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New Orleans

A History of Three Great Public Utilities
Sewerage, Water and Drainage

And their influence upon the Health and Progress of a Big City.

Paper read by
Hon. Martin Behrman
Mayor of New Orleans, La.
before Convention of League of American Municipalities,
Milwaukee, Wis., September 29, 1914.a

 p1  Difficulties of Construction

On general geographical considerations a great city at the most practical point of communication with the big water systems of the country, and the sea, was at any time before the introduction of railroads, a warrantable expectation. And this would seem the only rational pretext for Bienville's selection of the site on which the now beautiful city of New Orleans stands, as the location of the Metropolis of the South. The motives must have been convincing, indeed, which could induce colonization upon such an uninviting and insanitary waste. A low, flat, marshy area, subject to disastrous inundation at all seasons of the year, pest-ridden, infested with malaria in its most pernicious forms, without a feature to commend it and menaced on every side by seen and unseen enemies — such was the little crescent-shaped village named in honor of the Regent of France, when laid out in the midst of cypress swamps and willow jungles in the year of our Lord, 1690. As the traveler proceeds down the Mississippi river from its source to its mouth, a unique phenomenon attracts his attention. The river seems to grow higher as he descends. The bluffs, which on one side or the other rise prominently along its banks in its upper waters, grow less bold, and finally disappear as he progresses southward. If it should be the season of high water he will find himself, as he nears New Orleans, gliding down a river which is higher than its bordering land, and which is restrained in its penchant for encroachment and destruction by massive levees, for the most massive of which the Crescent City owes its immunity from flood.

But notwithstanding these formidable impediments to its progress, its frequent and devastating epidemics, is abnormal death rate and other untoward conditions, New Orleans for years advanced rapidly both in population and commerce, being at one time the third largest city in the Union.

At no time, however, was the importance of establishing proper sewerage and drainage systems and providing the city with an abundant supply of pure water in any sense disregarded. But the introduction of these great utilities, it was contended, involved, among other well-nigh insuperable difficulties, engineering problems of the most complex and expensive  p2 character, thus, it was thought, rendering them practically impossible of accomplishment.

Mr. George G. Earl, General Superintendent of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, whose splendid executive ability and eminent expert knowledge of engineering has contributed and still is contributing so much toward the completion and successful operation of these three great systems, in an able and interesting report upon this subject says:— "First of all, New Orleans had to face the problem of overflows from the Mississippi River and from tidal waters in Lake Pontchartrain, and the construction of levees, first along the river bank, because high water in the river was above the level of even the highest land in the city, and later, in the rear, to prevent high lake tides from backing into the lower part of the inhabited area, followed. Then came surface ditches and canals into the tidal bayous which often rose to a level which precluded much relief by such method, since only a very small area of land along the river bank in New Orleans is higher than the high tides of the lake, and the ditches and canals for the most part were more or less filled by tidal water and gave very inadequate drainage even for the highest portion of the city. Rainfalls of great intensity were of frequent occurrence, and these falling on a ground which was always saturated made the need for better drainage imperative." To meet this need, Mr. Earl stated that three great drainage wheels, operated by steam and working backward were constructed, but their capacity was insufficient and they proved wholly inadequate to requirements. Hence, it was not until 1900 that New Orleans could be said to have a drainage system, thoroughly equipped, and competent to effectively deal with the situation. Up to that time floods were frequent, especially in the area in the rear of the city, the open drainage canals nearly always full, being the only means of removal of storm water or of the polluted liquid wastes from domestic or manufacturing plants. There were no sewers, and the vaults and cesspools on inhabited premises, were at intervals cleaned by sanitary excavating companies and their offensive contents removed in barrels to the garbage boats in the Mississippi and dumped into the river below the city. The water supply was caught from the roofs of houses and stored in wooden cisterns above ground, these receptacles  p3 accumulating much in the way of filth, rendering the product objectionable, if not positively unhealthy. During periods of drought the scarcity of water was an oft-recurring cause of complaint, particularly on the part of the poor, among whom it was attended with much suffering and inconvenience. Besides, the cisterns themselves, mostly open at the top, were prolific breeding places of the stegomyia, the type of mosquito which the United States surgeons in Cuba, in 1900, discovered to be transmitters of the yellow fever germ — a disease from which New Orleans, because of its proximity to and commercial intimacy with the tropical countries, had suffered incalculably in the past. True, a private concern owned and operated a water plant in the city during this time, pumping its product directly from the Mississippi and serving it to consumers just as it was taken from the river — unfiltered, muddy and in such a condition as to render it wholly unfit for use for cooking, bathing or for nearly any other domestic purpose. Nevertheless, its charges were exorbitant, its service limited to about one hundred and twenty-five (125) out of over four hundred (400) miles of streets in the built-up area, with about seventeen hundred (1,700) fire hydrants and a pressure insufficient for fire protection.

