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The Final Puzzle Piece

Saying New Orleans has a flooding problem isn’t exactly a page-turning assertion. While Hurricane Katrina may be one of the greatest natural disasters to hit U.S. soil, it’s also far from the only time New Orleans has been flooded. Needless to say, past anti-flooding measures haven’t been cutting it, and Hurricane Katrina was catastrophic enough to convince the city it needs a new solution for what they call 100-year level storm surges (in other words, storms so massive you only see them once every 100 years; the 99th percentile of how bad a storm can get).

So New Orleans is upgrading. Enter the Permanent Canal Closures & Pumps (PCCP), one of several projects that have been in development in response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster and now one of the largest pumps in the world. Designed and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it’s a monumental project that is designed to replace the Interim Closure Structures, which as their name might suggest, were a stopgap measure until the PCCP came online. It will, hopefully, put some of the city’s flooding issues to rest.

The PCCP, one of the largest pumping station systems in the world, is finally fully operational, marking the completion of the last piece of New Orleans’ countermeasures against another Hurricane Katrina. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

To say the PCCP is the “largest pump in the world” might be a little disingenuous, however. That honor goes to a pair of pumps in the Netherlands built by Pentair Fairbanks Nijhuis. In reality, it’s an entire system made up of 17 pumps across three critical locations, and combined, the whole system is orders of magnitude larger than most pump operations. By working in concert, they’re all capable of moving a staggering 24,300 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water. Combined, they could fill an Olympic pool to capacity in under four seconds. The pumps themselves are pretty impressive individually, as well. Ten of them are each capable of pumping 1800 cfs on their own. And, fun little tidbit: Baldor Electric’s gearmotors will be powering them.

The PCCP system is designed to take water from three canals, Orleans Avenue, London Avenue, and 17th Street — two of which, not coincidentally, had major levee breaches that formed the epicenter of the catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Katrina — and pump that water into Lake Pontchartrain. Along with the pumping stations, the PCCP also boasts gates capable of fending off a 16-foot storm surge from the lake that can open and close depending on the situation, meaning the canals can still drain naturally in normal weather conditions and the pumps won’t have to work 24/7.

Almost as impressive as the pumping system itself were the cofferdams used to build them. Like the pumping system, they were also amongst the largest of their kind ever constructed, with the one used for the 17th Street canal pump station in particular measuring as large as a football field and 50 feet deep in some places.

The Army Corps of Engineers just finished work on the PCCP in May, and the project’s completion was celebrated May 31. The PCCP is the last section of New Orleans’ $14.5 billion project for building new defenses against flooding in response to Hurricane Katrina, the final puzzle piece in what Joe Hassinger, Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority — East President, called “the most robust flood defense system” New Orleans’ metro area has ever had during the May 31 ribbon-cutting ceremony.

And while New Orleans’ new defenses have yet to be put to the test by nature, the PCCP is a staggeringly massive system and a feat of engineering. Unlike the ICS before it, the PCCP has been designed to be a stable, lasting solution for New Orleans that will continue operation for a century to come. And if one of the biggest pumping station systems in the world can’t solve New Orleans’ flooding problem, we’ll be hard-pressed to find something that can.

For more information:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Phone: (504) 862-1495

The article "The Final Puzzle Piece" appeared in the June 2018 issue of Power Transmission Engineering.

New Orleans
pumping station
Hurricane Katrina