Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Saturday, October 06, 2012
Isaac in New Orleans - what we know so far
I got the logs for Pump Stations 6 (at the south end of the 17th Street canal), 7 (at the south end of the Orleans Avenue canal), 3 (at the south end of the London Avenue canal), 4 (about half way along the east side of the London Avenue canal), and 1 (in the middle of the city, just lake side of the Broadmoor neighborhood, feeds station 6). Links for these files can be found at the end of this entry. The findings are depressingly predictable. But first let's review the information the Corps did not hold back.
17th Street canal - Still a probem seven years post-Federal Flood
The top news on the morning of August 29, 2012 - when Isaac was lashing the city - as it related to the drainage flow out of the city was that the Corps of Engineers lost communications with their lakefront pump station along the 17th Street canal, at the height of the heaviest rainfall. What emerged from coverage by the Times-Picayune (initial report at 7:41 AM, follow-ups at 8:30 AM, 9:41 AM, and 11:51 AM), the New York Times, and WWL-TV was the SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) system that allows the Corps to run their lakefront pumps remotely had failed early that morning. The Corps could not turn some of the lakefront pumps on, and in order to keep water below the safe water elevation for the canal, they refused to allow the Sewerage and Water Board to turn on more pumps at PS#6 as the water rose in the city's interior. Eventually, the Corps started their pumps at the lakefront manually (an hours-long delay in doing so - despite Corps procedures calling for staffing of the lakefront stations - was never explained publicly) and authorized the Sewerage and Water Board to pump as much as they liked.
The PS#6 logs for August 29th (here and here) confirm the outlines of this story, while filling in some detail. It was around 4:55 AM when the Corps told the S and WB not to "load" (that is run at full capacity) any more pumps in PS#6:
"Note: Army Corps of Engineers said we cannot load any more pumps. [T]hey are at their max of what they can pump"At that time, the station was pumping aproximately 6200 cubic feet per second, or cfs. The station's capacity among its main rainstorm drainage pumps is 9200 cfs.
This initial notice to the S and WB to hold off on pumping appears to be 1.5 to 2 hours before the Corps alerted the media of pumping restrictions, according to the chronology of the NY Times article. Then, at about 6:30 AM, the station operators received another Corps warning not to load additional pumps beyond what was already running, despite the fact that in the intervening hours, water in the station's inlet basin had risen over four feet. Ten minutes later, the station received orders from S and WB's Central Control to break the prime on 1000 cfs pump "D," effectively losing most of its capacity and sending into a pump status called "light." So there were not only Corps orders to keep some pumps from running, but one pump was effectively ordered turned off with the water coming up. This left the station running at about 5200 cfs.
At 7:55 AM, with the water still very high in the inlet basin, the Corps 17th Street canal captain in the station (Ray Newman) gave an all clear to the S and WB personnel in the station to load additional pumps. Five minutes later, 1000 cfs pump "D" was authorized to be loaded by the S and WB Central, and was running in a loaded condition within a few minutes. Another 1000 cfs pump ("C") was brought on line shortly afterward, increasing the station's flowrate to 7200 cfs. Inlet basin levels dropped four feet in about an hour after those two pumps were added. This chronology roughly tracks what was playing out in the media that morning.
What also emerged from this story was that the 2011 remediation project along the 17th Street canal had failed to raise the Safe Water Elevation along the canal from 6 feet to 8 feet, as had been publicly promised repeatedly. Instead, it appears to have only been raised six inches, to 6.5 feet. This number was mentioned in the intial 17th Street reporting from the T-P on the morning of August 29th:
"Engineers were able to start the pumps manually, but because of the rainfall, the water piled up inside the canal a little higher than the corps would like to see, and is currently between six and six and a half feet."Was further hinted at in subsequent T-P updates:
"The 17th Street Canal is now functioning properly, and water levels have dropped to safe levels... [W]ater levels in the canal have dropped from more than 6 feet to 4.3 feet at 9:30 this morning."Was nearly confirmed by the NY Times later that afternoon:
"Chris Accardo, chief of operations for the district, sitting at a conference table with Colonel Fleming, quietly explained that gauges in the 17th Street Canal suggested the water had risen to six feet — maybe even six and a half — a height at or even beyond the margin of safety for those flood walls."And was finally confirmed by WWL-TV the following morning:
"when water reached the 6½ foot maximum operating level in the canal, operators attempted to start the pumps from a remote control system but it didn’t work."
Had the 17th Street SWE been 8 feet, there may have been no crisis that morning. The remediation project on that canal had cost $15 million, and it all appears to have been wasted.
Many other Corps pumping restrictions revealed by logs
What has not been reported until now was that similar stories were also playing out at the other two outfall canals, with perhaps more spectacular events.
At the Orleans Avenue canal, the Corps had pulled two of their ten lakefront pumps out in early August, and had not repaired them by the time Isaac came ashore. In an article published in the Lens on Monday, August 27, 2012, the Corps gave some bland, content-free reassurances about how everything was fine with only 80% pumping capacity available at the lakefront:
"We’ve never had to close the (Orleans Avenue) gates during a storm. Not even during Ike, not even during Gustav," [Accardo] said. "So the threat of these pumps being down and causing any problems is extremely remote. There is hardly any threat to City Park or Mid-City.The first part of the quote was proven untrue just hours after the Lens published their article, when the gates were lowered at the Orleans Avenue site at around 11 PM on the 27th. That was the first time that had happened since the gates were put in place in mid-2006 and the Corps' pumps were accepted for service in September, 2007. The gates at Lomdon Avenue and 17th Street were dropped the following day, the 28th.
