Connecting East & West Under The Mississippi

Dual River Crossings Connect Separate Water Systems For St. Charles Parish
By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | May 2009 Vol. 64 No. 5

St. Charles Parish, one of nine Louisiana parishes (counties) comprising the New Orleans metropolitan area, is bisected by the Mississippi River, which can complicate parish government services to its residents.

For example, to provide drinking water to homes and businesses on both sides of the river, the parish has for years operated two water districts, one on the East Bank and one on the West Bank, each with its own treatment plant.

For 40 years, the two districts were governed by individual boards of directors, but in 1989 their operations were combined under the St. Charles Parish Department of Waterworks. However, residents remained dependent for water from the plant on their side of the river. The East Bank plant is about five miles upriver from the West Bank facilities, and many West Bank communities actually are closer to the East Bank facility, but there was no way to get water across the river – a distance of approximately 2,755 feet. If for any reason one of the plant's operations was interrupted, there was no way to transport water from the other plant across the river.

"The idea of putting a water line under the river to connect the two systems was considered 20 years ago, but it was determined to be too expensive," said Robert Brou, waterworks department director. "Ideally, the two systems should be connected, but no cost effective solution had been found to do so."

As it had in so many other ways, Hurricane Katrina impacted St. Charles Parish's water dilemma.

"Katrina hit us hard," said Brou, "but we recovered fairly quickly. We never lost water pressure and made repairs fast. Jefferson, Orleans and other parishes sustained much more damage, and we had a lot of people relocate to our parish. We had a huge spike in population and water consumption, and the East Bank plant already was operating at near capacity. By the end of 2005 and into 2006, we were really beginning to feel the impact and had no long term solution in place.”

Plans

To move forward, Brou said, plans for a two pronged solution were developed:

  • Construction of a new East Bank treatment plant; and
  • Construction of two 24 inch water mains under the Mississippi River.

The river crossings were submitted to the U.S. Corps of Engineers as emergency projects in order to speed the permitting process and expedite construction, said Brou. Both crossings were made by horizontal directional drilling. The first crossing was completed just before Christmas in 2007 and is in operation. Pipe pullback for the second crossing was completed on Feb. 28, 2009.