JULY 2004 CIVIL ENGINEERING MAGAZINE|
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
For nearly a century, the Mississippi River Delta has been
shrinking at a catastrophic rate. Civil engineers will play a major role in the multidisciplinary effort needed to reverse
the damage. By Dominic Izzo, P.E.
As part of a diversion project near Venice, Louisiana, involving West Bay, a dredge from the
Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company cuts through the riverbank so that freshwater and sediment can enter the marsh, left.
A disconnected old pier on the eastern side of Whiskey Island, above, stands as a dramatic reminder of the effects
of coastal erosion.
The most extensive land loss so far has occurred in the
Barataria basin and around Terrebonne Bay in an area south of New Orleans and west of the Mississippi. Not surprisingly, the
barrier islands protecting this region have deteriorated alarmingly, Whiskey Island among them. The island’s east flank,
left, was restored a few years ago. The west flank is but a narrow spit of land.
at both the state and federal level, led by the engineering community, are awakening to one of the greatest threats to our
nation's economy and its environment: the Mississippi River Delta, so emblematic of life in coastal Louisiana, is also the
outlet that drains the rivers flowing through America's heartland. As a major commerce center in its own right, the delta
is of fundamental importance to the nation's economy— and it is in serious trouble. The summary report from the Coastal
Louisiana Technical Summit, which was organized by ASCE at the request of the State of Louisiana's America's WETLAND public
information initiative and took place October 16-17 last year in New Orleans, describes the problem in this way:
Coastal Louisiana is one of the world's most significant wetland areas. It has lost over 900,000
acres [365,000 ha] since the 1930s. As recently as the 1970s, the loss rate for Louisiana's coastal wetlands was as high as
25,600 acres [10,400 ha] per year. The current rate of loss is about 16,000 acres [6,500 ha] per year. It is estimated that
coastal Louisiana will experience a[n additional] 320,000 acre [130,000 ha] net loss by the year 2050.
Although the problem has been developing for decades, neither the state nor the federal government has been
able to develop and build projects of the scope that would make a difference. However, with coastal land disappearing at the
rate of 2 acres (0.8 ha) an hour, the scope and urgency of the engineering challenge become clearer every day. A century of
engineering in the Mississippi basin to prevent floods and aid navigation has created the present situation. Only reengineering
the Mississippi can restore a balance that will stop the land loss and enable coastal Louisiana to become stable and self-sustaining.
It has been estimated that human activity, directly or indirectly, has caused approximately 70 percent of
the land losses in the delta. Whether this number is accurate or not, human activity has clearly been a significant factor
in coastal Louisiana land losses, along with subsidence, saltwater intrusion, storm events, barrier island degradation, and
relative sea level changes. These effects were described in detail by the State of Louisiana and certain federal agencies
in preparing a plan called the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Louisiana Comprehensive Coastwide Ecosystem Restoration Study
(for additional details, see http://www.coast2050.gov/lca.htm).
Among their many achievements in the latter part of the 19th century and the 20th century, engineers were
perhaps proudest of the taming of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and the development of the watersheds for purposes of
navigation, flood control, and agriculture. Most engineers are familiar with the dams on the Missouri, the locks and dams
on the upper Mississippi, and the extensive levee systems on the lower Mississippi. The achievement of James Buchanan Eads
in opening the South Pass of the Mississippi River in 1880 to make New Orleans and St. Louis more accessible to trade was
a monumental engineering accomplishment. However, the unintended cumulative effect of more than a century of civil engineering
success has been to reduce the overall sediment load carried by the entire watershed by 67 percent. A well-engineered, hydraulically
efficient flow carries that reduced load far out into the Gulf of Mexico and ensures that very little of it will be deposited
in the marshes along the coast that it had nurtured for centuries.
Land within the delta vanishes in two basic ways. First, wind and water erode it, especially during tropical
storms and hurricanes. Such erosion has been magnified by saltwater intrusion that kills native plants and bares the soil.
