The shortfall comes about from 3 of the 11 WCC pumps not being ready on June 1. Supposedly, there's going to be testing of remaining 8 pumps this spring. The Corps claims the other 3 will be tested and will come on line before the height of hurricane season, generally acknowledged as August 15 through September 30.
So what will that testing consist of?
The complete specifications for the West Closure Complex tell us - specifically, Section 22 10 00.00 10, "Vertical Pumps, Axial-flow and Mixed-flow Impeller-type."
The first testing was comprehensive model testing of a scaled-down version of the pumps. This model test at the factory - not a test of the real pumps at the site - was to be used to verify the pumps' performance fell within the specifications. Four and a half pages of the specs are devoted to this testing. Supposedly, there's a complete report about the model testing out there somewhere; the requirements for it are called out in detail within the specs.
Then, with the real pumps installed in the station, they'll do two types of testing.
First, they'll run them "in the dry." This dry testing (that is, no water flowing) is pretty much to make sure everything spins right, that the bearings don't heat up too much, that instrumentation works okay, that the pump doesn't vibrate too much, etc. Each pump is supposed to be run for 4 hours or until the bearing temperatures stabilize.
And then, finally, comes the run test with water flowing. Here's the verbiage from the specs:
"Each pump unit shall be given a test with water under load, at or near normal operating conditions, for at least 4 hours or as directed by the Contracting Officer. The test shall be conducted by the Contractor and will be witnessed by the Government. All supplies and equipment required to conduct the test shall be provided by the Contractor. During the test the operation of the pumps will be observed and measurements of sound, vibration and bearing temperatures shall be taken and recorded. Without additional costs to the Government, the Contractor shall make all changes and correct any errors for which the Contractor is responsible. The Contracting Officer may waive or postpone the test if sufficient water is not available. Appropriate changes will then be made to the contract.
Vibration and bearing temperature records shall be kept by the Contractor and turned over to the Contracting Officer at the conclusion of the contract."
It's a remarkably short passage, especially compared to the densely detailed 4.5 pages describing the model test. There's no real requirements for the wet testing, or even requirements to develop requirements. The pumps just have to be run and stuff is measured. What range those measurements should fall within, the format of the reporting, what standards should be referenced, and a myriad of other questions are simply left unmentioned. Clearly, these field tests will be little more than show; otherwise, there'd be a lot more than two paragraphs about them in the specs.
I've highlighted two relevant parts. First,
"Each pump unit shall be given a test with water under load, at or near normal operating conditions, for at least 4 hours or as directed by the Contracting Officer."
"Near" normal operating conditions is not defined. That's not surprising, since flow measurement is not mentioned anywhere - except for future press releases from the Corps and the manufacturer, where sufficiently big flowrate numbers can be made up without fear of contradiction.
But more importantly, 4 hours is it for the field test duration. Sound familiar? This is the same thing that happened with the hydraulic pumps at the outfall canals on the east bank in 2006 and 2007, except that testing of those was knocked down to 3 hours at first, and then finally to 2 hours. And some of them could not even do that.
It's a good thing pumps don't ever, ever have to run longer than 4 hours during a hurricane around New Orleans.
Next, though, is the scarier part:
"The Contracting Officer may waive or postpone the test if sufficient water is not available."
The thought that these pumps could simply not have any water put through them before the contractor is paid is in-freaking-conceivable. Yet there it is, smack in the middle of the specs.
So where does such an idea come from?
The Corps has its engineering contractors use generic specifications for its projects, which are then modified to suit the particular project. The specifications are officially known as the "Unified Facilities Guide Specifications," or UFGS, and are made available by the National Institute of Building Sciences through their "Whole Building Design Guide" website. Other branches of the military use them too.
From the WBDG page, we can look at the unmodified version of the spec I quoted from, Section 22 10 00.00 10 [Note: the "10" at the end of the spec number indicates it is only used by the Corps]. In the generic paragraph on wet testing we find much the same verbiage as in the WCC version:
"Each pump unit shall be given a test under load, at or near normal operating conditions, for at least [_____] hours or as directed by the Contracting Officer; the test will be witnessed by the Government. Provide all supplies and equipment required to conduct the test. During the test the operation of the pumps will be observed and measurements of[ sound,] vibration and bearing temperatures shall be taken and recorded. Without additional costs to the Government, make all changes and correct any errors for which the Contractor is responsible. The Contracting Officer may waive or postpone the test if sufficient water is not available. Appropriate changes will then be made to the contract."
The stuff in brackets is where the engineer needs to make a decision and either fill in a blank, or choose to keep a particular word or phrase. In this case, one of those bracketed bits is the duration of the test.
Above that paragraph in the generic UFGS specification is this paragraph intended as guidance to the specifying engineer:
"NOTE: The longest period should be used if water for testing will be available. The estimated water available and the number of pumps requiring tests should be considered when specifying length of tests. Sound testing, if required would only establish a base line for future reference. Consult HI 9.1-9.9."
So, from the fact that the blank got filled in with a "4," the Corps (or more likely their consultants) may believe that water will only be available for 4 hours before it gets too low in the canals. I personally doubt that's the case if they run the tests one pump at a time, though who knows? The Corps releases everything with an eye dropper. Hopefully some reporter will remember to ask about the test duration this spring in between taking down ridiculous Corps quotes about how many swimming pools could be emptied really fast by the pumps.
However, the fact the sentence, "The Contracting Officer may waive or postpone the test if sufficient water is not available," made it from the generic version of the specification all the way to the final, as-purchased version is insane. I'm not sure there's any more critical test of the hurricane protection system on the West Bank than the field wet test of the pumps at the billion-dollar-plus WCC, yet the Corps just blithely wrote the ability of its own Contracting Officer to cancel the test at a whim into the contract. That sentence should read, "The test may be postponed by the Contracting Officer if sufficient water is not available, but it may not be waived."
Now we know 8 pumps will be tested this spring, with cameras pointing at them (though not likely for four hours) and invited press corralled off to the side. But what of the other 3 pumps? Will the Corps invite the press out for those tests? No. Will we ever hear about them? No. Will we know if they even took place, or if they were waived due to low water? Probably not. But this is meant to put the Corps on notice: people are watching.