Two weeks after Hurricane Isaac swept ashore in Louisiana, staff at the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans were still assessing the damage caused by the slow-moving Category 1 storm.
"We are in the cleanup mode now, but thanks to a massive federal investment in the levy protection system and flood control for the city we faired well in comparison to Katrina," said Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Marcia St. Martin.
"Outside the hurricane protection system we have several communities that experienced significant flooding, but that was less than 500 people in total," she said. "As it relates to the city inside the hurricane protection system, and that's probably 99 percent of the population, the damage was limited to the type of wind damage you have with a Category 1 hurricane."
A preliminary damage estimate in early September put the toll at about $68 million for infrastructure controlled by the Sewerage and Water Board. Of particular concern was damage to the piping network caused by trees blown down during the storm.
"It was a major wind event and lot of trees were toppled," St. Martin said. "Those trees are being removed by the city and residents. As those roots are being disturbed we will continue to see breaks in the pipeline system."
While Hurricane Isaac was not as powerful as Katrina, a Category 3 hurricane, it was slow moving and dropped a huge amount of rain on Louisiana, causing extensive flooding in regions along the coast.
The multi-billion dollar levy and pump system upgrade helped keep New Orleans dry, even during the worst of the storm. The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board operates a massive pumping system that includes 24 pump stations that can pump 50,000 cubic feet per second. The Corps of Engineers also operates stations that pump into Lake Pontchartrain
There were a few minor glitches with the pump system, St. Martin said. At the 17th Street Canal pump station operated by the Corps of Engineers, the computer system failed to automatically start the station's pumps. Pump operators had to weather the storm to turn the pumps on manually. The delay did not cause problems and only street flooding was reported during the storm.
The city's drinking water and wastewater systems also continued to perform, for the most part, St. Martin said.
"We were able to provide drinking water to our customer base throughout the event. We did not have any glitches in that system," she said. "On the wastewater system we had a loss of power and we needed to open some valves and discharge some untreated product into the river for a short duration until we could get a generator reactivated. But overall the system performed well in this hurricane."
While New Orleans was spared from flooding, the residents of Plaquemines Parish and Jefferson Parish were not so fortunate. Staff from New Orleans are helping in the recovery efforts there.
"Some of our team members are helping them pump out their flood waters," St. Martin said. "The Sewage and Water Board was extremely thankful for all the water utilities from across the country that came to our aid after Katrina. So, we have an opportunity to say thank you to the nation but also help people who were impacted this time."