NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The investigation into what caused a more than century-old water pipe to break on Claiborne Avenue last week continued Monday (May 6), with repair work just about completed.
But H.J. Bosworth, a local engineer, said we can expect many more of these kinds of problems as well as the hardships that go along with them.
The last 72 hours have been anything but pleasant for Janet Banks, who lives at ground zero of the massive water line break, which flooded streets and left many residents under a boil water advisory for over a day.
“Everytime they drill, the house shakes, stuff on the walls go to shaking,” Banks said.
The order was partially lifted Saturday evening, and the 24 remaining properties under the boil water advisory were told their water was safe the next day. On Monday, workers were wrapping up repairs with two lanes of Claiborne still shut down.
But Bosworth said even after the workers are finished, more work remains to be done.
“A major break like this in the middle of a block is unusual,” Bosworth said.
Bosworth works with Levees.org, a local nonprofit studying man-made engineering issues that cause flooding in the metro area. He said normally, water line breaks occur at a bend in the pipe, due to the forces at work there.
“The pressure of the joint against the fitting prompts the joint to work itself loose and separate the pipes,” Bosworth said.
This time, the break occurred in a straight piece of 30-inch pipe. Sewerage and Water Board spokesman Richard Rainey said they are still investigating the exact cause, and it is not currently clear if there was some sort of flaw, or if some of the pipe’s one-inch iron walls had deteriorated.
New Orleans City Councilman Jay Banks sits on the Sewerage and Water Board and said the details of the break don’t change the outcome.
“Whether it was the valve or the pipe, the fact is we have a 100-year-old system in place. That’s going to break. It’s inevitable,” Banks said.
For Janet Banks, that answer is not enough.
“They ain’t going to do nothing," she said. “They gonna wait until it breaks, and then they [will] fix it.”
Mrs. Banks said she fears there won’t be any repairs to the old pipes until they burst again, like they did Friday morning. And for now, there appears to be a ring of truth to her worries.
When asked if there is anyway to check if the pipes are at a breaking point, Fred Tharp of the Sewerage and Water Board said at the moment, the only way to know is when they break.
“That’s where we are,” Tharp said.
Though the city just announced a deal to get $50 million a year for infrastructure, the problems are far more expensive to fix, according to Ramsey Green, New Orleans’ deputy chief administrative officer.
“You’re looking north of $6 billion, and we’re looking at the FEMA joint infrastructure program, to HUD, to hazard mitigation program, to mitigate drainage problems to what you’re seeing today,” Green said.
In the meantime, Janet Banks said she can’t wait for the bulldozers to leave her front yard.
“[I] just want them to get finished from my door, and get away from here. It’s very inconvenient,” she said.
But, she said she worries without improvements, this won’t be the last time she sees a massive water break in her neighborhood.
Rainey said as of Monday afternoon, two of Claiborne Avenues’ three downtown-bound lanes will remained close for as long as it takes to restore the site safely.