News Tip: Pumping New Orleans Floodwater Into Lake Is Only A "Lesser Evil," Duke …

The pumping of New Orleans floodwaters into Lake Pontchartrain will create "long-term, harmful implications for the lake ecosystem and future human use of the area," warns Duke University environmental engineer Karl Linden.

The possibility of even more serious harm may be avoided by extensive testing of waters in the industrial zone for toxic chemicals and developing a plan to treat those waters before disposal, he added. So far, there has been no sampling performed in any of the city's industrial areas, unlike the residential areas, Linden said.

"While pumping floodwaters into the lake may seem 'better' than pumping pollution into the river or Gulf, make no mistake, this choice is only the lesser evil," said Linden, associate professor of environmental engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering.

Linden acknowledged that Louisiana officials faced terrible choices in handling the polluted floodwaters in New Orleans. Trying to balance the immediate, overwhelming needs of its people against damaging the environment, Louisiana is now pumping floodwater into Lake Pontchartrain.

"According to EPA sampling, the types and levels of harmful bacteria in the floodwaters from residential areas are similar to raw sewage. Affected areas of Lake Pontchartrain will likely experience an extended period of low oxygen levels, elevated nutrients and high microbial loads, all leading to fish kills, algae blooms and the need to prevent human contact with the water," Linden said.

"Given the recent successes of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation in restoring the lake to make it safe for human contact and even manatees to populate, this is a very sad development," he said.

"According to the government authorities, the alternatives were only concerned with where to pump (-- into the lake or the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico). They did not consider water treatment to help minimize the impacts of pumping. Sacrificing the lake perhaps seemed like a better way to contain the pollution and make the eventual remediation effort at least conceivable."

Based on the data available so far, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not find any priority pollutants -- those that persist in the environment -- that exceeded health levels in the residential areas that have been tested, Linden said. Now it is time to turn attention to the areas of the city most likely to be sites of concentrated pollution -- the industrial zones, he said.

"Before any pumping from industrial areas occurs, it is imperative that an assessment be made of the level and types of pollutants present," Linden urged. "Once the status of these areas is known, a plan needs to be put in place to minimize the environmental damage from these sites, as many of them could be extremely hazardous. It would be irresponsible to simply pump the water from these areas into the lake or gulf without an attempt to remove and stabilize the toxic chemicals first.

"Waiving discharge regulations for pumping toxic water from the residential areas can be excused in the name of search and rescue. But let's please take the time to plan and prepare for the proper disposal of the industrial zone water and not cause further harm -- perhaps much more serious harm -- to the natural waters beyond what is necessary for protecting human health," Linden said. _ _ _ _

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