Inception of Drainage System

The inception of the present magnificent system of drainage dates back to 1895, when plans prepared by Mr. L. W. Brown, then City Engineer, were approved by an Advisory Board of Engineers, composed of Mr. Rudolph Hering, of New York City, and Major B. M. Harrod and Colonel H. B. Richardson, of New Orleans. Then followed the creation of a drainage commission by act of the Legislature in 1896, with Major B. M. Harrod as Chief Engineer. Construction work was started in 1897, although there had not been available at that time sufficient funds to carry the project to completion.

The drainage system consists of about sixty-nine (69) miles of canals, both low and high level, discharging into tide-water and operated to produce artificially the necessary slope to cause the water to flow in them by seven great pumping stations, the combined capacity of which amounts to four thousand six hundred (4,600) cubic feet per second,  p4 equal to over two billion five hundred million (2,500,000,000) gallons in twenty-four (24) hours — a column of water one-half mile long and ten feet square removed every minute.

Slight recurrences of yellow fever, which had been successfully excluded by quarantine and disinfection of vessels from 1880 to 1897, in 1897, 1898 and 1899, while resulting in a comparatively infinitesimal death rate, exerted, nevertheless, a depressing influence upon business, causing lack of confidence on the part of the outside world, with a tendency to avoid New Orleans as an undesirable place, either for residence or investment. It was evident, therefore, a crisis had been reached in our internal affairs. We realized that we must decide quickly upon the adoption of a policy, either of progress and modernization on the one hand, or content ourselves, on the other, with remaining inert — satisfied with what we had and the conditions in which we lived, which would have been tantamount to a declaration in favor of retrogression and decay. We realized, also, that while the process of decay might be gradual, its results in the end would prove disastrous to us, and that to prevent this many difficulties would have to be overcome and many sacrifices made.

This, then, was the situation, when, in 1899, a campaign of education was organized, in which leading citizens, and notably many ladies, through their respective organizations and as individuals, became active in urging upon the people the adoption of modern and efficient sewer and water systems as an additional and indispensable prerequisite to the city's further expansion. The campaign was a success, culminating in the enactment of a law by the General Assembly authorizing a bond issue, the revenues from which were to be dedicated to the immediate construction of these two systems, and also making further provision for the extension of the drainage system and completing it within the inhabited area. In accordance with this act there was also created a board for the execution, subsequent maintenance and operation of the three systems — sewerage, water and drainage — the merging of the Sewer and Water Board and the Drainage Commission, which in the beginning constituted a part of the Sewerage and Water Board.

Meanwhile work to the extent of the city's ability to meet the expense was going forward, so that by 1900 a very considerable  p5 part of the drainage system was in successful operation, providing about three times the pumping capacity and about four times the lift of the old drainage wheels. "So for the first time," the General Superintendent reported, "the canal system could be pumped down to a reasonable depth, say, from ten to fifteen feet below the surface, and the storms of moderate intensity were removed as rapidly as they fell, thus preventing the supersaturation of the soil and giving it a chance to dry out." No project ever brought to a successful issue in the history of New Orleans had so deep and wide an influence for good in all directions as that which ensued from this achievement. Although the drainage system was then not half completed, it was evident no work of the kind in this country could compare with it in magnitude or in the complex and expensive character of the undertaking. Land before worthless, became at once available for agricultural or city development; gutters were no longer stagnant, and the death rate dropped as if by magic from an average of about twenty-seven (27) to less than twenty-two (22) per one thousand (1,000). Even in its unfinished condition there was a decrease in the total death rate of fifteen hundred (1,500) a year.

