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Wastewater Treatment in New Orleans Months Off

Release Date: September 9, 2005

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James N. Jensen, Ph.D.
Professor of Civil, Structural and Environment Engineering
(716) 645-2114 ext. 2329

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Reestablishment of wastewater and drinking-water treatment facilities is a critical step for rebuilding New Orleans, but it likely will take months to get those systems operational, according to wastewater treatment expert at the University at Buffalo.

"Water and wastewater treatment are two primary needs of people in a community, so in addition to everything else you need to do, you have to have that capacity in place before can rebuild," says James N. Jensen, Ph.D., professor of civil, environmental and structural engineering and director or the environmental science program in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

"Unfortunately, it will be months before those systems are operational."

Jensen estimates that there were probably about 100 million gallons of wastewater in the system in New Orleans when Katrina shut the city down, and he says the EPA estimates that 200 wastewater treatment plants and 1,100 drinking-water facilities in New Orleans were affected by Katrina.

"Most wastewater facilities have to put up fence to hold 100-year flood, but they're calling this a 500-year flood. That would mean most wastewater plants are flooded," Jensen says.

According to Jensen, there is little precedence on what it would take to re-establish wastewater and drinking-water treatment facilities on such a large scale.

"While the untreated wastewater has been diluted by the storm surge, industrial chemicals likely will leach into the standing water from factories and contaminated soils," he says. "In fact, water samples sent out for analysis by EPA came back with high levels of bacteria from feces and lead levels above drinking-water standards."

In the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami, the need for emergency portable wastewater systems was one of the lessons learned, Jensen points out.

"The U.S. Armed Forces brought in a lot of portable systems, but that was only for small communities of thousands and tens of thousands," he says. "The need in New Orleans is far greater."

James N. Jensen, Ph.D.
Professor of Civil, Structural and Environment Engineering
(716) 645-2114 ext. 2329

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