Large navigation channels built and enlarged between 1920 and 1970 have provided pathways for this intrusion. Second, the
alluvial soil naturally compacts over time, settling under its own weight; furthermore, the weight of deposited sediment gradually
depresses the earth's crust (a process known as downwarping). These factors, which lower the land surface elevation, are given
added effect by a rising sea level, estimated at 6 in. (150 mm) during the 20th century and projected to rise 1.5 ft (0.5
m) more by 2050.
The downsizing of the delta has enormous ecological ramifications. Coastal Louisiana hosts 11 threatened or
endangered species, including most of the state's bald eagles. It provides winter habitat for 15 million waterbirds, more
than 400,000 geese, and 5 million ducks (one-fifth of the continental population). A 5,000 sq mi (1,300 m2) national
park and 10 national wildlife refuges in the region provide habitats that support a huge variety of fish, amphibians, land
animals, and vegetation. These facilities also offer recreational opportunities for area residents and visitors.
Ecological consequences aside, continued shrinking of the delta will have substantial economic repercussions.
For example, more than 2 million people who live in coastal Louisiana will face increasing exposure to floods and storm damage
to their homes, businesses, and supporting infrastructure. Insurance will become increasingly expensive. Each year, Louisiana's
coastal region yields fish and shellfish harvests worth $300 million. The value of cattle production exceeds $25 million and
that of alligator hides and meat reaches $16 million. With thousands of miles of navigable waterways, the state leads the
nation in waterborne cargo, handling some 500 million tons (453.6 million Mg) a year. Oil and gas production facilities and
pipelines in Louisiana supply about one-fourth of the country's needs, and the U.S. strategic petroleum reserves are stored
in this area. Unchecked land loss would not only threaten Louisiana's economy but also have an effect on the entire nation's
economic stability and security.
The report prepared by participants at the Coastal Louisiana Technical Summit concluded that "the challenges
faced in dealing with coastal restoration will require the talents of economists, political scientists, geographers, biologists,
ecologists, and a number of other disciplines. . . . Engineers and scientists need to be equal team partners in the development
of the program." The report emphasizes the need for engineers to cooperate with natural and social scientists so that practitioners
in a variety of disciplines will be able to understand one another's goals and procedures.
Engineers must integrate the life sciences into their project planning to create a working ecosystem as they
modify the river's hydraulics and many of the structural features that protect it. The mission is to preserve the economic
and environmental engine that is the Mississippi basin, but returning the basin to wilderness is not an option. Instead, the
infrastructure must be reengineered to maintain navigation and ensure flood control while restoring the ecosystem of the river
and its delta. Engineers must be convinced that they can do this, and they must convince both the scientific community and
the economic community that they can do it without creating new problems.
From an engineering perspective, at least four main strategies must be employed to reverse the land loss and
restore the Mississippi River Delta: increase the sediment load; divert freshwater into the delta to reduce salinity; transport
sediment for long distances; and restore barrier islands. Each strategy represents an opportunity for civil engineers—
in collaboration with other engineers and scientists—to develop innovative solutions.
The amount of sediment replenishing the delta has been insufficient for about 70 years. During the administrations
of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, the federal government proposed several massive dam construction projects intended
to create jobs and promote economic development in the Midwest. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which originally opposed
the projects, eventually built four large dams on the Missouri River, a series of locks and dams on the upper Mississippi,
and various structures on other tributaries. These structures enable the Corps to control the rivers for navigation and flood
prevention. However, they also provide a significant barrier to sediment transport throughout the basin and act to reduce
the amount of sediment delivered to the coast. This can be significant because the most important processes acting on the
Mississippi's delta are those controlling the deposition of sediment. In addition to upsetting the natural balance of sediment
in the delta and along the coast, the buildup of sediment behind the dams may pose a significant long-term problem. Engineers
will need to devise ways to move the sediment past the dams and determine whether it can be efficiently conveyed to the gulf
in such a way as to mimic historical deposition processes.
