Sewerage and Water Board barrels

Down The Drain: The Future of the SWBNO, and possible solutions to improve it

By Lily Cummings

Source: WWL-TV

May 17, 2023

NEW ORLEANS — The Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonpartisan independent research group, released a 52-page report outlining what they believe is coming between the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans and better service.

But will the solutions be implemented?

The complaints of streets left unpaved after underground repairs are made, bills skyrocketing, water main breaks, pump problems and drainage issues have been all too common.

Right now, the canal and pumps are the SWBNO’s responsibility.

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Works manages drainage systems such as catch basins and smaller pipes.

“This division of responsibilities contributes to the poor performance of the entire system, discourages a holistic approach to the broader concept of stormwater management and is unusual among peer cities,” the report states.

BGR suggests instead of dividing the responsibility, the maintenance should all fall on SWBNO.

The report offers two long-term solutions for SWBNO. Either keep, but improve, the SWBNO as a state-created, stand-alone utility, or replace it with a city-created utility.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said she had not gone over the recommendations yet.

“We will absolutely go through those recommendations, and really with the public, the public should as well. And as a result, come up with the best next steps to rid ourselves of this complex governing structure,” Cantrell said.

The report emphasizes the current governing structure proliferates issues.

The SWBNO Board President is Mayor Cantrell and all board members are appointed by her, except one city council member seat. Councilmember King currently fills that seat.

Also, the New Orleans City Council approves funding. The report said their decisions need to be objective.

“The city council’s hand in setting rates, it now injects too much politics,” Cantrell said.

Council President JP Morrell said the SWBNO hasn’t been transparent and has not participated in meetings as requested by the council.

“It’s hard for the council to look at funding requests objectively when the funding requests themselves aren’t very transparent,” Morrell said. “Sewerage and Water Board has a tremendous credibility issue that is really of its own creation.”

Morrell said both long-term solutions should be considered, but he’s raising concerns about SWBNO becoming a stand-alone utility at the mercy of the state legislature.

“The idea that we would give control over our water supply to the state, when the state has shown that on occasion to use money and control as an opportunity to control the city, it really isn’t a reasonable solution in the current environment we have,” Morrell said.

Once the Mayor adopts a path forward, the report urges the council, SWBNO and administration to work together.

The SWBNO said it appreciates the ‘in-depth research’ by the BGR.

“We believe the BGR report on SWBNO governance accurately characterizes the challenges we face, and we welcome the recommendation of an assessment of our governance structure, including either path forward the report suggests,” SWBNO said in a statement.

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