"We are not where we want to be at Orleans currently. I would like to be a little higher, but it is not something people need to be worried about," he said. "My standard is to have as many pumps functional at all times."
"as long as I can stay ahead of the S and WB, it’s not a problem."
The truly worrisome activity began the morning of the 29th, during the heaviest of Isaac's rain. S and WB pump station 7 at the south end of the canal houses five pumps:
"A" (550 cubic feet per second, or cfs, powered by S and WB-generated 25 cycle power),
"C" (1000 cfs, 25 cycle),
"D" (1000 cfs, Entergy supplied 60 cycle, with diesel generator backup),
"1" (70 cfs, 25 cycle), a so-called constant-duty, or "CD" pump that normally only runs during dry times to pump out runoff from sprinklers and the like
"2" (70 cfs, 25 cycle), the other "CD" pump.
At about 2 AM on the 29th, as the water started rising in the stations' inlet basin, all five pumps were running, though only four were loaded. Pump "C" had yet to be loaded. 60 cycle pump "D" was running on generator backup, after Entergy power had been lost shortly after midnight.
According to the log, the station operators asked to load pump "C" at 2:20 AM, and were denied by the Corps of Engineers. Subsequent requests to load "C" at 3:05 AM and 4:46 AM were also denied, though the log seems to imply it was the S and WB's central control station ("c/c") in both those cases. However, it seems unlikely the S and WB do such a thing voluntarily, so it's sensible to presume the Corps refused to allow the city to run all the pumps at PS#7 for over two hours during Isaac (the results of FOIA rquests to the Corps will reveal the exact reason). Level gauges show the water levels in the canal were between 2 and 3 feet, well below the supposed canal Safe Water Elevation of 8 feet. Thus the only reason to cut back on the water going in the canal is because the Corps couldn't pump it out fast enough. This puts the lie to the Corps' Accardo when he said his pumps could stay ahead of the S and WB. They obviously couldn't.
But things would get even worse later that morning. At 9:40 AM, the log reported:
"Donald Constantine w/C.O.E. reported a Fire w/C.O.E pump"You read that right.
At least one of the Corps' pumps Caught On Fire During Hurricane Isaac.
Thirteen minutes later, pump "C" - still unloaded - was turned off completely. The logs do not note who ordered that shutoff, but it's not hard to guess.
Then things went completely to pot in PS#7:
"9:55 AM: Lost 25 Hz power. Stop A, CD#1 and 2, MG 1, 2, 3 n/cc"Since 25 cycle-powered pump C was already off, it didn't have to be shut down when they lost power. But all the other major equipment in the station was lost, including the three motor-generator ("MG") sets that provided power for supporting equipment.
At that point, the station was down from a potential flowrate of 2690 cfs to a generator-backup-powered 1000 cfs, or a 63% drop. I bet even the Corps' pumps could keep up with that.
The problems were not confined to just PS#7 though. Nearly the same script was playing out just to the east along the London Avenue. Two pump stations feed that canal: PS#3 and PS#4. Here's the major pump makeup at each:
"A" (550 cfs, 25 cycle)
"B" (550 cfs, 25 cycle)
"C" (1000 cfs, 25 cycle)
"D" (1000 cfs, 25 cycle)
"E" (1000 cfs, 25 cycle)
"1" (320 cfs, 60 cycle)
"2" (320 cfs, 60 cycle)
"C" (1000 cfs, 25 cycle)
"D" (1000 cfs, 25 cycle)
"E" (1000 cfs, 25 cycle, out of service long before Isaac approached)
So the potential total flow into the London Avenue canal was 6740 cfs. It should have been higher, but with pump "E" at PS#4 out of the game, the city was starting in the hole.
Nevertheless, the London Avenue pump operators were also refused the privelege of pumping water out of the city on the morning of the 29th. At 4:03 AM the operators in PS#3 logged the following:
"N/cc [notified S and WB central control] to load C pump (12' 25'5") [these numbers are the depths of the stations' inlet and outlet basins respectively], L/rain, Refused"The operator also drew an arrow pointing to this entry and wrote "NOTE" in dark letters at the end of the arrow, highlighting the refusal to load pump C. Half an hour later, they were refused again. At that point, water in the inlet basin had risen another foot.
Meanwhile, just north at PS#4, the operators were also getting refusals. Remember that one of PS#4's three main pumps - 1000 cfs pump "E" - was already out of service before the storm. Also, they lost Entergy's 60 cycle power at 7:45 PM on the 28th, so their two 60 cycle pumps ("1" and "2") were also never turned on. I am unsure whether there is generator backup at PS#4, but it certainly doesn't look like it. Even with all these losses, when they lost load on pump "D" (that happens occasionally, sometimes because the pump prime is lost) and they called Central at 6:35 AM to reestablish the load, they were refused. A half hour later, however, they reloaded the pump.
