KINDER, La. – The Louisiana Rural Water Association has been assisting small utilities reeling from historic flooding that covered 20 parishes, damaged over 60,000 homes, caused the evacuation of over 20,000 residents and kept 265,000 children out of school.
“The devastation is comparable to the Katrina and Rita Hurricanes but without the winds and the storm surges,” said Pat Credeur, LRWA executive director. “In some areas, the 500-year-old flood stage has already been exceeded.”
The flooding began around August 12 after a “no-name” storm dropped three times as much rain on Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina – estimated to be over 7.1 trillion gallons of water. Heavy flooding shut down roads and disrupted communication.
“Most roads were impassable, so we had to call the utilities to find out their needs,” Credeur said.
Immediately after the floods, LRWA was working with 86 water utilities on flood-related boil orders. Their early work focused on contacting systems and assessing their status and any problems. Once the flood water receded and roads reopened, LRWA sent a surge of two-person teams into the flooded areas to make on-site inspections and make initial repairs.
The results were impressive.
“On Tuesday, there were approximately 86 systems under flood-related boil advisory. By Friday, that number dropped to 59,” Credeur said.
Systems suffered from a variety of problems, from water-damaged electric components to contaminated wells. Some systems has pumps and motors under water, or pipes and valves damaged by flood debris. Another system was damaged by a lightning strike.
“The water systems were quickly being brought up to standard; however, it was the wastewater systems that have been most affected,” Credeur said. “The wastewater problems were commonly with the lift stations, and those ranged from burnt motors to control panels.”
Other wastewater systems suffered from overflows or damaged grinder pumps.
Despite floods that rivals Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, many of the impacted utilities have been better prepared this time.
“After Rita and Katrina, a lot of utilities didn’t have emergency plans,” Credeur said. “They didn’t have the equipment they needed to respond. There was a lot of chaos.”
One of LRWA’s responses to those hurricanes was to offer regular rapid response and recovery training throughout the state. This training focuses on the full range disaster preparation, including planning, equipment, incident response, reporting and reimbursement. They also established the Louisiana Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network, which is a mutual support and assistance network that allows utilities to share resources and coordinate their efforts in times of emergency.
“The utilities are much more prepared this time,” Credeur said. “We had several systems that were able get back into compliance with a small amount of assistance.”
By August 24, LaWARN had been activated and assistance was focused on areas where the flood water was just beginning to recede.
“We have some areas were water is still affecting utilities and transportation,” Credeur said. “It’s impacting schools, apartment complexes and other small businesses.”
LRWA continues assisting 25 systems a day, providing assistance to bring them back into compliance. A number of the utilities have made repairs and are waiting on water sample testing before they can lift their boil orders.
“We will continue to work with these systems,” Credeur said. “This is going to be an on-going effort.”