To save the coastal marshland, engineers need to provide not only more sediment but also freshwater to battle
saltwater intrusion from the gulf. Providing the freshwater is a classic hydraulics problem. Gates must be built into the
levee system so that freshwater can be diverted into the marshes, thereby mimicking the periodic flooding that occurred before
the development of flood control systems. The gates would also make it possible to restore freshwater flows to bayous that
have been cut off from the main river. The goal is to control water diversions from the river to provide the amount of freshwater
that biologists and wetlands ecologists deem adequate to sustain a healthy marsh without permitting excessive flood damage
to established infrastructure. The Corps of Engineers has constructed diversions at Davis Pond, Caernarvon, and West Bay with
When the Davis Pond facility was completed in 2002 at a cost of $119.6 million, it ranked as the world's largest
freshwater diversion project. By releasing up to 10,650 cfs (300 m3/s) of freshwater, it is designed to simulate the floods
that used to occur there in the spring and to convey sediment and nutrients from the Mississippi River into a 9,300 acre (3,800
ha) ponding area in the Barataria Bay basin. Water release is controlled in response to basin salinity levels and fish and
wildlife resources. The diversion structure consists of a 535 ft (163 m) long, 85 ft (26 m) wide inflow channel; four 14 ft
(4.3 m) square iron-gated culverts extending through the river levee; and an 11,000 ft (3,350 m) long, 120 ft (37 m) wide
outflow channel. The Corps estimates that, over the next 50 years, Davis Pond will preserve about 33,000 acres (13,000 ha)
of wetlands and benefit 777,000 acres (315,000 ha) of marshes and bays. The estuary served by the project provides nesting
areas for migratory waterfowl and hosts economically important oyster beds, shrimp and fish nurseries, and habitats for fur-bearing
animals. The Davis Pond project is expected to generate annual benefits totaling $15 million.
One of the objectives of the restoration of Whiskey Island is to expand and restore the marsh behind the barrier
island to create a self-sustaining ecosystem. The small area of vegetation will be expanded through the efforts of coastal
engineers and wetlands ecologists. The goal is to construct a barrier marsh behind Whiskey Island in areas restored by previous
projects carried out under the auspices of the 1990 Coastal Wetland Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act.
Restoring a portion of freshwater flows to the marshes will also remove some of the nutrients the water carries
from the main stream of the Mississippi. This will have the fringe benefit of lowering the nutrient flow, mainly caused by
agricultural fertilizer runoff, that enters the Gulf of Mexico. Ultimately, this could significantly reduce hypoxia in the
As engineers seek to create larger diversions, however, they will confront several challenging questions.
Is gravity flow in the river's natural channels sufficient, or will a system of pumps and channels be required? Can hydraulic
engineers model sheet flow over miles of marsh and predict its effect on salinity and infrastructure? What is the best method
of dealing with property that will be reintroduced into the floodplain by these diversions? As engineers discover answers
to questions of this type, they must be willing to adapt their strategies to reflect the new knowledge.
The Mississippi River watershed generates roughly 225 million tons (200 million Mg) of sediment every year,
according to the Environmental Literacy Council. At present most of the silt moves into the gulf or is dredged and carried
out to the gulf. Moving even a small fraction of this mass of sediment to where it is needed in the marshes and along the
coast would constitute a formidable logistical and engineering problem. Ideally, some of the sediment could be removed from
the river as part of the freshwater diversions. The use of sediment traps and pumps could augment the capacity of "muddy"
Beneficial use of dredged material, a process promoted by the Corps, offers another opportunity to augment
sediment deposition. Most material from the annual dredging of the lower Mississippi is traditionally dumped offshore in the
gulf as the "least cost" method of disposal. With long-distance pipelines, a significant amount of material could be placed
directly into wetland areas and along portions of the coasts, and from there it could then disperse naturally. This would
require extensive pumping of fluidized sediment, which in turn would necessitate the construction of lengthy pipeline systems.
Because any added expense to the federal dredging program is a major budgetary issue, innovative and efficient engineering
would be necessary to make this work.