What one notices when putting all these logs together was that requests to pump more water into the outfall canals from pump operators across all three canals were repeatedly refused at the height of the storm. Effectively, the Corps' inability to pump out the canals placed an hours-long cork in the city's drainage system. And this is the pumping system the Corps - because of cost reasons - has saddled the city with for years to come.
The exact reasons for individual refusals are unclear, but we can speculate. There's only two obvious causes to stop the S and WB from pumping into the canals: 1) Water levels were above the Safe Water Elevations in the canals; 2) the Corps' lakefront pumps could not keep up. (2) does not seem far fetched at all, considering we already know of Corps pump outages at 17th Street (SCADA system down) and Orleans Avenue (fire). (1) would come about if the 2011 remediation projects along the Orleans Avenue and London Avenue projects were also failures, and the Safe Water Elevations had not been reaised to the promised 8 feet, or had perhaps even been lowered. This also seems likely, since we know there is more remediation work coming on all three canals. I bet the reasons were a combination of both, with multiple Corps pump outages beyond what we know now.
Sewerage and Water Board power outage across three pump stations cripples pumping for hours
Though the refusals to authorize loading of city pumps throughout the early morning of the 29th are quite significant (and point to the hazard of the the Corps' permanent plant to keep the exactly same system in place for at least the next 5 decades), the effects paled in comparison to the loss of 25 cycle power later that morning. The same power outage that struck PS#7 at 9:55 AM also hit PS#3 and PS#4. This had the effect of shutting pumping at both those stations off completely. Among the three stations, only 1000 cfs was pumping, which was at PS#7. As at PS#6, inlet basin levels at all three stations shot up two to four feet very quickly with nowhere for the water to go.
The effects of the outage lasted different times at different stations. At PS#4, they were back up with their two functioning 1000 cfs pumps about an hour later. At PS#3 they were able to get everything running again in about 90 minutes. But at PS#7 it appears they were unable to restart pumps "A" and "C" until much later in the afternoon because of subsequent electrical problems.
In the middle of all that, the Corps reported at 11:10 AM they had put out the pump fire at the Orleans Avenue lakefront gates. But with all but one of the city's pumps in PS#7 down at that point, it was pretty irrelevant. The Corps' pumps were only receiving about 1000 cfs of water, so they could keep up with just five of their 10 lakefront pumps if they wished. So when the Corps reports they were able to keep up with what the city sent them, take it with a grain of salt. They couldn't, as the repeated refusals earlier in the morning of August 29th amply demonstrated.
Corps pumping refusals along Orleans Avenue canal continue nearly 1 day after initial incidents
One might think after all that activity, the worst had passed. And for the most part that was true. However, in the dead of night, at 12:55 AM on the 30th, the Corps once again stuck a plug in the city's Orleans Avenue canal drainpipe. From the PS#7 logs:
"O/ Donald Constantine w/C.O.E. Break prime on C pump. N/cc"That is, the S and WB operators in PS#7 were ordered ("O/") directly by the Corps' Orleans Avenue canal captain to remove most of the flow from 1000 cfs pump "C," leaving just the flow from 550 cfs pump "A" (which had been loaded minutes earlier) and 1000 cfs pump "D." Inlet basin levels rose 2.5 feet in an hour. The station continued to run in this diminished state for four more hours, eventually lowering the inlet basin level back to where it had began before the Corps order to stop pumping. This is more evidence the Corps' Orleans Avenue canal lakefront pumps - two of which were removed from service - could not keep up with the city's pumps.
In fact, at no time during Isaac did city pump station PS#7 run at maximum capacity, a remarkable fact that blows to bits the ridiculous pre-storm reassurances from the Corps. That is, the city was refused permission by the Corps to run its drainage pumps at PS#7 as fast as it wanted to for the entire storm.
In sum, as with every story involving the Corps of Engineers, there was much more happening behind the scenes than what the public was told during Hurricane Isaac's trudge across New Orleans. Restrictions on city pumping into the outfall canals - imposed by the Corps - occurred earlier than was previously reported and extended across all four major stations putting water into those canals. Specifically at the Orleans Avenue canal, the Corps appears to have limited city pumping for the entire duration of the storm, in part due one of the Corps' pumps catching on fire at the height of the storm. A Sewerage and Water Board power outage at the stations on the Orleans and London Avenue canals - also at the height of the storm - masked the effects of some of the pumping restrictions.
The Corps issued a $630 million contract on September 28, 2012 to construct permanent pump stations at the lakefront on all three outfall canals. The winner was a coalition called PCCP Constructors - formed specifically for the project - made up of Kiewit, Traylor Brothers, and local contractor M.R. Pittman . In part they will be supplying $70 million worth of Patterson Pumps, likely very similar to the direct drive pumps currently installed at the
Links to Isaac Sewerage and Water Board pump logs
Zipped files containing daily logs for each station from Sunday, August 26, 2012 through Tuesday, September 4, 2012:
PS#1 (in city interior, north of Broadmoor neighborhood)
PS#6 (at south end of 17th Street canal)
PS#7 (at south end of Orleans Avenue canal)
PS#3 (at south end of London Avenue canal)
PS#4 (half way along east side of London Avenu canal)
Individual daily log sheets for each station:
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
It's about more than the pumps
A while back I wrote a number entries about the design and construction flaws other than the rusty, underdesigned pumps at all three lakefront gate structures. The structures were constructed in 2006. The problems are legion:
- the current gates do not meet the Corps' own design criteria for height to protect from storm surge
And to save money, the Corps decided this past May to pull the same trick with the future permanent pump stations, dropping their elevation to 16 feet above sea level, 2 feet below what Corps design guidelines require.
