The New Orleans drainage system is a large complex system. Yet we have two organizations running it – the Sewerage and Water Board (SWB) and the Department of Public Works (DPW). An old proverb states:  When something is managed by many, something is missed.  We certainly have seen many things missed over the last several years. 

The City Council recently passed a resolution to establish a working committee to implement the consolidation under a single entity. We applaud them for taking this step. And Council President Helena Moreno believes that perhaps the committee might find a more innovative approach.

But to quote Paul Harvey, “AND now for the rest of the story…”

The City Charter defined drainage as part of the streets. And in 1890 the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans was created to handle (amongst other responsibilities) “major drainage”.

1895 Proposed Drainage System

So, early in our history we did establish a bifurcated system of “minor drainage” and “major drainage”. But we operated it under the SWB as a single drainage system administrator for over one hundred years. And SWB went on to create one of the most innovative engineering marvels and reliable drainage systems in the world.  In 1942 the City passed a 50-year millage. The millage was responsible for the “minor drainage” system. And the proceeds went to the SWB, to perform the work.  In early 1990’s the citizens soundly defeated a renewal of that millage by approximately 85%.  Many believe that the promises made by the administration were so misleading that the renewal was dead on arrival. 

Even without funding SWB continued to maintain the small drainage pipes (catch basins and pipes up to 36”) for several years. However after SWB discontinued its support, the system fell into disrepair from neglect and lack of funding.   Not until recently – but close to thirty (30) years later – Mayor Cantrell spearheaded the Short Term Rental tax. The City dedicated those funds “to build, maintain, clean, manage, beautify, improve, operate, repair, replace, implement and/or upkeep drainage”. Still 25% of those funds are dedicated to New Orleans & Co. to promote the city. 75% keeps the drainage working.

(M.C.S., Ord. No. 27986, § 1, 1-24-19)

What Now?

So now that the City has dedicated AND restricted funds in the City of New Orleans Infrastructure Maintenance Fund, who is best suited for the maintenance and operation of the City drainage system? 

There are four reasons to recommend SWB handle the complete drainage system.

  1. First, historically the SWB, from its design and operation until the 1990’s, maintained the system
  2. Second, the study and recommendations of Mayor Cantrell’s Infrastructure Advisory Report;
  3. Third, the study and recommendation of House Resolution 193 committee, chaired by Mayor Cantrell’s Infrastructure CAO Ramsey Green;
  4. and last, but by no means least, the recommendation and willingness of SWB Executive Director Ghassan Korbin to take on the job.

The City council recognizes that this issue has been studied enough.  It is time for the Administration and Council to close ranks. Consolidate the entire drainage system under the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans.  Our citizens deserve to reap the benefits of focused management and singular accountability.

Troy Henry      and      Bruce Thompson                                 

Past Co-Chairmen

Cantrell 2019 Transition Committee

Infrastructure Sub-Committee

One thought on “Fixing the Drainage System in New Orleans”
  1. Very insightful and extremely necessary information. In the end, we the people MUST VOTE in every election to remedy these unjust behavior.

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