Fix the pumps

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Problems at the floodgates - Part 3

Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.

Part 3: Environmental
How are the Corps and its contractors treating the environment? Probably not well. It's hard to tell from pictures and from what Deep Flood has to say, but there indications of environmental degradation to the site.

This is the grouping - called a manifold - of drain valves for the hydraulic fluid that powers the pumps. The pipes run between the diesel engines and the pumps. All of these valves open the lines to allow hydraulic fluid to drain during maintenance. The question is: drain to where? Right now, it's the ground, and some of these valves, according to Deep Flood, are leaking right into the ground.

There are also some suspicious wet spots on the ground below the hydraulic lines, like here:

For my final example, I have to step off the enterprise reporting train for just a minute here and cite the reporting from the public pump tests the Corps recently ran at Orleans and London Avenues. Note the Corps is constantly testing the 17th Street canal pumps without public notice. One can tell by checking the WWL webcam. When gate sections are lowered on only one side or another of the structure, they are probably testing pumps. The sections are lowered to limit backflow to the pumps being tested. They only test pumps on one side of the canal at once.

For example, it appears they are doing testing at 17th St today (or were maybe doing it yesterday). I have annotated a WWLTV screenshot with the indications below.

One should note the fact that only one set of pumps is tested at a time, because, during actual operations (i.e. when the gates drop), all of the pumps on both sides will be running. No one knows if they'll actually work properly under storm conditions. The same goes for the gates themselves.

Anyway, buried at the end of the excellent article about the London Avenue canal testing was this:
"A pipe joint began leaking during the tests on Friday, spilling a few gallons of hydraulic fluid into the canal, but officials said repairs would be finished within 24 hours. On Thursday, a leak in the Orleans Canal also spilled hydraulic fluid into that canal.
'We're using environmentally friendly hydraulic oil, and you don't want it to happen. But that's why we have booms set up every time to absorb (spills), just in case,' Bedey said.
'When you start up any mechanical system, you'll have fittings that fail and you replace them. That's part of doing business,' he said. 'In fact, you really never finish testing systems like this. It's part of ongoing maintenance and operation.'"

I first heard about this on TV, when Rob Masson on Fox 8 reported a spill of fifty gallons on the evening of the London Avenue test, Friday, September 15. Note that the Corps had also had the media out to Orleans Avenue the previous day - Thursday - when a spill occurred, but did not reveal that until Friday.

Secondly, if this guy - Colonel Jeffrey Bedey, the head of the Corps' local newly minted Hurricane Protection Office and a transplant from the Corps' St. Louis District - were working as a production or maintenance supervisor at a chemical plant, he would have been fired long ago for an attitude like that. There is no way that fittings fail any time you start up a mechanical system. Maybe that's true in the mechanical systems the Corps designs and installs, but certainly not in the ones in the private-sector.

To prevent leaks you have good mechanics and operators who double and triple check every joint and fitting before any pressure is put on them. And then you leak test those fittings by putting high pressure water through them. Only then do you do a preliminary start up of the system. If that preliminary startup shows problems, you shut down the system and remedy the problem.

Finally, while I applaud the Corps for having booms to contain the spill (they were likely required by the Coast Guard), I find it odd that they are not mentioned anywhere in the Floodgates Operating Manual. Also notable is that the booms have stayed in place at London Avenue. Here's a screencap from WWL-TV's London Avenue camera:

Here's a detail of the pumps on the west side. I have noted the booms.

Admittedly, I can't prove anything from pictures and citations from articles, but just the fact that the hydraulic lines are leaking to the ground at the valves is bad enough. Stuff like that is supposed to be contained. And when one considers all the other inattention to security and safety, it is not a long leap to guess at deeper environmental problems as well.

Next: Part 4 - Urgency is gone


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