- the concrete trenches - into which the gates are placed before a storm - suffer from design and installation flaws. They are lined with uncoated carbon steel, which does not stand up to the brackish water in Lake Pontchartrain. In addition, two of the sites had concrete grout fill the trenches during construction which had to be jackhammered out, leaving the condition of those trenches - and their ability to transfer the load imposed by storm surge from the gates to the soil below - in question.
- the needle gates themselves and the vertical guides in which they travel do not meet Corps requirements for how such components should be made, and are far less beefy that those guidelines call for.
- the gates are either weakly sealed against water leaking around them (17th Street), or are not sealed at all (Orleans and London Avenues).
- the winches that raise and lower the gates, as well as their controls, are not protected from getting hit by wind-borne debris. In fact, some of their control boxes are placed on the storm side of the gates:
- operators of the gates have left them unsecured during storm events:
This photo was taken on September 12, 2009, after the London Avenue gates were closed. Zooming in:
This shows that at least four pins - and the gates they hold down - were unsecured during this storm event.
But perhaps the most troubling thing wrong with the gates is the apparent near total lack of lightning rods across all three sites.
In 2009, the Corps received a report about the Interim Closure Structures. It detailed problems with the sites that needed to be addressed in order for the sites to remain usable until the permanent pump stations come on line in a few years. The main emphasis of the report was the rampant corrosion throughout the sites, and I will write about that soon. Some of the corrosion is apparently so bad that revealing its exact location would compromise national security. That is, the Corps actually redacted information from this report because of the sensitive nature of the ongoing damage to the structures.
But that's less urgent than this:
"6) At the 17th Street site the west engine platform has a lightning protection system in place as seen Figure 3.1. However, lightning protection systems were not evident on the east engine platform (Figure 3.2), the direct drive pumping platforms (both east and west), or the gate structure (Figure 3.3).
7) The London Avenue site has a lightning protection system in place on the gate structure as seen in Figure 3.4. However, other structures at the facility do not appear to have lightning protection system in place (Figure 3.5).
8) The Orleans Avenue site does not appear to have a lightning protection system in place. As an example, none can be seen on engine platform located on the west side of the canal as seen in Figure 3.6."
Here's figures 3.1 through 3.6, indeed showing a lack of lightning rods across all three sites:
The final picture shows the true hazard: no lightning rods on the fuel tanks or the buildings next to them. All the pumps are powered by diesel fuel, so there are storage tanks at every site:
As you can see, the Orleans and London Avenue sites both sit within residential neighborhoods.
Now, there may be some other kind of lightning protection system that was not visible to the electrical engineer that wrote the portion of the report commissioned by the Corps. However, it seems like a problem to my untrained eye.
The Corps' preference for the power source of the future permanent pumps: diesel.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Rusty pumps - the summing up
2nd update, 8/28/12: Despite Corps protests earlier (from the Lens article: "Accardo said that the Orleans Canal has the highest-rated water level of the three. 'We’ve never had to close the (Orleans Avenue) gates during a storm. Not even during Ike, not even during Gustav,' he said. 'So the threat of these pumps being down and causing any problems is extremely remote. There is hardly any threat to City Park or Mid-City.'"), the gates at Orleans Avenue were dropped at 11:00 PM August 27th. So we will know exactly what the effect of missing pumps E4 and E5 is.
It is extremely troubling that the Orleans gates dropped (London and 17th were also closed). It says the Corps has zero confidence in the tens of millions of dollars they spend just last year on remediating all three canals to an 8 foot safe water elevation along their entire length. There's more details on those remediation efforts here, here, here, and here, including the copious amounts of debris found, left, or deliberately placed in their levees by the Corps.
There's lots of matters the Corps of Engineers' New Orleans District would rather the public didn't know about, or at least pay attention to. Many times, it's the details of things. They say on June 1, 2011 they've met their goal of hundred year protection, but you find out there's dozens of unfinished projects. They point to how great the West Closure Complex is that same month, but then you learn there were only 8 of 11 pumps ready at the beginning of the 2011 hurricane season and an early season storm could have forced local pump stations to shut down. They say the levee system is better than ever, and then you find out it's filled with concrete, wood, steel, and other flotsam. They say the London Avenue canal has to be closed at the ridiculously low lake level of 2.5 feet until the walls get fixed, and then you find out the walls leaked at levels even lower than that four times in 2011.
So it goes with the 54 hydraulic pumps installed at the three outfall canal sites in New Orleans - 32 at 17th Street, 10 at Orleans Avenue and 12 at London Avenue. 40 of them are the 60" type, while the other 14 - all installed at 17th Street - are the smaller 42" version (this post focuses on the 60" pumps, due to a severe lack of contracting information for the repairs to the 42" pumps). The Corps would rather the public didn't bother with such details as whether the pumps work under storm conditions, or if they have crippling design flaws, or if the salt water in Lake Pontchartrain is turning them into rusty heaps. That's because they know if the public were privy to all those pesky details, they might freak out over how scary the story is.
