Fix the pumps

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Lots of people have been finding their way to my blog today. It's because of this:
New Orleans pumps were faulty

"The Army Corps of Engineers, rushing to meet President Bush's promise to protect New Orleans by the start of the 2006 hurricane season, installed defective flood-control pumps last year despite warnings from its own expert that the equipment would fail during a storm, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press."

"The 2006 hurricane season turned out to be mild, and the new pumps were never pressed into action. But the Corps and the politically connected manufacturer of the equipment are still struggling to get the 34 heavy-duty pumps working properly."

And lots more where that came from.

So I assume people want to read this memo.

[Updated March 19, 2007]
First, an important bit of background...

This memo was not leaked to the press. I received it through a Freedom of Information Act request placed with the Corps of Engineers' New Orleans District (actually, it was originally placed in Los Angeles, and then L.A. transferred it to N.O.). The Corps released this memo of their own accord.
[end update]

Now, here's why I haven't posted it...

I actually tried to go to Kinko's last week, but they wanted $5.99 for the first page and $1.99 each additional page, and they said it would take three days to get it scanned. I wasn't about to pay over $150 to scan a document. I cast around the neighborhood looking for a scanner that could handle a big document, but I couldn't find one.

So in the interim, here's the text of the first three pages of Ms. Garzino's email. These are the main body of her memorandum for record. Behind this, there is a list of all pumps which failed before the pump testing requirements were eliminated (one week into the testing), then a listing of the testing results of all the power units, then a day-by-day chronology of her time at MWI's Deerfield Beach facility during the month of April, 2006.

Following all that are the official quality assurance (aka "QA") reports filed by other Corps personnel during their time at MWI. The Corps loaned personnel form their Jacksonville office to this effort. Most of the time, there were two QA's working at MWI, one working a day shift and one working a night shift. They would file reports of what they observed each day.

So here's the beginning of the memo:

Sent: Thursday, May 04, 2006 9:25 AM
To: Setliff, Lewis F COL MVS
Subject: FW: Defective Pumping Equipment
Importance: High
Sensitivity: Confidential

Col Setliff,

I have submitted the message below, with complete attachments, to Ms. Nicholas - Contracting Officer for the pumping equipment in question. I have called and visited her contract specialist, Ms. Rouse, to give her a "heads up" regarding general content of this message, and, have offered my assistance when/where ever necessary to answer questions/provide additional information should she feel it necessary. I have also dropped off a full copy of the MFR with complete attachments at your office this morning (I attempted to send this message last night with complete attachments and the server would not let me - I am attaching here only the docs that were generated by myself...).

I understand your schedule is extraordinarily busy and your time valuable, with this in mind, I wish to ask of you a few moments of your time so I may discuss information that is not contained in this memo and is more private in nature.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.


Maria Garzino
USACE Mechanical Engineer
Task Force Guardian

Sent: Wednesday, May 03, 2006 5:26 PM
To: Nicholas, Cindy A MVN
Cc: Rouse, Gayle E MVN
Subject: Defective Pumping Equipment
Importance: High
Sensitivity: Confidential



W912P8-06-R-0089 - Temporary Pumps for Three Outfall Canals, New Orleans LA
Date: May 3, 2006

To: Ms. Cynthia A. Nicholas, USACE Contracting Officer, Task Force Guardian

Subj: Defective Pumping Equipment Supplied by MWI - Pumping Equipment Not In Accordance With Contract Requirements

Ms. Nicholas:

It is the opinion of the undersigned that pump equipment supplied by the above cited contract, specifically the pump assemblies and drive units, that are arriving in the field and being installed daily, are not capable of fulfilling their function as intended by the original contract requirements - are defective - and will experience failure should they be tasked to run, under normal use, as would be required in the event of a hurricane.

Put simply, if the intent of the contract requirements is to have pump equipment capable of being turned on and used for prolonged periods of time in the event of a hurricane, then I believe the pump equipment will not function as intended. In fact, without extensive follow on supplemental operation of the pumping equipment after installation, and subsequent likely follow on repair of failed pumping equipment components (hydraulic pumps, hydraulic pump motors, failed high pressure hydraulic lines, etc.), I believe significant failure of the pump equipment can be expected. In addition, as the original contract deliverables (as provided by the written specifications, oral negotiations, and bid proposal) have changed significantly due to revised testing procedures, and without formal modifications to the contract, it is recommended that requests for payment from MWI for this pumping equipment should be extensively reviewed prior to such payment to ensure the government receives fair value for services/equipment received - especially if the governments intent was to receive fully functional pumping equipment that could be pressed into full service after installation without the threat of imminent failure - something the current contract documents/specifications impart.