The Barataria Bay Waterway, which connects Bayou Barataria with Barataria Bay, illustrates how dredged material
can benefit coastal Louisiana. This project, which was funded under section 204 of the Water Resources Development Act of
1992, uses the sediment obtained in the dredging that forms part of channel maintenance to create marshlands in shallow areas
adjacent to the channel. Eighteen marsh areas, ranging in size from 15 to 133 acres (6 to 54 ha), have been created. The 20-year
life of this project is expected to create more than 445 acres (180 ha) of saline marshland. Corps of Engineers and Louisiana
Department of Natural Resources environmental funds provided the $809,000 that was necessary to place the material for wetlands
restoration, land creation, and shore protection.
Previous attempts to restore the barrier islands have used sediment dredged from nearby channels. This, unfortunately,
does not address the problem of a net loss of material in the littoral system (near-shore areas, primarily between low- and
high-tide levels). Therefore, future restoration projects will mine material from offshore sources—outside the littoral
zone—and place it on the barrier islands in a hydraulically and environmentally efficient way. This presents an exciting
challenge along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Engineers will have to not only consider endangered species and other environmental
issues but also accommodate the extensive oil and gas infrastructure and allow for the possibility of major tropical storms.
Of more importance, the extremely shallow waters place a premium on the right types of equipment. The plan for restoring the
barrier islands— incorporating the dredging, transport, and delivery of sediment for placement—will require that
several factors be considered, among them production rates, transport distance, water depth, environmental considerations,
equipment availability, and cost.
Thus far the most extensive land loss has occurred in the Barataria basin and around Terrebonne Bay in an
area south of New Orleans and west of the Mississippi. Not surprisingly, the barrier islands protecting this region have deteriorated
to an alarming extent and are in need of restoration. The Isles Dernieres barrier island chain, which protects Terrebonne
Bay, is one of the most rapidly deteriorating barrier shorelines in the United States and for the most part is unable to perform
its shore protection function. Chain breakup has resulted both from major storm actions and from the loss of nourishing sediment
from the natural system. Whiskey Island, a representative part of the Isles Dernieres chain, lost an average of 31.1 acres
(12.6 ha) per year from 1978 to 1988.
One source of new sediment for restoring the Isles Dernieres chain is Ship Shoal. In April 2004 the Minerals
Management Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior issued an environmental assessment dealing with the issuance of
noncompetitive leases for using outer continental shelf sand resources from Ship Shoal to replenish the coast and barrier
islands. This assessment considered the effects on sensitive coastal and near-shore resources of the mining of approximately
14 million cu yd (11 million m3) of outer continental shelf sand. The processes evaluated would use either a trailing suction
hopper dredge or a cutterhead suction dredge to place the sand either on barrier islands for restoration or into temporary
storage for later use as a construction material.
Ship Shoal is a submerged remnant of an ancient barrier island arc that lies about 10 mi (16 km) south of
the Isles Dernieres chain. The shoal is about 31 mi (50 km) long and 3 mi (5 km) wide, with a relief up to 12 ft (3.6 m).
The water between Ship Shoal and the barrier islands is no deeper than about 32 ft (9.7 m), and for most of the way its depth
is less than 20 ft (6 m). This would hamper the use of large hopper dredges and large transport barges. Coastal engineers
will have to decide between long-distance pumping in a 10 mi (16 km) pipeline with booster stations and some combination of
hoppers, barges, and shorter pipelines.
Momentum has been building over the past 20 years to take steps to save coastal Louisiana. Several programs
have been created to begin restoration. The 1990 Coastal Wetland Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) authorized
and funded a multiagency task force to initiate steps designed to curtail wetland losses. The task force consists of one member
from the State of Louisiana and one member from each of five federal agencies: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural
Resources Conservation Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers. The Louisiana Governor's Office represents the state on the task force. The CWPPRA provides approximately
$50 million annually for wetland enhancement projects in Louisiana, including barrier island restoration projects that protect
marshes. Each year, a CWPPRA task force develops a list of high-priority projects that focus on marsh creation, restoration,
protection, or enhancement.