Effects of Drainage

Cellars, hitherto unknown in the architectural scheme of New Orleans and never dreamed of in the wildest imaginings of her citizens, with this new improvement became an accomplished fact, and now many of our largest edifices are thus provided, basements being constructed from twelve to fifteen feet below the surface. Our cemeteries, saturated as they were with water from a foot and a half to two feet from the surface, necessitated the making of nearly all interments in vaults, or tombs above ground, instead of in the earth, as elsewhere, a practice no longer compulsory.

Following further the development of the New Orleans drainage system, the great low, flat area of marshes, which lies at or only a little above tide level all around the city, for miles and miles in every direction, are attracting the attention of agriculturalists everywhere. The great fertility of the narrow strips along the rivers and bayous in this section, demonstrated through years of growing of sugar cane,  p6 is more than matched by the fertility of the lower marsh lands, and projects are now on foot involving the reclamation of many tracts, ranging in area from 5,000 to 40,000 acres. Some of these projects are completed and the lands in cultivation and fully warranting the estimate of their fertility which analyses and observation had previously indicated and entirely confirming the good sanitary conditions which proper drainage will bring.

With the development and intensive cultivation of these lands the area around New Orleans will in the future, no doubt, become one of the most thickly settled agricultural regions in the world, and New Orleans, besides being the great connecting port between inland and ocean navigation for the Mississippi Valley, will also have a business connection and a civic and social value due to its rich and thickly settled surrounding country, which it has conspicuously lacked heretofore.

It was considered undesirable to discharge the sewerage of the city into tide water for several reasons, but particularly for the reason that to make one system serve both sewerage and drainage it would have taken many years before the whole city would have gotten the benefit of sewerage facilities. On the other hand, it was desirable to serve the five hundred (500) miles of streets in the shortest possible time; to remove the sewerage before putrefactive changes would make it offensive, and to discharge it into the Mississippi River, where it would promptly be diluted by a great quantity of water, being at once so acted upon by the vast volume of suspended matter and of dissolved oxygen which the Mississippi always contains that its power of offense would be immediately destroyed. In order to achieve these results a system of sewers was designed, composed of mains, sub-mains and lateral sewers, leading to nine separate pumping stations. These slopes range from one (1) foot to three hundred (300) feet for the eight (8) inch pipe, to one (1) foot to two thousand (2,000) feet for main sewers over four (4) feet in diameter. Approaching the sewerage pumping stations, the gravity flow in the sewers has velocities gradually increasing from two (2) to three and one-half (3½) feet per second. The removal of the sewerage, from the instant of its discharge until it is lost in the Mississippi River, is quick and continuous, and the sewers are easily  p7 maintained in good sanitary condition. They are from five (5) to twenty-four (24) feet in depth, and up to twenty-four (24) inches are composed of terra cotta pipe, with cement joints, such joints admitting some water from the soil. The small amount of dry weather seepage flow, approximating one million (1,000,000) gallons per square mile, running constantly and being pumped out into the Mississippi River, amounts to one-third of the total annual rainfall, and its effect in reducing soil saturation and assisting in the prompt drying of the surface after rains is one of the most marked advantages of the system. The construction of sewers started in 1903, in 1906 the pumping stations were ready for operation, and the sewers had progressed far enough to begin to make use of them in the most thickly settled portions of the city. The construction has now progressed until practically the whole populated area of the city is sewered and about 70 per cent of the premises are connected with the system, while the areas in which connections are compulsory are gradually being increased, the object being to have all premises on the line of a sewer connected by 1917. In New Orleans the opinion was prevalent that the construction and operation of sewers would be a nuisance and a menace to health, and this opinion was in a measure shared by some physicians, who withheld their approval for several years as to the advisability of using sewers, fearing obnoxious exhalations and the communication of contagious diseases. The sewers and sewerage pumping stations in New Orleans, however, have yet to bring the first complaint of any nuisance of any character whatsoever.

[image ALT: It is a pumping station in New Orleans.]

New Orleans Pumping Station No. 3 as originally built
(Sewage & Water Board, 1909)b

Water System

Then came the solution of the water supply problem. The studies for and preparation of all plans for the sewerage and water works were made by the engineering department under the direction of its General Superintendent, Mr. Earl; the Advisory Board of Engineers, composed of Mr. Rudolph Hering and Mr. George W. Fuller, of New York, and Major B. M. Harrod, Colonel H. B. Richardson and Messrs. L. W. Brown, A. C. Bell and Thomas Raymond, passing upon these plans as they were submitted.