This opinion is derived from events transpiring during continuous and diligent observance by the undersigned of full sized testing of these pump assemblies and drive units at the manufacturer's Deerfield Beach, Florida facility from the period April 7, 2006 thru May 01, 2006. These events have been documented, by myself and independently by Jacksonville District QA personnel, in reports as follows - and to be provided as attachments:

Listing of Pump Assemblies That Have 'Seen' the Testing Tank (actually pumped water) Failures/Successes - 4/6 thru 4/26
Listing of Drive Units Failures/Successes - 4/6 thru 4/26
Florida Trip 4/07 to 4/16 - MWI - Testing - Report No. 1
Florida Trip 4/17 to 4/23 - MWI - Testing - Report No. 2
Florida Trip 4/24 to 4/30 - MWI - Testing - Report No. 3
QA Shop Inspection Report #6 (4/11), #7 (4/12), #8 (4/12), #9 (4/13), #10 (4/14), #11 (4/15-17), #12 (4/18), #13 (4/19-20), #14 (4/21), and #15 (4/21)
QA-TFG- Reports for 4/25, 4/26, and 4/27

Finally, events outlined in the above reports highlight two disturbing, and still unresolved, pumping equipment failure issues - that being:

1) Cause of the voluminous failures of the hydraulic pumps on the drive units is still unknown at this time - the manufacturer of the hydraulic pumps (Denison) has not yet provided any official input as to the failures being caused by a plethora of "bad" pumps, or, point to an as yet unknown design deficiency with the hydraulic system. This situation would provide for the possibility of future failures of the drive units at 100% until a design deficiency can be ruled out - in addition, there is the very likely possibility, more probable actually, that damaged hydraulic pumps starting the failure process have "passed" testing and are currently slated to be, or have been, installed.

2) The original contract specifications required 100% load testing of all pump assemblies - this requirement has subsequently been eliminated, and to date, less than 25% of all pump assemblies have been load tested (leaving potentially 75% not load tested), and, of the eight (8) pump assemblies that have been load tested, one has only been run for a few minutes at best and one other was run at 1/3 operating pressure (the hydraulic oil barely got warm enough to register). Of the remaining six (6) pump assemblies actually undergoing load testing (actually pumping water), three (3) - 50% - have experienced catastrophic failure. Of note, these three failed pump assemblies have also been the pump assemblies that have the most run time on them - leading me to the logical conclusion that, barring some extraordinary anomaly, the more you run them, the more likely catastrophic failures will occur.

For these reasons, and because I am fully aware the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intends to proceed with the utmost care and diligence in all tasks associated with Task Force Guardian, I am writing this memorandum for record to ensure this situation is communicated as best as I can to the ultimate responsible authority.

Respectfully submitted,

Maria Garzino
USACE, Mechanical Engineer
Task Force Guardian

Matt here again. You can read a little more about Maria Garzino in this Task Force Hope newsletter from last July. Here's another link to it. Back then, the Corps had this to say about her: "Eventually, Garzino was sent back to New Orleans and made Pumping Systems Installation Team Leader. This is currently one of the most important jobs in the hurricane protection system with the New Orleans District Corps of Engineers." [emphasis mine]

It seems that the Corps - at least publicly - had a pretty high opinion of Ms. Garzino.

Coincidentally, that's the same newsletter that shows the consequences of the pumps at the floodgates having less capacity that the Orleans Parish pumps in the interior of the city. Lots of areas would get flooding if the floodgate pumps don't work.


  • Thanks, Matt. You obviously have solid information on the NOLA pumps. Keep up the good work.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 13, 2007 11:34 PM  

  • Matt,

    My husband is an engineer cum machinist. He's been fascinated by the story of Pump Station No. 6 since Katrina. He's also been trying to follow the progress in New Orleans but without much luck. I showed him your website. He said, "Finally! This site is a jewel."

    Thanks again for your work. We'll keep tabs on this site.

    Randi Gifford

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 14, 2007 12:11 AM  

  • Matt. This is truly some EXCELLENT research. Yet another example of the bloggers working with the press to get a story out.

    Loki at Humid City and Scout at First Draft sent me over here.

    Drop me a note if you want to chat about future interactions with the mainstream media, I have a bit of experience in the area ;-)

    BTW, this failure in the pump manufacturing is a life and death kind of story and something that I wish the non-engineering world could appreciate when it comes to dealing with this contractor MWI with connections to Jeb Bush.

    We should expose for ridicule (and perhaps prosecution, companies that make these kind of life and death products who are more concerned with appearances than performance.

    Was MWI more concerned about getting the deal via political connections than making sure the products that can save lives actually work? It sure looks that way. And they would have gotten away with it too if it wasn't for "those meddling bloggers."
    Good work.

    By Blogger spocko, at March 14, 2007 2:33 PM  

  • Thank you for your work and website.

    I went to three of the USACOE "open houses" at pump stations and levee breaches last year. I asked if the new pumps were based on A. Baldwin Wood's designed and was told dismissively that they had something more advanced.

    The recent quote by Col. Jeffrey Bedey about having "to build something that nobody has ever built before" ( here ) is bogus. The Wood Screw Pumps have shown their use here and in the Netherlands for nearly a century. If you have something better, great; otherwise go with what has been demonstrated to work.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 14, 2007 7:41 PM  

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