The Miami Herald has the story:
Floods unavoidable, Army engineers say
The Army Corp of Engineers said recent studies on strengthening New Orleans’ levee system, designed decades ago, had not made much progress.
Knight Ridder News Service
The levee system that protected New Orleans from hurricane-spawned surges along Lake Pontchartrain was never designed to survive a storm the size of Hurricane Katrina, the Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday.
The levees were built to withstand only a Category 3 storm, something projections suggested would strike New Orleans only once every two or three centuries, the commander of the corps, Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, told reporters during a conference call. Katrina was a Category 4 storm.
”Unfortunately, that occurred in this case,” Strock said.
Strock said the levee system’s design was settled on a quarter of a century ago, before the current numerical system of classifying storms was in widespread use. He said studies had begun recently on strengthening the system to protect against Category 4 and 5 hurricanes, but hadn’t progressed very far.
Strock said that despite a May report by the Corps’ Louisiana district that a lack of federal funding had slowed construction of hurricane protection, nothing the Corps could have done recently would have prevented Katrina from flooding New Orleans.
”The levee projects that failed were at full project design and were not really going to be improved,” Strock said.
Strock’s comments drew immediate criticism from flood-protection advocates, who said that the Corps’ May report was a call for action and a complaint about insufficient funding, and that no action took place.
”The Corps knew, everybody knew, that the levees had limited capability,” said Joseph Suhayda, a retired director of the Louisiana State University’s Water Resources and Research Institute.
”Because of exercises and simulations, we knew that the consequences of overtopping [water coming over the levees] would be disastrous. People were playing with matches in the fireworks factory and it went off,” he said.
Suhayda, an expert in coastal oceanography, said, “the fact the levee failed is not according to design. If it was overtopped, it’s because it was lower in that spot than other spots. The fact that it was only designed for a Category 3 meant it was going to get overtopped. I knew that. They knew that. There were limits.”
Some critics Thursday questioned the usefulness of levees, saying that all of them fail eventually.
”There are lots of ways for levees to fail. Overtopping is just one of them,” said Michael Lindell, of Texas A&M University’s Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center. ‘There’s a lot of smoke screen about `low probabilities.’ Low probabilities just means ‘Takes a long time.’ ”
Strock said stopping the flow of water over the levees has proved to be ”a very challenging effort.” Engineers have been unable to reach the levees and have had to draw up plans based only on observations from the air. ”We, too, are victims in this situation,” he said.
In Louisiana, Army Corps officials said they hoped that one break, in what’s known as the 17th Street Canal, might be closed by the end of Thursday, but that a second break in the London Avenue canal is proving more intractable.
Short sections of the walls that protected the city from Lake Pontchartrain caved in under storm surges, including an area that recently had been strengthened.
A fact sheet issued by the Corps in May said that seven construction projects in New Orleans had been stalled for lack of funding. It noted that the budget proposed by President Bush for 2005 was $3 million and called that amount insufficient to fund new construction contracts.
”We could spend $20 million if the funds were provided,” the fact sheet said. Two major pump stations needed to be protected against hurricane storm surges, the fact sheet said, but the budgets for 2005 and 2006 “will prevent the corps from addressing these pressing needs.”
Acknowledging delays in construction, Corps officials in Louisiana said that those projects weren’t where the failures occurred. ”They did not contribute to the flooding of the city,” said Al Naomi, a senior project manager.
”The design was not adequate to protect against a storm of this nature,” he said. “We were not authorized to provide protection to Category 4 or 5 design.”
No matter where or how you live you have risks. It could be a natural disaster such as tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes, mudslides, volcanoes, etc. Or it could be man related such as crime, traffic accidents, air pollution, water pollution, etc. New Orleans didn’t just have a risk of some random future event that would affect a small percentage of the people. They were actively fighting the water on a daily basis that threatened catastrophe for the majority of people living there. They had no hope of holding things off for more than a few decades. Read my post from a year ago. They could not sustain the fight for much longer. The Mississippi was/is depositing silt far, far faster than they could deal with it. It was a huge expensive gamble either way. To move the port to the natural location 100+ miles to the west or to stay. Long term they have to move. It might have been 20 or even 50 years before the wisdom of that decision would have been confirmed beyond any doubt. But it would have been confirmed eventually.
I said a year ago they should have quit the “game”. They should have packed up their stuff and left the playing field. They should have dealt with reality on their own rather than having Mother Nature swat them out of the park with a clue-by-category-four.
Update: Michelle Malkin has another story on the levees from 1999 plus a fair amount of history on the topic.