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Drainage System Facts
Because the river levees are higher than the lake levees, most rainwater is pumped into Lake Pontchartrain. Exceptions are the two (2) West Bank pumping stations and two (2) stations in Eastern New Orleans that pump rainwater into the Intracoastal Waterway or the Industrial Canal.
There are 22 Drainage Pumping Stations in New Orleans. Station personnel are on duty 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
There are also 13 underpass stations, each with two or three pumps, that are automatically turned on by rising water. These pumps are checked every day and are monitored by field personnel during rain events.
There are two important underpass pumping stations that are the responsibility of the State Highway Department and NOT the S&WB. These are on the west bank at the General DeGaulle underpass at the Mississippi River Bridge ramps and on the East Bank at the Pontchartrain Expressway at the Southern Railroad tracks and Metairie cemeteries.
The system's pumping capacity is over 29 billion gallons a day, enough to empty a lake 10 square miles by 13.5 feet deep every 24 hours. That flow rate (over 45,000 cubic feet per second) is more than the flow rate of the Ohio River, the nation's fifth largest river.
The S&WB's drainage network includes approximately 90 mile of open canals and 90 miles of subsurface canals. Many of the subsurface canals are large enough to drive a bus through.
Generators that provide much of the power for pumps throughout the city are located at the S&WB power plant.
Operations Department crews watch the canal water level, monitor weather forecast through a direct tie to the National Weather Service Radar System, communicate with other stations and senior management, and keep informed on weather activity around the city. They are accustomed to handling unexpected deluges.
During a flood, there are often rumors and reports to the S&WB and the media that pumps or entire pumping stations are out of service for any one of a variety of reasons. In fact, this is an extremely rare occurrence and the media is asked to confirm such reports with the S&WB before broadcasting them.