2nd Drop In 5 Weeks At N.O. Water Plant
Many New Orleans homes and businesses across New Orleans lost water pressure briefly after the failure one of the four huge turbines that powers the Sewerage & Water Board's pumps.

Unlike a Nov. 19 failure that brought a 41-hour advisory to boil water, this one was fixed in 30 minutes, said Joe Becker, general superintendent for the board. He said a key backup pump was switched on in minutes; in November, that pump was being repaired.

Both problems affected the east bank, where most of the city is located. The west bank Algiers neighborhood has a separate treatment plant and was not affected.

Although the backup pump kept water pressure safe, the board's in-house power plant shut down for about two hours.

It was only the fourth failure since the facility opened at the turn of the 20th century. All four shutdowns were after Hurricane Katrina.

The water purification plant runs on power purchased from

Entergy New Orleans. But 25-Hertz power, which was common in the late 1800s, drives the motors that keep huge pumps sucking water from the Mississippi River and smaller pumps pushing purified water into pipes serving homes and businesses.

In-house power also supports about half the city's drainage capacity via 115 miles of underground conduit, including lines that run under the river. The buried wires run from the power plant at South Claiborne Avenue near the Jefferson Parish line to many of the city's 23 drainage pump stations.

The power plant generates electricity by running tap water through enormous boilers, which create steam to run four turbines that produce 25-cycle power. Natural gas purchased from Entergy is used to start boilers and turbines, which run singly or in tandem depending on how much power the system needs.

Once the equipment is up and running, it relies on self-generated steam and a series of natural gas feeds to stay online.

Becker said one turbine was running Wednesday night. When it broke, it immediately shut down two outflow pumps. The backup pump can run either on in-house power or electricity from Entergy. It had been repaired by last week, becker said.

Becker said the broken turbine apparently failed because of an internal electrical malfunction. He said its copper wire coils probably will have to be rewound, a two- to three-month process that must be handled off-site by a contractor, he said.

Such work amounts to routine maintenance, "but we just haven't been able to afford to take this turbine for rewinding," Becker said.