Fix the pumps

Monday, August 30, 2010

Quick update (with pretty new trees!)

I thought it was time for a quick summary of my most recent posts.

First, the hydraulic pumps. The hydraulic pumps (54 of them scattered across the three sites - 17th Street, Orleans Avenue, and London Avenue) are rusting to bits, and the Corps is doing next to nothing about it. These pumps are supposed to last another four years, minimum. Here's what two of the pumps looked like after just two years in the water (pictures taken from the 2009 Conhagen pump repair report):

These pictures were taken over a year ago. Imagine what the unrepaired pumps sitting in the same water at the same sites look like now.

My initial four part series on the corrosion crisis detailed the repair effort last year and this year to belatedly address this damage to the pumps, as well as how they got to the conditions above.

The 2009 repairs are covered in "Imminent"
The background is in "How did the pumps get from..."
And the work from this year is detailed in "This year's scramble" and "Worse than previously known"

The repair efforts are underfunded and way too slow to make a difference this hurricane season. Thus, here's the status of the pumps at each site, based on their level of repairs:

I recently updated the repairs. Except for pumps which develop spills during the hurricane season, they are stopped on the main 60" pumps at all three sites, but have continued on a few 42" pumps at 17th Street. Specifically, four of the fourteen 115 cubic feet per second pumps (and only those four) mounted under the deck of the 17th Street structure have been under repair for about five months. Those 4 pumps represent just 5% of the overall capacity at 17th Street.

My recent update on the repairs can be found at "No Urgency."

That work did not appear to happening safely, and I described what appear to be possible OSHA violations during the reinstallation of one of the pumps in "Safety first:"

I also reported on the 40 oil spills, accounting for thousands of gallons spilled, the Corps has had at the gate structures over the past 4 years. The vast majority of the spills - 29 of them - have not been reported to the Coast Guard as required under federal law. This appears to violate the Clean Water Act, a violation with penalties including prison and tens of thousands of dollars per day each spill goes unreported.

I detailed all those spills and their background in a three post series:

Corps of Oil, Part 1
Corps of Oil, Part 2
Corps of Oil, Part 3

I recently did a follow up on the oil spill story, called "Boom goes the oil," on the spill control technology (i.e. booms) the Corps uses, or doesn't use, as seen earlier in August:

The downstream boom, which is the final boom that prevents oil leaks from escaping out into the lake looked like this:

All that boom is there because of all the oil leaks, which happen because of all the corrosion. In fact, that is how the Corps determines which pumps to repair - they've gotten so badly corroded that they've released oil into the canals.

Recently, I've started looking at the gates themselves, which are two feet too short. I examined the underwater trench into which the gates settle in "The trench," and raised questions about what condition those trenches are in at 17th Street and Orleans Avenue. The condition is questionable because all the grout found all over the side of the site at 17th Street...

...was also squirted into the trenches at 17th Street and Orleans Avenue. In fact, one gate segment got cemented in place. It's shown here shortly after being freed in August, 2006:

Taking the amount of grout on the gate as a guideline, there was about 3 feet of solidified grout sitting on the bottom of the canal over the trench:

"The gates" took a look at the gate segments themselves, as well as the columns they slide within. Both diverge significantly from the Corps' own design guidelines, which call for much sturdier structures.

My most recent post, "The seals," examined whether the gates actually are designed to keep out water, and concluded that at two of the sites - London Avenue and Orleans Avenue - they are not. In fact, the seals that should be between the gates and the structure are actually bolted on the outside of the structure, providing no sealing at all:

Looking closer:

That allows water to flow around the unsealed gates through gaps:

Considering the reliablity of the pumps immediately behind those gates, the system looks less than robust.

With all this - including pumps which are in imminent danger of failure due to systemic rusting - the Corps found $273,000 to plant trees and bushes around all three sites this spring:

The contract went to Perez APC on March 28, 2010 and was likely subcontracted to Rotolo Consultants Inc (RCI) of Slidell, LA. The contract, W912P8-10-P-116, along with all its modifications and the original bid solicitation, can be found here (the Corps has thus far refused to release the drawings).

Why does this matter?
1) $273,000 would repair the corrosion damage to two of the 60" hydraulic pumps, making about 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) of capacity available without fear of failure from corrosion (other causes of failure still exist). There are still at least 35 pumps representing over 6000 cfs of flow which have not been touched by the repair effort.

2) All three of the gate structures are scheduled to be torn down in four years when they are replaced with permanent pump stations. These trees and shrubs will undoubtedly come out then too. If this doesn't define waste, I don't know what does.

But, it's all about appearances with the Corps. And as long as the arborvitae and the crape myrtles are doing good, that's all that matters.

Photo credits and outside links for all photos except the trees, which are new in this post, can be found within their respective posts.

Karen Gadbois & Steve Beatty of The Lens and Molly Peterson of Southern California Public Radio contributed to this report.



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