Thank goodness for the Freedom of Information Act, though, because it allows us to push past the well financed Public Affairs curtain and see the entire rusty pump story for what it is: a fiasco six years in the making.
The first signs - summer, 2006
The problems started nearly instantly after the pumps first went in the canals in June, 2006, with corrosion appearing on the hose connections from the hard piping to the pumps. Hydraulic oil is driven from hydraulic power units onshore through the piping and hoses to the pumps which sit in the canals. Here's a picture of those rusty hose connections: (via SCPR Flickr):
And here's a closeup of one of those rusty hose connections (via SCPR Flickr):
This was a hint that the environment around the waters of Lake Pontchartrain was very salty, and materials susceptible to corrosion - such as the carbon steel making up the pumps - would perform quite poorly. This shouldn't have surprised anyone, since Lake Pontchartrain is the second largest salt water body in the country.
Missing the big picture - 2006 through 2008
But over the next few months, the Corps and its paid consultants (many of which were former Corps employees themselves) would not look at the systemwide problem augered by that early rust, but would instead focus narrowly on a tiny sliver of the corrosion problem. They concentrated on the hose connections to the pumps which sat beneath or near the waterline as the pumps rested in the canals (these hose connections were at the opposite end of the hoses from those shown in the June, 2006 photos above):
Remarkably, their "solution" to preventing the rusting of those connections in early 2007 was the addition of more carbon steel to the pumps, in the form of piping extensions:
This raised the lower hose connections above the waterline, but also had the effect of giving much more surface area for rust and marine organisms to attack. It was like discovering your car's engine was on fire, and deciding to check the spark plugs - while wearing a suit covered in gasoline!
With all that yummy carbon steel waiting like a buffet, the marine organisms in the Lake Pontchartrain water started chomping away at the coar tar epoxy paint, exposing the bare metal below in no time. Corrosion of the steel quickly followed. An oil spill from pump E5 at the 17th Street site on June 26, 2008 was a hint of things to come. The Corps paid over $10,000 to clean it up, but never bothered to report it to the federal or state authorities.
A month later a solicitation for comprehensive pump maintenance for pumps across all three sites was issued. It was a small business Section 8(a) set aside, which is a rather odd choice for such a critical function as maintenance of pumps upon which the residents of the City of New Orleans relied for protection of life and property. Nonetheless, the contract was awarded August 28, 2008 to small business Healtheon. However, pump repair task orders would not be issued against the contract for nearly a year.
Early self-repair efforts prove inadequate - Spring, 2009
By early 2009, the hydraulic oil which powered the pumps and which was contained within the pipes was seeping regularly from multiple pumps, and sometimes gushing into the canals. A halting repair effort began in March, at first concentrating only on pumps with known leaks.
The Corps attempted to repair them on their own, sometimes going to interesting lengths to conceal their efforts from the public. But after six pumps had to be pulled out in three months, accompanied by five oil spills (four of which went unreported) costing over $30,000 to clean up, it was clear professional help was needed.
Professionals are brought in - summer, 2009
Repair task orders started going out on the Healtheon contract in July, 2009. Healtheon hired Conhagen, Inc of Kenner, LA to perform the repairs. Conhagen had been performing similar services for the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board for many years, and indeed it is unclear why the Corps simply didn't hire them directly.
The first task order, on July 21, 2009, called for the partial repair of four 60" pumps at the 17th Street site. New and more plentiful zinc anodes would be attached to the pumps to fight future corrosion, and bits of the pump housings eaten away by rust would be weld repaired.
Also, all the carbon steel piping on the pumps would be removed and replaced. However, only some of it - the piping inside the pump bore - would be upgraded to more corrosion resistant 316L stainless steel. The piping and oil coolers on the outside of the pumps, which sit in the same salty water as that inside the pumps, would remain carbon steel. Critical moving parts inside the pumps, like bearings and the Rineer hydraulic motors, would also not be replaced on a comprehensive basis. The pumps the Corps had pulled themselves earlier in 2009 also received this rather limited set of repairs, including two other 60" pumps. In sum, this work only addressed about a third of the corrosion damage with upgrades, replacing the rest of the rusted or damaged pieces in kind with exactly the same materials.
Fortunately, one of the contractual requirements was generation of reports by the contractor on what they found on these pumps when they came out of the water. The pictures in those reports were disturbing:
Here's a section of pipe removed from the pump sitting on the table at Conhagen (the fitting at the bottom indicates it may be from the inlet or outlet of one of the hydraulic coolers)
It appears that a large chunk of the pipe is completely gone in this photo. Also note the rusty hose fitting on the table:
Here's one of the oil coolers mounted to the sides of the pumps, with a generous coating of marine growth:
These coolers are meant to lower the temperature of still-hot hydraulic oil passing through after leaving the Rineer hydraulic motor but before returning to the reservoir on the engine skid back on the landside of the canal. The residual heat is supposed to be transferred to the canal water, but such severe fouling would undoubtedly hamper that from happening.
Here's some of the piping extensions installed over the winter of 2006-07, specifically the return piping (two larger lines) and the smaller case drain line:
It was clear there was an urgent problem facing the Corps - systemwide corrosion of all 54 pumps within two years of their acceptance for service. Indeed, Conhagen said so in their summary of the repairs, terming the corrosion-related failure of the Corps' other hydraulic pumps "imminent." However, the Corps continued on a rather slow pace of repairs, only contracting with a single repair shop and never sending more than four or five pumps out at any given time, even outside of hurricane season.
