DD7: Pumps were working, despite debris

Published 10:57 am Monday, February 5, 2018

By Lorenzo Salinas



Drainage District 7 would like to make clear they were doing their jobs last weekend — as they regularly do.

Last Saturday’s rainfall marked the first time since Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey when Port Arthur residents had to be concerned about flooding on the streets, through their yards and sometimes into their homes.

Over the course of a weekend and a more crowded-than-usual City Hall meeting Tuesday, people expressed concerns to the city’s leaders and DD7.

District employees assured residents that flood response occurred according to procedure. Still, it was an unexpected amount of rain — up to 10 inches — with piles of debris still in people’s yards and ditches.


Debris and rain


“Debris had a lot to do with it and probably would have caused a lot of people to flood. If it was clean, I’m not sure it wouldn’t have had any impact to begin with,” DD7 manager Phil Kelley said.

Kelley made special mention of last Saturday’s unusually high rainfall and the drainage district’s usual handling capacity. In fact, rainfall was so heavy over such a short amount of time that he was not entirely certain whether parts of the city would have flooded regardless of debris clogging so many drainage systems.

“Our system was initially designed for 111/2 inches in a 24-hour period,” he said. “But when you get 10 inches in three to four hours, you exceed capacity.”

Areas of the city reported 10 inches or more in as little as a few hours, something no one was expecting.

“With the National Weather Service, they predicted 1-2 inches of rain — and here we get 10 to 12 inches,” Kelley said.


Routine maintenance and work


Adhering to their regular operations, district workers could usually rely on their preparation to keep water levels in check.

“Sometimes we get pop-up storms at night. Our rain gauges are set up where so many counts of rain sets a (worker’s) pager off,” Kelley said.

“They’ll let the guy on duty know where it’s coming from. He looks at the radar and determines whether we need to man the facilities or not.”

Kelley said the district’s routine of maintaining its system usually prepares them for whenever it rains.

“We also have other people who are on-call duty for after hours and weekends to man our control center,” Kelley said. “If there is rain coming, they will be there anyway.”

Kelley said the district has workers going out before, during and after rain, driving around neighborhoods checking on limbs and other debris that might impede proper flow or litter road crossings.

“During rain, there are certain locations that have a screen over the inlet that we have to check. We have a crew out checking the crossings,” he said.

Kelley said with any storm deemed significant or that would last a while, DD7 workers go on 24-hour schedules and staff essential pump stations with operators and trash help.

More importantly, however, is the fact that not all the stations need someone present for them to work. Some are automatic and activate when the water reaches a certain level.




“The biggest misconception is that we don’t start our pumps and don’t man our pump stations,” Kelley said.

Kelley referenced one of their workers who was present at the City Hall meeting to explain why this would not be the case.

“As Brian McZeal said, why would we not start our pumps when we all live in this area? Why would we not do our jobs?”

Kelley said his workers know to get out and into position and to not wait until the last minute.

DD7 supervisor Ronnie Hollier could attest through personal experience that district employees do not take chances when it comes to drainage.

Hollier said he has been at the control center for 14 to 16 hours when there was a storm in the event he needed to call in additional help. He didn’t need to call anyone else in.

“Then there have been times I’d been out there for hours and never turned it on because it never rained.”

Hollier said workers could still manually activate pumps at the automatic stations to have them start sooner; but, Kelley said there is a risk involved if they’re started too early.

“They have to be so deep in water to pick up the water,” he said. “If you try to pick up water when it’s too low, you risk destroying equipment.”

Another misconception seems to be citizens mistaking city facilities for district facilities.

Hollier recounted an event where a resident in Dominion Ranch reported that one of the district’s pump stations wasn’t activated during Saturday’s rainstorm. When workers checked it out, they found the resident was referring to a city of Port Arthur sewage lift system; not a DD7 pump station.


Communication in community


Kelley stressed the importance of communication from the drainage district, whereby they answer and respond to citizens’ calls.

“You’re going to answer those phones; you’re going to talk to people,” he said of his workers. “We follow up with those calls.”


Joint study

While the DD7 board of commissioners approved a districtwide drainage study between Drainage District 7 and the Army Corps of Engineers in November, there is no timetable at present for when the federal government will respond.

“It’s going to be a slow process,” Kelley said. “Yes, we have engaged with the Corps. We’re trying to get to the point where we could partner up with the city and talk about how this is going to work.”

Kelley said the study would be a cost-share endeavor, where 50 percent would be funded federally and 50 percent locally.

Kelley added that if the Corps takes too long to respond, the district would consider independent engineers to conduct the study.

“The bottom line is we have sole responsibility to provide storm water protection,” Kelley said.