MWI Earns Kudos from the Army Corps of Engineers

MWI Earns Kudos from the Army Corps of Engineers

Engineering News Record –
By Tom Sawyer
Published September 16, 2005

The volume of water being pumped out of New Orleans is diminishing, and that’s good news, says Maj. George Stejic, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ task force draining the city. The drop in volume and the shutting down of some of the pumps now means many drainage basins are drying out and there is less water to remove all the time.

The furious effort to plug leaks and re-start pumps and throw in auxiliary resources is paying off. Sunny dry weather since Katrina departed has also helped, Stejic says.

“In Orleans Parish water is gone everywhere, except in a few areas where it is still puddling,” says Stejic. “All the pump stations in Orleans will be done, pumped out, on or about Oct. 1. In East Orleans water levels are near normal. Perhaps in another day or so it will be completely normal… and in St. Bernard everything is essentially normal, at least in terms of water level,” he says. “As of October 1st we are going to be the world’s experts in dealing with major flooding.”

The Corps is now projecting completion dates for the unwatering in Orleans Parish of Oct. 2; St. Bernard Parish of Sept 20; East Orleans and Plaquemines East of Sept. 30 and Plaquemines West of Oct 8. Construction is tapering off on the breach closures at 17th St. and London Ave. Contractors are reinforcing existing repairs and armoring sandbag closures with rock. Contractors regulate flow levels by adjusting sheet pile walls with cranes positioned at the canal mouths. Crews finished an access road to the second London Canal breach north of Mirabeau Bridge on Sept. 14.

Stubborn problems and tough fights persist, however. In Orleans Parish, some residential areas bordering Lake Pontchartrian on the north side of town are draining slowly because two key pump stations are still off line. Pump station No. 4 remains flooded. It will take a couple of weeks to return equipment to service once the water recedes, the Corps says. Also, the 25 Hz underground feeder required to run Pump Station 12, near the 17th St. Canal, has been severed somewhere beneath the muddy moonscape left behind by the retreating flood. It will have to be found and repaired before that pump can return to duty. Still, Stejic is optimistic that most of the water those stations would normally handle will migrate to other pumps and will also retreat in relatively short order.

St. Bernard Parish is almost completely dry, but the area still is coated in a petroleum film because of fuel spilled from Murphy Corp.’s tank farm in Meraux.

In East Orleans the tide has also turned. Corps engineers and MWI, a subcontractor of prim dewatering contractor Shaw Group, have been fighting desperately to extract an Air Products hydrogen production plant from the flood and now they appear to have gained the upper hand. The plant supplies about 30% of the nation’s liquid hydrogen supply. Restoring it to service is considered a national priority.

Stejic says the strategy has been to take advantage of existing landforms, including an adjacent canal and a railroad embankment, to build a temporary dam and subdivide the 40-acre industrial site into two basins. One encompasses the footprint of the production facility; the other includes less critical areas. MWI has worked so aggressively that even the roll-over of a truck into the flood barely broke its stride. The contractor rapidly drained one cell into an adjacent one with four, 42-in pumps, allowing the facility to resume production. Now MWI is draining the second area of approximately 400 million cu ft of water.

Progress is furthest behind in lower Plaquemines Parish. Levee breach repairs continue in the narrow strip-communities along the banks of the Mississippi south of New Orleans on a basin-by-basin basis. Most of the full scale pumping stations that survived the storm should be on line soon, but in the meantime intentional “notching” of the levees and the deployment teams with portable pumps is beginning to see results too.

One of those portable pump teams consists of five Dutch experts from the Directorate General for Public Works and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat). It has three 1,000 cu m/hr mobile pumps and has been able to coordinate their efforts with U.S. Army National Guard troops for logistics help in reaching the difficult-to-reach area, and with active duty marines for pipe laying assistance. “The Dutch are doing great,” says Stejic.