It was freely contended at the time that the purification  p8 of Mississippi River water to the extent of converting it into a perfectly clear and healthy product for drinking and other household purposes was an impossibility, and this view was more or less emphasized by the distinct failure of the plant of the old Water Works Company, which had been put into operation some years previously to filter Mississippi River water in quantities sufficient to meet public demands. There were many who favored, as a solution to the problem, that the city get its water service from some stream north of Lake Pontchartrain, while others contended that a sufficient and satisfactory artesian supply might be obtained.

Between 1892 and 1900, however, much valuable knowledge had been gained as to the proper methods to be applied for the purification of Mississippi River water. With this end in view four small plants, designed to handle, in different ways, an aggregate of one hundred thousand (100,000) gallons of water per day, were constructed in 1900, with the view of determining the most economical and satisfactory method of treatment, as well as to demonstrate to the people of New Orleans that the Mississippi River water could be economically and successfully purified. The first question to be decided in designing a water works system was the capacity of the plant to be constructed. In his investigations Mr. Earl learned that European cities found thirty (30) to forty (40) gallons per capita per day an adequate capacity for their water plants, while American cities varied from sixty (60) to nearly three hundred (300) gallons per capita a day. The old Water Works Company, with only seven thousand (7,000) connections, indicating less than twenty-five thousand (25,000) consumers, was pumping as much as twenty million (20,000,000), or eight hundred (800) gallons per capita of consumption. The importance of reaching an adequate conclusion in this matter was obvious, for if the capacity of the proposed plant was placed too high, the water and sewerage systems would have been so costly in construction, operation and maintenance as to render them impracticable. The high consumption of water in this country is due to the flat rate system which is in vogue in many of our larger cities. In recommending the assumption of an average per capita per day consumption of eighty gallons for New Orleans, the object was to hold the total output within this limit, to meter all water consumers, requiring them to  p9 pay for the actual amount of water used, thereby giving them opportunity to save cost in proportion as they avoided useless waste of water. Of course, it is not presumed that the individual will use any such amount as eighty (80) gallons of water a day, but that the total population served multiplied by that number of gallons will approximate the average amount of water required for the community as a whole. The governing factors in determining the system of water purification for New Orleans was, first, to remove the suspended matter from the river water, ranging from two hundred (200) to fifteen hundred (1,500) parts per million (1,000,000) and averaging over six hundred (600) parts; and, second, to reduce its hardness and to provide for the elimination of all harmful bacteria. The bacteria existing in the Mississippi River water show vastly less signs of the effect of sewerage discharge from the cities above New Orleans than are found in the river water reaching any of the higher cities, due to the great distance traveled, as well as to the effective conditions present in the river water for the eradication of objectionable bacteria. The water is taken from the Mississippi River at the upper end of the city, ten miles above the nearest sewer outlet. The New Orleans plant can turn out an effluent without filtration, which, Mr. Earl says, would have been considered entirely satisfactory before the people became educated to the perfect output from the complete plant. The effluent from the filters has always been entirely free from suspended matter, bright, sparkling and a perfectly safe and satisfactory water for all purposes. It possesses every desirable characteristic that could be found in the best natural water supply. All the processes to which it is subjected are nature's processes, and absolutely under the control of human intelligence for the production of perfect results. The Crescent City being almost perfectly flat, there is no possibility of having a reservoir at a high elevation into which water can be pumped and from which the supply can be drawn, and the construction of a stand pipe large enough to be of any effect in equalizing the pump load in a large capacity water works system being impracticable, it is necessary, by pump regulation, to maintain whatever pressure is required in the distribution system. The New Orleans pumps can be adjusted to maintain whatever pressure is desired, and will automatically increase  p10 or decrease their speed as is necessary to deliver the quantity of water which is being drawn from the mains. The pressure thus maintained constantly is just as effective and as satisfactory for all purposes as though it were supplied from a high-level reservoir. The construction of the new system was commenced in 1905 and the completed system went into operation in February, 1909. Only three and a half years were consumed in the construction of a plant covering over five hundred (500) miles of streets with water mains and supplying five thousand (5,000) fire hydrants, located at all street intersections with a pressure from sixty (60) to ninety-five (95) pounds per square inch, which is found fully adequate for fire protection, including two pumping and purification plants, one on each side of the Mississippi River, having a capacity to purify and deliver, under full pressure, sixty-six million (66,000,000) gallons of water per day. The cost of the plant to date, including about forty-six thousand (46,000) connections and meters to the property line, and supplying over sixty-one thousand (61,000) premises, with now 566 miles of mains, has been about nine million two hundred thousand ($9,200,000) dollars. By 1917 it is expected that all of the premises of the city will have been connected both with the water works and with the sewers, and vaults and cesspools will have been eliminated from the entire well built-up area of the city. The Sewerage and Water Board charges for two different items of service — the one is the cost of doing business with the consumer; the other the cost of supplying water to his connection at the main. The Board makes the connection from the water main to the property line and places the meter as part of the cost of construction. Then it maintains the meter and connections in service and eventually renews them. It also reads the meter, keeps the account and makes the collection. The cost varies with the size of the meter and connection. For instance, for a five‑eighth-inch meter the charge is three ($3.00) dollars per annum, and this has nothing to do with the charge for water furnished through the meter, the charge for which, much or little, amounts practically to seven (7) cents per one thousand (1,000) gallons. Under this arrangement anybody gets exactly what he wants, and everybody pays the same price that anyone else pays for everything he gets. If a person wants a very large supply available  p11 for use, but only uses it for a few moments a year, having practically no consumption, and another person desires the use of a very small quantity of water constantly, thus making a very large consumption through a small connection, and still another wants the convenience of water available through a small connection, but has occasion to use almost none at all, each can get exactly what he wants on a basis which is fair to each, as also to the city itself. No other water rate system ever devised can meet these tests.

