Fix the pumps

Sunday, January 28, 2007


On Friday evening at 6 PM, WWL-TV ran a report about the third meeting of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - East (SLFPA-E). One of the two new superlevee boards created since the storm, the SLFPA-E was host to a briefing on the state of the levees from the Corps Friday.

In the report, trusted veteran reporter Bill Capo spoke about the pumps at 17th Street, and included a quote from Colonel Richard Wagenaar, New Orleans District Commander who will be retiring from his position July 20th. Here's the exact quote:

CAPO: By the end of July, Corps spokesman say pumping capacity should reach 7600 cubic feet per second. While still less than the city's huge pumping station, Corps officials don't expect that to cause flooding problems.
WAGENAAR: But when it's operating at maximum capacity - somewhere in the 9000 range - uh, we believe that 7600 would match that and be able to keep up with what the station is putting into the canal.

So the Colonel is saying that if the floodgates drop - in effect turning the 17th Street canal into a huge bathtub - and Station 6 (the "city's huge pumping station" referred to by Capo) is putting 9000 cfs of water into the south end of the canal, 7600 cfs of pumping capacity will be enough at the north end to take that water out and place it into the lake.

This is so many kinds of wrong, I can't even count them. Where exactly is the extra 1400 cfs in this situation going?

- Corps has invented the transporter and is planning to beam the extra water out.
- Corps is planning on a breach and is accounting for it now.
- Corps will install thousands of hair dryers on the top of the canal walls to evaporate the water before it gets to the floodgates.
- The Corps will transform matter into energy to operate the floodgate pumps.
- Who the heck knows?

One of the first things taught in basic fluid mechanics is conservation of mass, also called continuity. That is, the rate at which what you put stuff in one end of the pipe or channel has to equal the rate of stuff coming out the other end. Such a concept is so bedrock that I was shocked at the audacity of the Colonel suggesting its' exact opposite. A quote like that above raises two possibilities:

1) Colonel Wagenaar and the rest of his staff don't understand basic fluid mechanics.
2) The Corps has some supersecret something-or-other that they're not telling us about.

The simple fact is there is not going to be enough pumping capacity at the 17th Street floodgates to match the maximum capacity of Station 6. There will be a 20% shortfall. A worse situation exists on the London Avenue canal, where the Corps plans for extra pumps still leave a 38% gap in pumping capacity when the gates drop.

It is public pronouncements like this that inspire zero confidence in the Corps. And this isn't the first time the Corps has talked through their hat about the basics. Here's two more examples:

Example 1
Last Tuesday, January 23, on WLAE's Road to Recovery, Wagenaar expressed shock at the recent reports that the Corps won't have the extra pumps in by June 1. He claimed that such information has "been out there for a while." (Note: that's an approximate quote.) He seemed to be implying that people shouldn't have been surprised, and that the Corps wasn't actually missing a deadline.

So where would the public have gotten the crazy idea that pumps for hurricane protection would be installed before hurricane season?

Maybe here:

This is a screenshot of the Corps' own floodgate pump capacity webpage, copied today. As you can see, they say the 17th Street capacity will be 7300 on June 1, not the "peak of hurricane season," or the "July/August timeframe," but June 1.

Or this, which is the text on the back of every inundation map the Corps released on July 26, 2006 (inundation maps show how much flooding to expect in New Orleans when the gates drop):

Where the "June 2007 conditions" say in part: "7300 cfs at 17th Street."

So now we're supposed to forget that those documents say "June, 2007," and instead believe they really say "July or August, 2007?" Please.

Example 2
Three weeks ago, also on "Road to Recovery," Colonel Wagenaar (again) expressed more surprise about comments that the Corps had exceeded the Safe Water Level in the London Avenue canal. He said he didn't know where such reports were coming from.

Once again, those reports were coming straight from Colonel Wagenaar's own employees. I spoke with an extremely well placed individual at the Corps' New Orleans District in the first week of January. That individual called me and discussed London Avenue for almost an hour. Among the things that person told me was that the Sewerage & Water Board had exceeded the Safe Water Level more than once with the Corps' permission.

Is it surprising that New Orleanians don't believe the Corps when they speak publicly?


  • I heard the Colonel say that on TV too. Ouch! Perhaps it was just a botched joke...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 29, 2007 12:26 AM  

  • I'm really glad about that transporter thing. It'll help for evacuations too!

    The hair dryers wouldn't work once Entergy cuts power.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 29, 2007 1:18 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Go to older posts Go to newer posts