Repair scope widens - fall, 2009 through spring, 2010
Indeed, because of the Corps' slowness to respond - despite the dire warning from Conhagen - nearly seven months went by before any more pump repairs took place. Most of that time was spent by the Corps New Orleans District's Operations and Contracting groups preparing an underfunded, limited-scope, sole-source small business set-aside contract for Healtheon, the second such contract they received. This second contract would streamline the repair process, but it would also strangle its funding. Only enough money for 17 pump repairs was set aside, when there should have been enough for 40 such repairs. The contract was issued for $2.875 million, just below the $3 million threshold that would have triggered a requirement to place the contract out for public bids. So precious months outside of hurricane season were wasted in preparing a contract that seemingly had no real use but to reward a favored small business.
In February, 2010, a task order for further repairs was finally issued (still on the first Healtheon contract; the second contract would not be finalized until the following month), calling for two more pumps to be pulled out at the 17th Street site. They would receive a greatly enhanced set of repairs compared to the pumps fixed up in 2009. All the carbon steel piping - inside and out - would be replaced with stainless steel. Rotating parts like the Rineer motors and the bearings would also be replaced. Seals would be replaced, and new gland plates holding those seals would be manufactured of sturdier materials. All fasteners would also be upgraded to stainless steel. Essentially, the pumps would be completely rebuilt, inside and out.
It's a good thing the Corps finally expanded their focus to include the external piping, because here's one of the oil coolers on those first two pumps pulled in 2010:
It's also a good thing they started systematically replacing bearings, seals, and Rineer motors, because they were taking serious damage. Here's one of the Rineers from that same pair of pumps:
And here is the area around the shaft and bearings, showing obvious evidence of water infiltration:
From the amount of rust inside the bearing housing, as well as the significant discoloration along the shaft, it is clear the seals completely failed. This would have exposed the bearings and shaft to salt water, causing failure of the pump. And there is no doubt similar damage had been done to the seals on the Rineer motor, damaging it as well. Indeed, as we would discover later, the Rineers were in just as much jeopardy as the rest of the pump (see text below in section on 2011-2012 off season).
The pace of repairs would finally increase during the spring of 2010, with eight more 60" pumps going to Conhagen's shop for the upgraded rebuilds spread over two additional task orders, the first task orders issued on the second Healtheon contract. The pictures from the repair reports continued to show extensive corrosion of all pumps. Rust covered the outside of the pumps, such as 17th Street pump E2...
...as well as the interior, as seen inside London Avenue pump E4:
As with 17th Street pumps W5 and W6 earlier in 2010, there was also evidence of water infiltration into the parts of the mechanism that were supposed to be sealed. Here's part of the drive of 17th Street pump E6 showing corrosion on surfaces supposedly protected by seals:
This should not be showing any signs of rust, but there they are.
There was substantial corrosion damage to the main pump housings as well. At the very bottom of the pump is the suction bell, the tapered portion of the pump which funnels water up to the impeller. The funnelling effect is assisted by tapered vanes. The suction bell is always submerged, and the brackish water took its toll. Here's 17th Street pump E2's suction bell:
and 17th Street pump E6's suction bell:
Conhagen addressed all these areas of concern in their repairs that spring.
Work slows but corrosion continues - summer and fall 2010
As the 2010 hurricane season dawned on June 1, there were still 30 of the 60" pumps in the water with either partial (6 of them) or no repairs to arrest the ongoing corrosion damage, and the Corps had already spent half of the $2.875 million on the second contract repairing just 8 pumps. Fixing the other 30 would take at least $4.8 million, meaning a shortfall of at least $3 million. The effects of that lassitude would be seen immediately.
The next day, June 2, 2010, pump W1 at the 17th Street site would spring a leak, dumping 15 gallons of hydraulic fluid in the canal. It would be pulled out two weeks later and sent to Conhagen's shop for a rebuild. The leak should not have been a surprise in light of the extreme corrosion found on the pump's external piping:
The next month, pump W1 at London Avenue came out, and pump W4 at Orleans Avenue was sent to the shop in October, both likely after they leaked oil into Lake Pontchartrain. Both showed typical corrosion damage. For example, the Rineer motor in Orleans pump W4 looked particularly rusty:
While there were no spill reports for these two pumps, I bet the Corps pulled them out because they found oil in the water and didn't report it. There's no other reason for them to pull single pumps during hurricane season.
These three were the only 60" pump repairs during the 2010 hurricane season, since the Corps shut down their scheduled repair effort when the season started in June, another sign of a lack of urgency. In this case, it was brought about by another poor Corps decision, one made in 2006 and 2007 during the construction of the interim closure sturctures. The Corps did not install any spare pumping capacity at the structures, meaning they are unable to repair pumps while providing the required ability to drain the canals when the gates are closed against a storm surge. They duplicated this error at the massive West Closure Complex.