Increased Values

The influence of the new sanitary improvements, which have been gradually brought into use, beginning with the first operation of the new drainage system in 1900, has been reflected in and has in a large degree been the cause of the far more rapid increase in the assessed values of the city since that date, as per the following approximate:

Year. Assessed Value of Taxable Property.
1880 $91,000,000
1890 132,000,000
1900 140,000,000
1914 250,000,000

Reduced Death Rate

The average death rate prevailing just before the new drainage system went into operation was 27.2 per one thousand (1,000). The death rate for 1913 was 19.8 per one thousand (1,000), showing a gain of 7.4 per one thousand (1,000) from 1900 to 1913. This for a population of three hundred and sixty thousand (360,000) indicates a reduction in deaths for 1913, as compared with conditions prevailing prior to 1900, of two thousand six hundred and sixty-four (2,664).

It is also shown that typhoid has been reduced over one-half in New Orleans since 1900, and that malaria, which showed a death rate of 104 per 100,000 of population for the decade 1890‑1900, has been almost totally eradicated, showing a reduction in the death rate from this cause of 95 per cent, and the general death rate has been reduced twenty-five (25) per cent.

It should be remembered that the above referred to  p12 death rate of 19.8 per one thousand (1,000) includes the colored third of the city's population and the large number of deaths of non-residents, who come to the great hospitals of New Orleans, often in a moribund condition, from several surrounding States. The white death rate, excluding non-residents, is calculated by the City Board of Health at 13.56 per one thousand (1,000), and the combined white and colored death rate, excluding non-residents, at 16.8 per one thousand (1,000).

We think, in the circumstances, therefore, that no city in the country can exhibit a more satisfactory bill of health than the New Orleans of the present day, in which the successful operation of sewerage, water and drainage has been a most potent factor.

Economical Construction

The average contract prices on sewer construction in New Orleans were always considered by the engineering department of the Sewerage and Water Board to be too high, and when, in 1907, bids on four large sewer contracts were further increased by about 20 per cent, the General Superintendent recommended their rejection, and stated that the work could be done by forces employed by the Sewerage and Water Board at an average saving of at least 35 per cent over these bids.

In view of this recommendation the Board authorized a trial at sewer construction in this way, and as this trial proved most successful, all subsequent sewerage and water extension work to September, 1914, and all connections to the sewers and water mains have been executed by the Board's forces.

The total saving on sewer construction to the end of 1913, which had cost the Sewerage and Water Board one million three hundred and twelve thousand ($1,312,000) dollars, as executed by the Board's own forces, is five hundred and sixty-two thousand ($562,000) dollars, or over forty-two (42%) per cent, as compared with contractors' prices considered reasonable in 1907, and eight hundred and ninety-five thousand ($895,000) dollars, or over sixty-eight (68%) per cent as compared with the prices bid and rejected in 1907.

