Report: Sewerage and Water Board Needs to Change Its Ways

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NEW ORLEANS — On May 17, the Bureau of Governmental Research released a report that says the Sewerage & Water Board has got to change its ways.

The entity’s current governance structure is preventing the S&WB from resolving the problems affecting the city’s water, sewer and drainage systems, said the private nonprofit watchdog group. The laws and policies that guide decision making for the utility weaken its finances, its coordination with the City of New Orleans and public accountability for both.

BGR’s big takeaway is that the S&WB should either be a stand-alone utility or a municipal utility but it can’t be a combination of the two any longer.

For its 120-year history, the S&WB has been led by a board controlled by the mayor, funded by the New Orleans City Council and regulated by the Louisiana Legislature. BGR’s report finds that this governance structure doesn’t work effectively. 

“The result is a complicated web of competing interests and weak accountability that works against long-term performance,” said BGR President and CEO Rebecca Mowbray in a press release announcing the new report. “The structure is inefficient, ineffective and ultimately to blame for many of the infrastructure problems New Orleanians experience.” 

The S&WB operates separately from city government and manages its own budget of more than $450 million a year, but it depends on the New Orleans City Council for its funding. It coordinates with the City’s Department of Public Works on street projects and management of the drainage system.

BGR suggests either strengthening the S&WB’s identity as a stand-alone utility or replacing it with a municipal utility that’s wholly a part of city government.

“Both options have complications that require further study, which the mayor should initiate. But inaction poses unacceptable risks to vital infrastructure systems,” said a spokesperson for the group.

“BGR’s report lays the groundwork for governance improvements that can help New Orleans achieve long-term, sustainable improvement for its water, sewer and drainage infrastructure,” Mowbray said.

Visit BGR’s website to read more about this report.

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