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Biden Tours Struggling Carrollton Water Treatment Plant, Talks 'Making Life Livable for Ordinary People'

Bobbi-Jeanne Misick
President Joe Biden tours the Carrollton Water Treatment Plant in New Orleans, alongside Mayor LaToya Cantrell on May 6, 2021.

President Joe Biden toured New Orleans’ Carrollton Water Treatment Plant on Thursday as part of his visit to the city to promote his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, the American Jobs Plan.

He was escorted by Mayor LaToya Cantrell, and joined Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Ghassan Korban and city CEO Ramsey Green at the plant. Korban explained some of the failings of the plant to Biden.

Biden did not give a speech as he did in Lake Charles earlier in the day. Instead he asked questions. He was concerned with how much money it would take for the city’s water system to be updated. At the beginning of the tour, he spoke to Cantrell and Korban about the importance of water systems in relation to his plan.

“People don’t think of infrastructure as the water,” Biden said. “If you don’t have the water 10 years from now that is needed and the purity needed, your whole city is in real trouble and it’s going to affect everything from the health and the viability of the city. So when I talk about the human cost of this, I have trouble convincing some of my friends on the other side of the aisle that infrastructure is all about making life livable for ordinary people.”

Bobbi-Jeanne Misick
President Joe Biden enters the boiler room at the Carrollton Water Treatment Plan in New Orleans on May 6, 2021.

In an email sent by the mayor's press secretary, Cantrell said Biden's visit, "presented a priceless opportunity to speak with him directly about our critical infrastructure needs — specifically power for our pumping system, and a wholesale modernization of our drainage capacity.”

The plant, which purifies the city’s water, is nearly a century old. Roughly 40 percent of the water from the Mississippi River that is filtered and made potable at that plant leaks out through broken pipes before reaching homes.

The plant is also home to the Sewerage & Water Board’s five water turbines, three of which have recently failed and are inoperable. One of the turbines exploded in 2019. Another failed just before Hurricane Zeta last year and one broke down during the storm.

Biden did not visit the stretch of North Claiborne Avenue in the Treme under Interstate 10, despite speculation that he would make a stop there. He previously singled out the highway, that now splits the Treme in two, as racist city planning.

The president’s plan still needs to go to Congress for debate. The White House has said it will put more than $100 billion into updating water infrastructure and doing away with lead service lines.

Bobbi-Jeanne Misick is the justice, race and equity reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between NPR, WWNO in New Orleans, WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama and MPB-Mississippi Public Broadcasting in Jackson. She is also an Ida B. Wells Fellow with Type Investigations at Type Media Center.

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