Similarly taking all of that portion of the Board's works  p13 executed by its own forces since 1908, inclusive — i.e., the sewer construction, the extension of water mains, the making of sewer and water-house connections and the dredging of drainage canals — upon which the actual expenditure has been three million three hundred and eighty-five thousand ($3,385,000) dollars, including all overhead charges, and comprising items with what were considered and would now be considered the most reasonable of contract prices for the same work, including, of course, the necessary overhead charges, a saving of not less than eight hundred and eighty thousand ($880,000) dollars is shown, and probably a saving of a much larger amount has been effected, since these works by contract would have cost from twenty-four (24%) per cent to thirty-three (33%) per cent more.

The drainage system covers about thirty-five (35) miles of area, and the sewerage and water works systems about eighteen (18) square miles, including that portion of the city which is well built or rapidly expanding. The total expenditures for the three systems to September 1st of this year have been approximately as follows:

Sewerage, including connections to property line $6,850,000
Water, including meter and connection to property line 9,200,000
Drainage 9,300,000
Total $25,350,000

By the end of 1917, when the rapid construction period will be over, the expenditures on the three systems will stand approximately:

Sewerage 7,500,000
Water 10,000,000
Drainage 12,500,000
Total $30,000,000

The total water consumption for 1913, exclusive of about three hundred million (300,000,000) gallons used to maintain a condensing water supply in the Old Basin Navigation Canal on account of drainage and construction, was seven billion and seventeen millions (7,017,000,000), or nine hundred and forty-five million (945,000,000) more than in 1912, and the average number of premises served was approximately eleven thousand (11,000) more than in 1912.

The amount of metered free consumers during 1913 was four hundred and eighteen million (418,000,000) gallons,  p14 or about one million one hundred and forty-five thousand (1,145,000) gallons per day, representing an absorption of only about one hundred and seventy-five thousand ($175,000) dollars of the city's water investment.

Because of a reduction in service charge, made effective in January, 1913, the total revenue derived from the water works system was only twenty-six thousand ($26,000) dollars more than that of 1912, being three hundred and eighty-seven thousand nine hundred and thirty-one and 52‑100 ($389,931.52) dollars, made up as follows:

From sale of water at regular meter rates $262,343.38
From service charges 113,441.42
Water from fire hydrants, building, etc. 8,425.44
Delinquent fees 3,721.28

Total revenue for 1913

Plus one-third of service charge 37,813.80

Total if rates for 1912 had been held

Revenue for 1912 $363,051.60

Balance indicating growth of revenue at rates


It might be a matter of interest to know that the amount of expenditures covering all costs to maintain and operate the three systems of sewerage, water and drainage, including every item of direct or pro rated overhead or other charge, aggregates five hundred and seventy-six thousand two hundred and four and 30‑100 ($576,204.30) dollars, or $1.60 per capita of the existing population of the city, and that out of twenty-three (23) cities from whose water works reports the cost per capita of water works operation and maintenance has been tabulated, six spend $1.60, or more per capita per annum for water works operation and maintenance alone.

The people of New Orleans, besides paying the cost of operating and maintaining the three systems in taxes and water rates, have paid in addition eight hundred thousand ($800,000) dollars in interest on outstanding bonds, aggregating twenty million ($20,000,000) dollars, which have been or are being used in the construction and extension of said systems, and about three hundred and thirty-four thousand ($334,000) more, which is the year's contribution from the tax to the annual surplus fund, which is also being used in  p15 the extension of the systems and which will enable the Sewerage and Water Board, by the end of 1917, to have expended a total of about thirty million ($30,000,000) dollars, with outstanding bonds of only twenty million ($20,000,000) dollars against this total expenditure.

Assuming, then, roughly, that one million seven hundred and ten thousand ($1,710,000) dollars represents the present total annual outlay of the people in interest, surplus and cost of operation and maintenance of the three systems, this shows a grand total cost per capita of $4.75.

If this were all charged to its assistance in the saving of two thousand six hundred and sixty-four (2,664) lives, it would indicate a cost of six hundred and forty-two ($642) per life, and would show a good investment.

