In The News › Study: Aging, leaky water system difficult to plug

Oct 26, 2011

Source: Associated Press

Filed under: Governance, Government Finance, Orleans Parish, S&WB

Study: Aging, leaky water system difficult to plug

October 25, 2011
KEVIN McGILL
Associated Press

The board overseeing New Orleans’ leak-plagued sewer and water system needs an overhaul to reduce political influence, according to a report Tuesday by a nonpartisan research group.
The system needs billions of dollars in repairs and improvements, said the Bureau of Governmental Research, which noted that the city’s Sewerage and Water Board can’t bill people for an estimated 75 percent of the water it treats, mostly because that water is lost to leaks.
The report said paying for the repairs will be difficult because New Orleans residents lack confidence in the system and won’t be happy if sewer and water rates are increased significantly.
And suggestions in the report may prove politically difficult.
One is to remove elected officials the mayor and three council members from the 13-member Sewerage and Water Board. The reasoning is that elected officials have historically been timid about raising rates and that the system has therefore been allowed to deteriorate.
“This would eliminate the ability of officials to hinder the proper funding of the S&WB by opposing rate increases at the board level,” the BGR said.
Another political impediment cited in the study: rate increases must also be approved by the City Council. The Sewerage and Water Board should have limited authority to make “reasonable” rate increases without the approval of members fearful of a voter backlash.
The limited increases envisioned in the study would pay for operating costs and general maintenance and repairs. Larger increases that would be needed to address what the BGR called “the massive and immediate needs of its systems,” would still require council approval. “This would reduce the temptation for the S&WB to raise revenues rather than ferret out waste and inefficiencies,” the report said.
City Hall didn’t respond with specifics, but Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant said bodies overseeing public utilities must have public representation. He said the city is open to reforming the board’s nine-year term lengths another bureau suggestion.
Grant’s statement did echo some of the BGR’s criticisms. “The reality is that for generations the City has kicked the can down the road on rates and fees to pay for this vital infrastructure,” Grant said.
He credited Mayor Mitch Landrieu with helping obtain $82 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for sewerage and water projects since taking office. He also noted that Landrieu has asked a local economic development group, The Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, to review the board’s operations, infrastructure and funding.
FEMA has been involved because the city’s 3,200-mile system of water and sewer lines old, leaky and in need of improvements long before Hurricane Katrina in 2005 suffered further damage after levee breaks during that storm led to the inundation of the city, causing drainage lines beneath streets to shift and increasing corrosion with salty water.

Oct 26, 2011

Source: Associated Press

Filed under: Governance, Government Finance, Orleans Parish, S&WB

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