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Landry’s task force recommends New Orleans’ Sewerage and Water Board be replaced

Sewerage and Water Board New Orleans Uptown location
Travis Lux
The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans' facility in Uptown.

Gov. Jeff Landry's task force to evaluate the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans released a report Wednesday recommending the utility’s leadership be suspended and replaced with a temporary board whose members would mostly consist of state government officials or their appointees.

The temporary board would be named the “Recovery District” and made up of 11 members. City Councilmembers Helena Moreno and Joe Giarusso are concerned this new board will not include enough of the people who are affected by decisions at SWBNO, New Orleanians.

“There's a lot of knowledge that exists within the city, with the council, with even the utility itself,” said Giarusso. “And what you're saying is, we're going to strip basically all that knowledge out.

Members of City Council had previously expressed frustration with the task force itself not including any New Orleans elected officials. The task force chairman is also a lobbyist for SWBNO at the state Legislature, raising concerns about him having a conflict of interest.

Jessica Dandridge, executive director of The Water Collaborative of Greater New Orleans, a nonprofit tackling water issues in the city, said she is skeptical of the state taking over, but that the Sewerage and Water Board cannot continue as is.

“If the task force and the governor can get us to a place of change with community input and with community in mind, we’re not opposed to that,” she said.

The task force’s report also recommended that the Recovery District board cede control after two years. At that point, they proposed several options for who might take control: the City Council, the Louisiana Public Service Commission or “a quasi-municipal corporation” that would be created based on a model used in Louisville, Kentucky.

Giarusso said he would not be opposed to City Council taking over, as it could be a similar relationship to the one the council has with Entergy New Orleans. But Moreno said something like that would need more resources for both SWBNO and the council.

“This could be workable, but I want to make it perfectly clear that this will take a great deal of time, thought and effort to execute correctly,” she wrote in a statement to WWNO.

In a written statement, SWBNO said it is actively reviewing the task force’s recommendations and looking forward to working with all stakeholders.


The task force also recommended that the city’s drainage system be consolidated under SWBNO, as it is currently split between SWBNO, the Department of Public Works and the state. It also proposed that the new governing board look into a stormwater fee. Currently, SWBNO is funded through property taxes, meaning tax-exempt properties don’t contribute. A fee would change that.

The Water Collaborative recently made both these recommendations in its plan for a stormwater fee that it announced earlier this year.

“It bolsters our plan because multiple of the things that were addressed in the meetings or in the final recommendations are already expressing our Water Justice Fund plan,” said Dandridge.

But she also emphasized that the nonprofit’s plan was constructed with community and equity in mind.

“If we completely ignore our plan, and they do something on their own, we're bound to fall into the trap that we've always fallen into, which is no community input,” she said.

SWBNO has also said it was working on its own plan for a stormwater fee.

Raising rates

The report said it is necessary to raise rates to fund the many upgrades that SWBNO must make to its system. However, it also acknowledged rates cannot be raised until public trust is restored in the utility.

The task force’s public hearings were filled with stories from customers overburdened with utility bills due to failures in equipment. Councilmembers Giarusso and Moreno agree that billing issues need to be fixed.

“There's almost a zero percent chance that rates can be raised until credibility is restored,” said Giarusso.

SWBNO is currently in the process of installing SMART meters to get more accurate water-use readings, which it hopes will help solve many of its billing issues.

“The SWBNO finds itself in a terrible conundrum” the task force wrote in their report. “They simply must receive additional funding in order to succeed but in order to get additional funding, the SWBNO must regain the public’s trust; in order to regain the public’s trust, the SWBNO must receive additional funding.”

The task force recommended their plan for restructuring SWBNO’s governance as a way to restore that trust, so that rates can eventually be raised.

Any of these changes would require action from legislators. The deadline to file bills in the current legislative session is April 2.

Eva Tesfaye covers the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk. You can reach her at