In the last weeks, it has been raining a lot. Probably more than 10 inches of rain fell on New Orleans in just a few days. Most of us know that all the water that falls on to our city finds its way into the drainage system, and then has to be pumped out into the lake. Millions of gallons must be pumped out of the city during such rain events.
How does the water get to Lake Pontchartrain?
There are 99 storm water pumps located in stations around the city. At these pumping stations, the water is lifted to a higher level into canals. Eventually, through gravity, the water in the canals drains into the lake.
The pumps themselves are gigantic electric motors. How do we power them? Located at the Sewerage and Water Board plant in the Carrollton neighborhood are the turbines and emergency generators (referred to as EMD in the video) which are responsible in creating the needed electricity. Indeed, this is a very simplified description of the process. The process of pumping water out of the city is a bit more complicated. Incredibly, some of the equipment still in use today is a hundred years old.
What happens if the turbines and generators are turned off?
The storm water pumps can’t be turned on, and the city floods.
THE HIDDEN PART
Many of us are unaware that the machinery (especially turbines and EMD generators) at the Carrollton plant create an unbelievable amount of noise and air pollution. We cannot simply refer to it as “noise“. It is somewhere between a jet engine and a rocket ready for take off. Adjacent to the plant is a whole neighborhood of mostly low income homes where people of color live, and have lived, for generations. These residents have been exposed to the noise pollution for a decade or more. They have not been silent, but have complained for years, and nobody seems hears them. Or more tragically: nobody wants to hear them. Their homes are exposed to sustained noise pollution – sometimes at levels over 100 decibels! (The legal limit for residential receiving land, is 70 dBA max during the day 7am to 10pm, and 60 dBA max at night 10pm to 7am). I have read countless emails about noise ordinances and broken laws. I have read countless explanations for the noise, excuses, and even apologies.
But to my knowledge, no City, or Sewerage and Water Board official has walked up the few steps to visit the home in the 8600 block of Spruce Street of longtime resident, Mr. Wilson.
I would like to introduce you to Mr. Wilson. He has lived in this neighborhood since before hurricane Camille (1969). That is a lifetime to most of us. For years he has been exposed to high noise levels, diesel fumes, and oil films from the generators. His health and lifestyle have suffered.
We have taken his hearing, his hope and his trust. Watch yourself:
In order to keep our city dry, how can we allow the conditions that impact the lives of our fellow New Orleanians in such a detrimental way? We must begin to view the world in a larger context. We cannot continue to destroy Mr. Wilson’s hearing so we can keep our city dry. We have an obligation towards our co-citizen. They deserve to lead a life with dignity. What can we do?
First, we must ask our suffering neighbors: What do you need? What can we do for you? Once we have become aware of how Mr. Wilson has been violated, we become complicit if we do not act to remedy the problem. I encourage you, next time it rains, to visit your neighbors in the 8600 block of Spruce Street, and simply ask them: “What do you need? What can we do for you?” Take the time to listen and to understand what they must endure so that the city –and your home–does not flood. Then, we need to get to work to find solutions to remediate the noise. Until the noise is remediated we all cannot rest. Trust me, once you experience the noise Mr. Wilson has to endure almost every day, you will not be able to rest. It is your water and my water –it is the water that inundates our entire community– that must be pumped out of the city with the electricity generated by the machinery in front of Mr. Wilson’s porch. It is our responsibility to make sure nobody gets hurt in the process. That is one of the core values of social justice.
While the long term remedies to these problems are challenging for an individual to address, there are things that we can do immediately to help our neighbors mitigate the negative impact caused by the pumping process. In the short term, we can raise funds to purchase noise canceling headphones and other noise mitigation measures that can have an immediate benefit and improve the quality of life for these residents.
- In her book “DIGNITY – It’s essential role in resolving conflict” , Dr. Donna Hicks describes the ten essential elements of dignity. In the case of Mr. Wilson and his neighbors, we have violated all of them. To heal, we have to restore the dignity by addressing each and every one of the dignity violations.
- We have to make sure that all noise, present and future, is remediated to an acceptable level. The level deemed as acceptable is determined by the community.
- We have to make sure that those neighbors, whose health has been compromised, are taken care of and get medical attention.
- We have to make sure that the New Orleans health department actually monitors the noise levels and issues a citation if the noise level exceeds the legal limit. This has so far not happened.
- We have to accelerate green infrastructure to reduce reliance on the storm water pumps as fast as we can.
- We have to discuss reparation to those community members whose physical or mental health has been damaged by the excessive noise.
Following the steps above, we can drastically reduce the price we pay to keep our city dry.
Andreas Hoffmann, April 23rd, 2021
*The neighborhood behind the Sewerage and Waterboard plant was developed between 1835 and 1926
THIS BLOG WILL BE UPDATED AS NEW DEVELOPMENTS OCCUR. THE FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN RAISES FUNDS FOR SHORT TERM MEASURE LIKE NOISE CANCELING HEADPHONES AND SOUND MITIGATION MEASURES THAT CAN IMMEDIATELY BE IMPLEMENTED. HOW THE FUNDS ARE SPENT WILL BE DISCLOSED IN THE BLOG.
Let us know if you have been impacted by the noise:
A: My health has been compromised. I can’t sleep at night.
B: I can’t sleep at night.
C: The noise is a nuisance for me.