Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pump Tests

Posted By on Tue, Mar 11, 2008 at 8:54 PM

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Even after almost two years and numerous doubts cast about the hydraulic pumps located at the floodgates at the outfall canals, many of these pumps haven’t been tested for the amount of time they’re expected to run when the gates are closed. Ray Newman, captain of the 17th St. Canal and a civilian member of the Corps of Engineers, says there’s just not enough water to test the hydraulic pumps.

“That all comes down to the amount of water Sewerage and Water Board (SW&B) can give us.”

Newman says that when they see a significant rain event forecasted, the Corps contacts SW&B and asks them to hold back water, so there is a significant amount in the 17 St. Canal to run the floodgate pumps, which, in the case of the hydraulic pumps, require at least two feet of water. There are two kinds of pumps at the floodgates: hydraulic (the ones that were never adequately tested before being installed at the floodgates and had vibration problems) and the direct drive pumps, which are larger and, Newman reports, can run at lower canal-water levels.

The last time the Corps attempted to test the hydraulic pumps at the 17th St. Canal was on February 22, and they ran two of the hydraulic pumps for eight hours. Newman says that his team was able to operate the pumps at maximum pressure, but not maximum flow, the maximum amount of water (remember that’s what the pumps are for: to get water out of the city when the floodgates are closed) the pumps can move. Newman doesn’t know how close to the maximum cubic feet per second (cfs) the tested pumps achieved.

So why doesn’t the Corps just close the gates — they’ve done it before — and run the pumps at full pressure and maximum water flow for the 12-24 hours they’re expected to operate during a hurricane or a tropical storm? Newman says it’s something they’re considering, but there’s a negative perception surrounding that kind of test. What happens if the Corps closes the gates and some street flooding occurs and then the Corps would be held responsible?

Hmm. Most people hold the Corps responsible for what happened on August 29, 2005. Couldn’t they risk a little street flooding to make sure for once and for all that these pumps will work and New Orleans will stay dry?

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