Week in Review: Low water pressure adding to delays in school lead filter project

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Marta Jewson / The Lens

Two drinking fountains at Bricolage Academy lack the connection hoses that most filters have in a photo taken May 2, 2019. The filters were installed months ago, but as of a February report had not been connected.

Lead and antimicrobial water filters being installed at New Orleans public school drinking fountains require higher water pressure than the city’s water agency provides, records obtained by The Lens show. Since installation began late last summer, the issue appears to have delayed the ambitious project, which had already been delayed by more than a year.

Of the 37 schools that have the filters, 20 have at least some filters that aren’t connected due to low water pressure, a district spokeswoman confirmed.

Communications between district officials and the water-filter contractor, EcoWater Systems, show that many school fountains will need booster pumps, a part installed between the filter and the water spout that increases pressure. Without them, the filters that the district has purchased can reduce pressure so much that the fountains can’t be used.

Each booster pump costs $250 to purchase and install, an added expense that the district did not anticipate before installation began in August. The price can top $400 if the district also needs to install an electrical outlet for the pump.

Behind The Lens episode 30: One-newspaper town

This week on Behind The Lens, Marta Jewson talks about lead filters in New Orleans public schools. Michael Isaac Stein on how short-term rentals figure into Mayor Cantrell’s infrastructure deal. And Jed Horne discusses. The Advocate’s purchase of The Times-Picayune.

Hosted and produced by Jessica Rosgaard.

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Cantrell administration predicting increase in short-term rental sales as part of infrastructure deal

Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration has been busy in Baton Rouge trying to strike a deal to divert more hotel-motel tax revenue to infrastructure projects in New Orleans. A potential deal is still being fleshed out, but it will likely include a package of legislation that includes House Bill 43, which would raise taxes on Airbnbs and other short-term rentals by 6.75 percent, pending a vote by city residents.

The administration believes that the tax will generate $10.5 million in revenue for the city each year. And the math assumes that the New Orleans short-term rental market will remain steady, or even expand, despite the New Orleans City Council’s recent work to place stricter limits on short-term rentals.

The bill advanced through the House Municipal, Parochial, and and Cultural Affairs Committee on Thursday morning. One amendment was added: 25 percent of the revenue will go to New Orleans and Co. (formerly known as the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau) and 75 percent will go to an infrastructure fund.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, which was based on information from the city, getting to $10.5 million per year requires short-term rental sales of $156 million. That’s an $18 million increase — 13 percent — over sales last year, based on deposits into the New Orleans Quality of Life Fund.

We’re hosting a public records workshop!

Join us Tuesday, May 7 to learn how to find public records related to criminal justice.Have you ever wondered how Louisiana’s public records laws work?

On Tuesday, May 7, Lens editor Charles Maldonado will be joined by criminal justice reporter Samantha Sunne and attorney Scott Sternberg to explain how you can use public records to hold government agencies accountable and how to access those records. We will focus on criminal justice, specifically courts and prosecutors’ offices.

Register here.

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Council committee backs RTA decision to stop tourism industry revenue sharing

For nearly two decades, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority transferred millions of tax dollars to the tourism industry every year, the result of a deal brokered between the transit agency, tourism officials and the city nearly 20 years ago. But the RTA recently decided to stop handing that money over. And on Tuesday, the New Orleans City Council’s transportation committee advanced a resolution to back the RTA in that fight.

The resolution, which is not legally binding, urges an end to the arrangement between the RTA, the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation and the city’s convention center.  It also supports the RTA’s request that the convention center refund $31.8 million it has collected from the RTA since 2001.

A one percent local sales tax, approved through a local ballot initiative in 1985, makes up the majority of the RTA’s funding — $78 million in 2017, according to the RTA’s most recent annual audit. That included about $6.4 million in hotel sales taxes.

Opinion: Merger ends a newspaper war, but the bloodletting may not be over

Opinion editor Jed Horne:

“In the newspaper game, as in any blood sport, vengeance is sweet. In New Orleans, where for seven years we have been witness to one of the nation’s few remaining newspaper wars, that vengeance is now complete.

“But it would be naïve to expect the blood to stop splattering.”

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