Repairs restart in earnest - fall, 2010 through spring, 2011
After the end of the 2010 hurricane season, more scheduled repairs with the enhanced scope were tasked to Healtheon under their second contract. Two pumps were pulled out at the London Avenue site in December, an event accompanied by not one, but two oil spills, totalling 125 gallons. Again, there was major corrosion found on the external piping:
With the Corps approaching the cost ceiling on their second pump repair contract, they solicited for a third one in October, 2010 and awarded it in February, 2011. This time, since the value was well above $3 million, it had to be put out for public bid. Yet again, Healtheon/Conhagen won. The cost ceiling was $6.75 million, over double the potential value of the prior contract. This should be more than enough to finish off the repairs (they average about $160,000 per pump) and have about $3 million left over until the permanent pumps come online in 2016. Why did it take them over two years to figure out they needed more cash for these repairs? Well, they knew exactly how much cash they needed - internal Corps emails show that conclusively. They held off because they were too interested in proceeding slowly and keeping the business solely with Healtheon and Conhagen, rather than putting a contract out for bid that would have repaired all the pumps in a single hurricane off-season, utilizing multiple repair shops around the country. In other words, they were more interested in doing business the Corps New Orleans way rather than protecting citizens from the failure of their rust heaps they claimed were pumps.
This new contract was put to use immediately in early 2011, with eight more pumps getting pulled out under two task orders on it in the spring of 2011. Again, the pictures in the Conhagen reports demonstrated these pumps should have been repaired years earlier:
And while these sorts of pictures and repairs were becoming depressingly typical, there was a twist in one of those spring 2011 task orders.
One of the pumps pulled out in March, 2011 was E1 at the London Avenue site. When the pictures from the repair report for that pump were examined, it was revealed that London Avenue E1 had already been out for repairs two years earlier, in the spring of 2009:
This showed the Corps did not have confidence in the 2009 partial repairs, and considered the pumps fixed that year as just as vulnerable to corrosion-related failure as those with no repairs. That would be proven just months later.
Earlier repairs prove inadequate - summer, 2011
As in 2010, the Corps shut down their scheduled pump repairs just before the beginning of the 2011 hurricane season. At that point 17 of the forty 60" pumps either had partial or no repairs. And just as in 2010, some of those pumps started spewing oil nearly immediately.
It is tough to nail down the exact date due to lack of spill reporting, but sometime in May or June, 2011, pump W8 at the 17th Street site was leaking oil. It got yanked and sent to Conhagen's shop for a rebuild. W8 was a pump that had been part of the incomplete 2009 repairs, proving those repairs were effectively money flushed down the drain. While the parts of the pumps which received upgrades in 2009, like the interior piping, appeared to do well...
...the other components which were replaced in kind in 2009, like the oil coolers made of carbon steel, didn't:
The total expense for both times this pump was pulled out would come to approximately $227,000. The average expense for these pump rebuildings has been around $160,000, meaning about $67,000 was wasted on this pump, though I doubt Healtheon and Conhagen saw it that way.
This story would be repeated just a month later, as pump W9 at 17th Street would also start leaking (the Corps reported that spill) and get sent to Conhagen for a rebuilt. It too was a 2009 partial repair. Three more 60" pumps "fixed" in 2009 remain in service today at 17th Street, along with an unknown number of 42" pumps.
In August, a third pump would start seeping oil, this time at the Orleans Avenue canal site. Until that time, only a single pump had been pulled out of the Orleans Avenue site, as the Corps valued the pumps at the 17th Street and London Avenue sites more; according to their "safe water level" criteria, those two sites required gate closures at lower water levels, so were more likely to be forced to use their pumps. Apparently no one told the Corps' New Orleans Operations group that the Orleans Avenue walls and levees were just as flawed as those along the other two canals, and that the Orleans Avenue gate closure criteria should have been just as stringently low as that for the other two canals, a fact not truly confirmed until the 2010 release of the Orleans Avenue canal safe water elevation report. Additionally, the junk found in the levees along all three canals in 2011 makes one wonder why the Corps doesn't just keep the gates closed all the time.
Emphasis moves to Orleans Avenue - the 2011-12 off season
The 2011-12 off season would be the first since 2006-07 when the Corps would have contracts and funding in place to do as many repairs as they wished. 14 pumps, including 3 at 17th Street with prior repairs now proven to be useless, remained to be pulled and refitted. 8 of the pumps remaining were at the Orleans Avenue site, and that is indeed where the emphasis would be with the 2011-12 off season task orders. The first task order pulled the two pumps remaining at 17th Street which had never been touched, as well as two from the Orleans Avenue site.
All showed the now-standard signs of corrosion damage, like rusty pipes inside the pump bore:
Both of the unrepaired Orleans Avenue pumps did in fact start leaking this summer. On July 2, 2012, E5 was found to be leaking and remained at the site in a disconnected state for over a month, out of service. The day it was finally pulled - August 7, 2012, E4 was also discovered to be leaking as well and is currently out of service. This leaves the entire Orleans Avenue system at a pumping level below what can be placed in the canal by the Sewerage and Water Board pumps at Drainage Pump Station #7, at the south end of the canal.
Why didn't they proactively refit pumps they know are more rust than steel? Because of their insistence on a single repair shop refit strategy that rewards favored businesses like Healtheon and Conhagen over the safety of citizens. If they were willing to entertain the work of other shops, all this work could have been completed over two years ago. That is, they chose to not keep their life safety equipment in working order.
