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The importance of NOLA’s 72,000 catch basins—and how to maintain yours

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After last week’s tropical weather and flash floods, more locals are realizing the importance of the 72,000 catch basins distributed throughout New Orleans. These catch basins collect runoff and funnel water into Lake Pontchartrain, forming one of the city’s first lines of defense against flash floods.

However, a number of catch basins are clogged by trash, dirt, Mardi Gras beads, and other debris. How can you be sure the catch basin on your block is functioning at optimum capacity, and what should you do if it’s not?

The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) sponsors annual catch basin clean-outs in conjunction with the City of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish. Chris Cook, director of the LPBF’s New Canal Lighthouse Museum, shares tips on how to maintain catch basins and why they’re important.

How are the catch basins connected to New Orleans’ pumping systems?

Our drainage system streamlines and expedites a raindrop’s journey from close to the riverbank all the way out to Lake Pontchartrain. ... The reason we have this interesting drainage system is partially because of our alluvial land built by the Mississippi River. It’s counterintuitive, but the river is the high ground, so a drop that falls in the French Quarter starts a slow journey to the lake.

Feeder canals bring water to the big pumping houses, like the ones on North Broad and Orleans avenues, and where South Broad Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard come together.

Those pumping stations collect water from feeder canals and put it in other canals that ship that water to the lake. It all starts with the catch basins.

Why are so many of the catch basins clogged? Shouldn’t the city be maintaining them?

The city is trying to keep track of approximately 72,000 catch basins, and the city is always working on them. If you notice a problem and can help by prioritizing the catch basins on your block, that’s a good thing

We are an old city with old infrastructure. One of the strengths of New Orleans is that we do have a concerned and interested populace. For some of these things, it will take concerned citizens bringing issues to the attention of the city.

How can citizens make sure their catch basins are functioning properly?

First, know where your catch basins are. Talk to neighbors about what happens on your block during rain events. This could be the first step to learning you have a catch basin that needs attention.

Once you have identified where they are, take a look at your catch basins. Sometimes, due to inattention, the entrance has been clogged with leaves, grass clippings, or mud. That’s something you can fix with a shovel. Sometimes, it’s as simple as digging it out.

We recommend these basic steps to keep the entrance to the catch basin clear, but lifting the lids off catch basins could be dangerous. The lids are heavier than people might think.

What if the problem is something you can’t fix with a shovel?

It could be that a road or plumbing repair altered the street in front of the catch basin. That’s something you can call the city to address. That’s when you call 311.

Any final thoughts?

We live in a unique, sometimes fragile place and face some interesting challenges, but if we are able to solve these problems, we can become an educational center for other places that will soon find themselves in similar positions.

New Canal Lighthouse

8001 Lakeshore Drive, , LA 70124 Visit Website

French Quarter

545 Washington Street, , MA 02111 Visit Website