Jefferson Parish and Baton Rouge, he says.

    The company has accounted for almost all of its 90 employees in the area, but one is still missing. "We’ve got people who lost everything," including one couple who recently moved to the area from Sudan. They had just bought their first house–it was in New Orleans.