Where we stand - hurricane season 2012
As of June 1, 2012, the Corps will have rebuilt 35 of the forty 60" hydraulic pumps over a span of about three years (three of them twice), leaving 5 of them effectively in jeopardy of failure during a storm due to leakage from piping of hydraulic oil, which is used to power the pumps. Here's the individual statuses at each site as of the most recent confirmed repairs:
However, the news is even worse than it appears. The hydraulic pumps have at their center hydraulic motors made by Rineer, Inc. out of San Antonio, TX. In parallel with the overall pump refits, the Corps has been switching out, repairing, and refitting the Rineers. However, due to the Rineers' materials of construction, they remain as vulnerable to corrosion as when the original ones went in the brackish water in mid-2006, as seen in these November, 2011 pictures of the drive shafts at the bottom of two Rineers from the 17th Street site:
The Corps can gussy up the pipes and fittings leading to and from the Rineers all they want, but unless they switch out the Rineers themselves for sturdier, more rust- and leak-resistant technology, the pumps are going to remain a total crapshoot for years to come. Put another way, each pump requires a heart transplant, and all the Corps has been doing is putting arterial grafts in. So one should not take any solace from those green numbers in the pictures above, since they only refer to ancillary parts of the pumps; the core of the pumps - the Rineers - remain unreliable due to saltwater corrosion.
Then there's the dollars. The Corps have spent over $5.9 million on these repairs, and that's just on the 60" pumps. There's likely another $900,000 to be spent rebuilding the remaining five 60" pumps. That's on top of the $37.8 million they spent originally on those pumps buying them and trying to make them work in 2006 and 2007, which included a $4.7 million delivery incentive.
So the total spent on each rebuilt 60" pump is $1.1 million on average. The original contract price for each pump - before all the modifications on the original contract and all the repairs over the last two years - was $750,000. Thus - on average - the Corps will have spent, once the repairs are done, nearly an additional 50% of the original purchase price since 2006 on each of the 60" pumps.
I mention this despite my earlier criticism of underfunding the repair effort. I mention it because dealing with saltwater corrosion is basic engineering that should have been taken care of at step zero in late 2005 and early 2006, when the Corps was copying and pasting the specifications for the pumps from the manufacturer's catalog. The material of construction is one of the first questions that gets answered on any project like this. Except in this case, it looks like it was just ignored, and now they're having to spend millions more dollars to get a pump that is kinda sorta corrosion resistant.
That being said, when they realized the problem (which would have been a couple of weeks after installation, as noted above), they should have gone ahead and spent the money quickly and lavishly to correct it completely. But, as with the original mistake, they failed to do that as well. The impression one gets is that no one at the Corps gives a damn about these pumps or whether they will work when needed.
In sum, this repair "effort" has seen zero urgency, inadequate funding, excessive deference to contractors at the expense of public safety, hundreds of gallons of oil spilled into Lake Pontchartrain, and months of wasted work in 2009 which must now be redone at extra expense. From beginning to end, the Corps has shown a deep reluctance to do the right thing: yank all the pumps out and send them to wherever they need to go to be repaired. Once they started fixing them in 2009, everything should have been done before June 1, 2010. Instead, at the lazy pace they've set, all the pumps will not be rebuilt until just before the 2013 hurricane season, about a year from now and seven years after the initial identification of corrosion as a serious problem. This is unacceptable, but disappointingly all too expected.
I will continue to follow this story.
Many but not all of the prior entries in this series are linked throughout the report above. For convenience, here's the complete set:
Imminent, originally posted May 13, 2010, covers the halting first repairs in 2009
How did the pumps get from..., originally posted May 27, 2010, covers the original 2006-07 decisions on corrosion
This year's scramble, originally posted June 3, 2010, covers the spring 2010 repairs
Worse than previously known, originally posted June 11, 2010, also covers the spring 2010 repairs
Corps of oil, Part 1, originally posted June 20, 2010, covers oil spills from 2006 and early 2007.
Corps of oil, Part 2, originally posted June 21, 2010, covers oil spills in later 2007
Corps of oil, Part 3, originally posted June 22, 2010, covers oil spills from 2008 through 2010
No urgency, originally posted August 18, 2010, reports on repairs during summer, 2010
Quick update (with pretty new trees!), originally posted August 30, 2010, gives a summary of corrosion repair events to date at the fifth anniversary of Katrina, as well as revealing the Corps' wasteful spending on tree planting around the closure sites
The latest on lakefront pump repairs, originally posted March 23, 2011, looks at the repairs from summer 2010 through early 2011
The 2011 pump rebuild scramble, originally posted May 9, 2011, covers the spring, 2011 repairs
Brief update on London Avenue pumps, originally posted June 24, 2011, also covers the spring, 2011 repairs
Finally, originally posted July 13, 2011, provides an update on receipt of FOIA-requested documents, allof which were eventually transmitted by the Corps
No surprise, originally posted July 15, 2011, looks at the summer, 2011 re-repairs of pumps also pulled out in 2009
No surprise, Part 2, originally posted July 20, 2011, covers possible contamination of the pumps' hydraulic fluid with water
2011-12 rusty pump update, originally posted July 9, 2012, chronicles repairs to ten 60" pumps between August, 2011 and March, 2011
Birth of a no bid contract, originally posted July 28, 2012, uses internal Corps emails from November and December, 2009 to tell the story of how Healtheon's second contract was created in the 2009-10 hurricane off season
Labels: Rusty pumps