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Boom protects New Orleans drinking water intake from BP oil contamination

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  • Boom protects New Orleans drinking water intake from BP oil contamination

    Please take note that this article was posted on June 17, 2010


    Boom protects New Orleans drinking water intake from BP oil contamination

    Published: Thursday, June 17, 2010, 7:31 AM Updated: Thursday, June 17, 2010, 5:39 PM


    Michelle Krupa, The Times-Picayune


    New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board officials said Wednesday that the agency has placed boom in the Mississippi River around the city's water-intake stations as a precautionary measure to keep oil from the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico from contaminating the city's drinking water.




    Donald Stout/The Times-PicayuneNew Orleans officials have placed boom around water intake pipes in the Mississippi River to protect against contamination from the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.<!-- --><!-- -->

    The most likely source of contamination would be oil carried on the hulls of ships and barges heading up the river from the Gulf, officials said.

    However, only a fraction of the vessels passing through decontamination stations near the mouth of the river have been deemed in need of scrubbing, a Coast Guard official said.

    S&WB officials positioned absorbent and containment boom last month around water intake stations near the Jefferson Parish line and at Algiers Point to keep oil out of large pipes that carry untreated water to purification plants on the east and west banks.

    The location of intake pipes several feet underwater -- far below the surface where oil tends to float -- and the sheer force of the river's current minimize the possibility that oil from the gushing Macondo 252 well will end up in the city's drinking water system, S&WB Executive Director Marcia St. Martin said.

    "The flow and the velocity of the Mississippi River is such that we do not anticipate having product from the Gulf oil spill coming up the river, " she said.

    In some other New Orleans-area parishes, officials have stepped up monitoring, but have taken no other special steps to protect their drinking water systems.

    "The river is so high right now and the current is so strong that it's impossible for the water to get up this far against that kind of current, " said Deano Bonano, the homeland security director in Jefferson Parish.

    As for contaminated vessels, he said, "any oil left on the hull this far up would be so minuscule and so diluted that it wouldn't have any effect."

    As river levels drop in the fall, when saltwater is most likely to push up the mouth of the Mississippi, Bonano said he will keep a close eye on Jefferson's two water-intake stations.

    Plaquemines Parish Operations Manager Phil Gioia also said the downstream force of the river will likely keep oil out of his four water-intake stations, adding that the quality of water at three phases of the purification process is checked every eight minutes.

    As for the S&WB's decision to place boom around intake stations, Gioia called it a "bad move." Plaquemines officials tried the same strategy after a tank ship and fuel barge collided along the river in New Orleans in July 2008, causing the barge to spill about 283,000 gallons of oil. They found that oil slid beneath the boom and collected on the intake side of the barriers, Gioia said.

    St. Martin said the water board also used booms after the 2008 spill, without similar problems. "We do know that the booms ... that we use have proven to be effective, " she said.

    The latest daily oil survey conducted by the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command showed no oil or very light oil at Southwest Pass, with light to heavier patches around South Pass.

    Of the 285 private, commercial and disaster-response vessels inspected through Tuesday at 18 decontamination stations off the Louisiana coast, only 16 percent were cleaned, said Robert Brazzell, a Coast Guard spokesman at the Deepwater Horizon Incident Command Post in Houma.

    The proportion was lower -- about 14 percent -- for the 133 vessels that passed through the five cleaning stations nearest the mouth of the Mississippi River, he said.

    To decontaminate the vessels, crews use "a high-pressure hose that basically fires water cannons, " Brazzell said. "They basically just shoot the oil right off the vessel at a very high pressure."

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