New Orleans’s Sewerage & Water Board has been cycling untreated water used to cool steam turbines into the drinking water supply for over a century. The procedure, which has been recently uncovered by the S&WB is in violation of state health regulations. It is yet another black eye for the beleaguered agency.
The Sewerage & Water Board on Tuesday said it recently discovered that for the last century, it has used clean drinking water to cool its steam-powered turbines, then returned the cooling water to the drinking water system without re-treating it.
S&WB Executive Director Ghassan Korban said the public was never at risk and the city’s drinking water is safe. The drinking water that’s been used to cool the steam never leaves a closed system of tubes and coils as it passes through steam-powered turbine generators that produce electricity for the city’s water and drainage pumps, Korban said.
But cross-connections like that are prohibited by state health regulations — regulations established long after New Orleans started using the process.
Korban said nobody realized the S&WB was violating that until looking recently at how to replace steam power, and they self-reported the violation to the Louisiana Department of Health.
The findings were announced during a special meeting at the S&WB headquarters Tuesday morning, a few hours before a recent boil water advisory was lifted.
The S&WB has documented problems with people napping on the job. But taking a century-long nap on an issue of vital importance such as drinking water is a new one for the agency.
Will the S&WB face penalties from the state for violating state law? My guess is probably not. Then again, when has the agency ever been held accountable?
The S&WB is still an agency that can’t get out of its own way. Perhaps it’s time for New Orleans to start over with a new agency in charge of water, sewerage, and drainage. It certainly can’t do any worse than the S&WB.