This article has been updated.
A boil water advisory for the East Bank of Orleans Parish will remain in effect until further notice, the city announced this morning.
According to Marcia St. Martin, spokeswoman for the Sewerage & Water Board, there was a small fire at approximately 9 a.m. this morning in the boiler room at the Sewerage & Water Board plant on S. Claiborne Ave. The interruption caused a loss of 25-cycle power, and water pressure in the system dipped below 15 psi — the threshold for issuing a boil water advisory.
Engineers were able to transition to 60-cycle power, but it was already too late.
The Sewerage & Water Board relies on 25-cycle power to run much of its fresh water and storm water pumping equipment. 25-cycle power is an archaic system, established in 1903 here in New Orleans, but is required to run some S&WB equipment that is often several decades old.
Though water pressure has stabilized, the S&WB and public health officials are in the process of testing water samples, which take a day to measure, prompting the extension of the boil water advisory to at least 24 hours. St. Martin said water pressure returned to normal within 20 minutes of the event.
Only the East Bank of Orleans Parish is affected. Water is provided to the West Bank of Orleans Parish from an independent system, and other area parishes have their own water systems separate from the S&WB.
Officials recommend residents bring water to a rolling boil for at least one minute and let cool before consuming (which includes drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, or preparing food). However, the city says water can be used for other purposes:
At this time, it is not necessary to boil tap water used for other household purposes, such as showering, laundry, or bathing, but bathing or showering should be avoided by people with open wounds or who are immune-compromised. For those people who choose to shower or bathe in the tap water, minimize the time spent in the water and be sure to keep your eyes and mouth closed.
St. Martin says the cost of the damage is as yet unknown. The system must be repaired but has a series of redundancies and is currently operating at capacity.
St. Martin says the S&WB's power system received a $141 million hazardous mitigation grant in 2005, to be completed by the end of 2016, but it is still a work in progress. The S&WB has also received an additional $130 million from FEMA.
The S&WB is also planning to install water towers to assist in evening out fluctuations in the system. The S&WB currently operates two water towers: one on the Lower Coast of Algiers, and one in Venetian Isles.