|The most important municipal problem, which New Orleans has had to face — far more important than police and the extinguishment of fires — was that of sewerage and drainage. Lying, as the city does, below the level of the river, this was a most difficult matter; and it took nearly two centuries before it was satisfactorily solved. As early as 1723,
Governor Perier had found it necessary to construct a levee in front of
the city to prevent its overflow from the Mississippi. The drainage,
however, was not touched, and remained as bad as ever. Some attempt at
drainage was made by Governor Vaudreuil, without much success. Governor
Carondelet, under the Spanish regime, did better. The completion of the
Carondelet canal to Bayou St. John, drained the greater part of the
city and left it in better condition than it been before.
When, however, the city spread beyond the wall, the newer sections were poorly provided with drainage, and were often subject to overflow from excessive rain-fall The new canal, completed in 1837, gave some relief, and the Melpomene Canal, excavated about the same time, also benefited the upper portion of the city.
This work, however, was only piecemeal. In 1857 a plan for the drainage for the city was submitted by the city surveyor, Louis H. Pilie, and the legislature made a small appropriation for a topographical survey of the city. Laws were passed in 1858, 1859 and 1861 relative to the drainage of the city, but nothing of any moment was accomplished. In 1871-3 Mr. Bell, the city surveyor, prepared a plan for the drainage of New Orleans. A contract was made with the Mexican Ship Island Canal Company for the excavation of certain drainage canals. Considerable work was done, and for the first time the city got something practical and efficient in the way of drainage. The plan, however, was never completed, and the work was dropped again until 1892, when a topographical survey was made of the city, and an advisory drainage board was created for the purpose of suggesting a plan of drainage for the city, based upon the conditions developed by the topographical survey, the rain-fall and similar data.
A plan was prepared in 1895, submitted to the council and approved by it, and the money derived from the sale of street railroad franchises was set aside for the construction of this drainage system. In 1896 the legislature created a drainage board to carry through the plan of improvement, consisting of two members of the Orleans Levee Board and ex-officio, the mayor and the chairmen of the council committees on finance, budget and water and drainage.
Actual work in the excavation of canals and the installation of the pumping machinery was begun in 1898, and the new drainage system was put into practical operation in March, 1900.
The success attained in this drainage work and the discovery that the cost of excavations was much less than it was supposed to be, led the city to undertake the work of sewage. Believing the cost of establishing a sewerage plant to be greater than the finances of the city would allow, the council had, in 1893, given a private company the right to lay sewers and to charge for connection with them. This private corporation, after expending a very large sum of money, failed; whereupon the city undertook the work itself. As it was without avail- able funds for so great an undertaking, it was proposed that a special tax of two and one-half mills, to run for forty-two years, be levied for the purpose of providing the necessary funds for sewerage, drainage and a system of municipal water-works. Under the constitution of Louisiana, the voting of a special tax for public improvements requires a number of formalities and must be submitted to a special election, in which only the tax payers participate. This election was held in 1890, and the proposed tax voted by an overwhelming majority. The tax payers voted at the same time on the question, whether the district commissioners, to whom the work of providing for the sewerage, drainage and water system should be elected by popular vote or appointed by the mayor, and decided by a large majority in favor of the appointive system, as opposed to the elective one. The result of this election was approved by the state legislature, at an extra session, held in 1899, this being necessary to provide for the bonds based on the tax, and from which the funds for sewerage, drainage and water-works are to come. Under these several ordinances, acts and constitutional amendments, a water and sewerage board was created, composed of the seven district commissioners appointed by the mayor and members of the drainage and Levee boards and board of liquidation, having free control over all matters affecting the establishment of a drainage and water system of New Orleans.
— STANDARD HISTORY OF NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT, By Norman Walker
MUNICIPAL AND MILITARY HISTORY
EDITED BY HENRY RIGHTOR
THE LEWIS PUBLISHING COMPANY CHICAGO, 1900
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