The Bureau of Governmental Research has published Spanish and Vietnamese translations of its recent report summaries on the Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans in an effort to reach more residents concerned about the utility’s governance issues. This is the first time the organization has translated its work since it was established in 1932.

“Everyone has an interest in clean drinking water, streets that are drivable and drainage that works and things like that,” BGR President and Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Mowbray said. She said the bureau hoped this would allow more people to understand the structural failures of S&WB and the bureau’s recommendations for improvement.

The translated summaries, which were released July 26, highlight the nonprofit research organization’s key findings and recommendations from its May report, “Waterworks in Progress: Reassessing the Sewerage & Water Board’s Governance Problems and Potential Paths to Long-Term Improvement.” The original report and translated summaries are available to view online for free. According to Mowbray, the response has been positive so far. 

“At this point, we felt like we did just the in-brief in the executive summary because a lot of times we find that the full reports are important for practitioners, like the people at the Sewerage & Water Board and people who are actually dealing with it,” she said, explaining that most people often only read the executive summary. 

BGR hired TNOLA Languages to do the translation, then shared it with Vietnamese and native Spanish speakers to review and make suggestions. When asked why they chose these two languages, Mowbray explained they are significant cultural groups in the New Orleans area and were the obvious ones to start with. 

“Certainly, there are probably people who speak plenty of other languages, but we figured that we’d start with Spanish and Vietnamese and see what happened,” she said. According to the 2021 U.S. Census, the New Orleans-Metairie metropolitan area has more than 17,000 Vietnamese residents. The city is also home to around 384,000 citizens of Hispanic descent.

Mowbray said the translated summaries have been well-received and the group will consider making translations of future reports and summaries depending on cost but there are no specific plans for more translations at the moment.

“Everything we do here [at] BGR is about informing citizens so that people can engage with the political process and, you know, help build the city that they want,” she said, adding that she hoped those who agree with the recommendations would consider calling their city council members and state lawmakers to engage with them about the findings in the report. 

BGR found that “[t]he complex governance structure of the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans – basically, the laws and policies that guide decision making for the utility – weakens its finances, its coordination with the City of New Orleans (City) and public accountability for both entities.” In the report, the organization suggested either strengthening the S&WB as a stand-alone utility that operates separately from the City government or replacing it with a municipal utility that functions as part of the City government. 

Stephen Stuart, vice president and research director of the nonprofit, said the research on the utility had been in motion since 2011. He said BGR had analyzed historical trends and made some recommendations, some of which have been implemented by the Sewerage & Water Board. 

The issues were about improving financial sustainability, drainage system performance and the coordination between the board and the city. “But some of the core issues, like the disconnect between the Sewerage & Water Board’s operational responsibility and the City Council’s funding responsibility, those issues were not really resolved.”

Mowbray said that the nonprofit has reached out to Spanish and Vietnamese organizations to help distribute the translated report summaries. Stuart said these organizations include VIET, VAYLA, Telemundo New Orleans, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana and many others.

In an email responding to the BGR, Lang Le said she was appreciative of the initiative to translate the research into Vietnamese and Spanish. Le is serving as the executive director of VIET, an organization that provides services like citizenship applications and help with paperwork to the community in New Orleans East.

Mowbray said the organization is always ready to converse with citizens and help them understand the report.

“Just to understand why things are the way they are, why are, you know, the the roads more broken here and underground water leaks because the system hasn’t been well maintained and properly funded,” Mowbray said. “Just as a citizen, just understanding what works and what doesn’t and why is essential for everyone.”

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Minh (Nate) Ha is a recent magna cum laude graduate from American University with a Bachelor's degree in journalism. Originally from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Ha has spent the past four years in Washington,...