The Sewerage and Water Board, in pursuing the policy of having its engineers work out its power and pumping station problems and formulating in detail specifications for each portion thereof, contracted in the early part of 1914 with the Nordberg Manufacturing Company, of Milwaukee, for eleven large screw pumps, and with the Allis-Chalmers Company, also of Milwaukee, for the motors and electrical equipments required to operate these pumping installations.

The problem in New Orleans is to obtain units of very large capacity for the prompt removal of storm water. These pumps are amongst the largest in the world, being intended to give a discharge of at least 550 cubic feet per second, each, at lifts of, respectively, five and ten feet from basin to basin at the pumping station, and at revolutions per minute of, respectively, 75 to 83½, with 6,000 volts 3‑phase synchronous motors of, respectively, 600 and 1,200‑horsepower, and to work without objectionable overloads at any lift from 0 up to, respectively, 8 to 13 feet.

The combined capacity of the existing pumps of the New Orleans drainage system is about 4,600 cubic feet per second, the largest unit being 300 cubic feet per second at lifts required under storm conditions. These eleven new pumps, together with additional constant duty units, also to be installed, will increase the total pumping capacity under storm conditions by something like 6,600 cubic feet per second, making a total capacity available for drainage work of 11,200 cubic feet per second, equal to 7,149,600,000 gallons per twenty-four hours, or more than the present annual pumpage of the New Orleans water works pumping stations. This large pumping capacity is necessary because New Orleans occupies a great area, and, being practically flat, pumping is required for effective drainage.

 p16  Mr. Alfred Raymond, M. E., who has been in charge of the operation and maintenance of the seven existing drainage pumping stations since 1899, and Mr. A. B. Wood, M. E., who was his assistant in this work and who has later had charge of the operation and maintenance of the eleven sewerage and water works pumping stations, are co‑operating in the direction of the working out of the necessary details, and the design of these new pumps is specifically that of Mr. Wood.c This design has been verified by a series of tests on a 12‑inch screw pump built for this purpose, and then further verified by the construction of a 30‑inch screw pump for constant duty service, now in operation at one of the drainage stations, being one of several such pumps which will be necessary for constant duty service.

A Good Place to Live

These three great public utilities stand enduring monuments to the courage, determination and infinite resourcefulness of a people who cheerfully and with much self-denial made them possible of accomplishment, and no less are they tributes to the ability, zeal and splendid engineering skill of those who devised and brought them to a successful consummation, in spite of most disheartening conditions.

Supplementary to these we have many other improvements of the first importance, representing a most gratifying development in many directions — our wharves and docks, our Belt Railroad systems, our many miles of newly paved streets, our modern public schools and other institutions of learning, our libraries, our parks and playgrounds, Police and Fire Departments, our growing home and foreign commerce, etc. — all contributing in no small degree to the fulfillment of that destiny which in the not remote future is to make New Orleans one of the greatest of cities. It is our impression that conditions in New Orleans are subject to influences as favorable to its health and progress as are to be found in any other city on this continent, and that families going there to reside will be certain to find themselves in as good, if not in a better, place than that from which they came.

Thayer's Notes:

a I transcribed the text from the original 16‑page pamphlet, printed by Brandao Print, New Orleans, with no date of publication. My transcription has been carefully proofread and is thus presumably errorfree; if, of course, you should find the inevitable error, please let me know.

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b Mayor Behrman's report was printed without illustrations. The 1909 photo of Pumping Station No. 3 is taken from the U. S. Corps of Engineers site (see footer bar below), and like anything published in the United States before 1923, is in the public domain.

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c The A. B. Wood Low Head High Volume Screw Pump, a short commemorative National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark pamphlet published in 1974 by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, captions the photo below: "In 1915 the 12 ft. The Wood screw pump was the most advanced drainage pump in use. Wood's pumps were built all over the world after their successful operation in New Orleans was proven."

When I put this page up, the pamphlet was online, but it has now been removed from its parent site. Since it is well worth reading, both for its summary of the drainage situation of the Crescent City and for its sympathetic biographical sketch of Baldwin Wood (1879‑1956), I anticipated the decay of the link and downloaded the PDF file: it's protected by copyright, I can't put it back online myself, but you can always write me.

[image ALT: It is a pumping station in New Orleans.]

1915 photograph in the public domain.

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Page updated: 1 Jun 17