In 1998 the State of Louisiana and the federal agencies involved in the reclamation and preservation of Louisiana's
coastal wetlands developed a new coastal restoration plan, Coast 2050: Toward a Sustainable Coastal Louisiana. The goal of
the plan is to restore or mimic the natural processes that formed and sustained the Mississippi River Delta. This will require
basinwide action to reestablish or simulate the natural hydrology and sediment introduction processes. Coast 2050 named some
500 potential projects and estimated the total cost at $14 billion.
In February 2002 an interagency task force was set up in the New Orleans offices of the Corps of Engineers.
One of its primary purposes was to produce a comprehensive plan—the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Louisiana Comprehensive
Coastwide Ecosystem Restoration Study—that could be presented to Congress. The intent was to apply the same model that
had been used to develop the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program (CERP). CERP, the largest environmental restoration
program ever planned, had a price tag of $8 billion and comprised a number of projects designed to "fix the plumbing" in south
Florida and restore freshwater flows to the Everglades. For those concerned with the Louisiana coast, it seemed conceptually,
philosophically, and politically an excellent model to follow.
The budget for fiscal year 2005 proposed by President Bush in February recognized the gravity and exigency
of the situation in coastal Louisiana. Although the budget proposal did not expressly endorse a comprehensive restoration
program conforming to the Everglades model, it did call for action and recognized that past development efforts have contributed
to the loss of land, wetlands in particular. The following items are excerpted from the section of the budget proposal pertaining
to the Corps of Engineers:
In 2004, the Corps will work to issue a draft report that identifies the most critical ecological needs and
proposes a near-term program of highly cost-effective projects to address them. The report will also highlight the key long-term
scientific uncertainties and engineering challenges facing the effort to protect and restore the ecosystem, and propose demonstration
projects and studies to help answer these questions. The report will focus on the specific coastal areas that require the
most immediate attention and on the best way to sequence the proposed work over the next 10 or so years, as we learn what
In 2004, the Corps will begin developing studies of potentially promising, long-term ecosystem restoration
concepts, with the objective of determining whether they would provide a cost-effective way to create coastal wetlands.
- An existing Federal-State Task Force established under 1990 legislation will increase its efforts to build
and evaluate highly cost-effective freshwater and sediment diversion projects.
The budget message summarized the benefits of the approach this way: "This coordinated approach to restoration
combines a commitment to address the highest priority needs with a search for innovative solutions [emphasis added]. It also
ensures that the coastal Louisiana restoration effort will, in the long-term, be able to adapt and evolve as needed, based
on the best available science."
As program development goes, the engineering community is poised for a major new effort in the Mississippi
River basin. The problem is well defined: it is to reengineer the Mississippi. The conceptual solutions are clear, but the
number of possible combinations of individual projects is daunting. The country needs a program of cost-effective projects
to address the most pressing ecological dangers. In short, over the next decade engineers will be called upon to optimize
and develop projects that can deliver environmental and economic benefits to coastal Louisiana. Civil engineers must enter
the policy discussion and be willing to rub shoulders with biologists, economists, and politicians to ensure that the solutions
developed are practical and effective.
One of the most important conclusions of the summary report emerging from the Coastal Louisiana Technical
Summit is the following:
While there are still scientific unknowns concerning the ecosystem of the Louisiana coast and the Mississippi
River, considerable data and information have been gathered over the last two centuries and are available for use. Complete
knowledge of the river and the coast will never be achieved. The amount of data and information that has been gathered is
sufficient to proceed. Lack of information or data should not be used as a reason to delay work.
This is a clarion call for the 21st century. American civil engineers know enough to get to work on reengineering
the Mississippi River. It is time to start updating the tremendous work begun over a hundred years ago.
Dominic Izzo, P.E., a vice president of DMJM+Harris in Houston, was the principal deputy assistant secretary
of the army for civil works from 2001 to 2002. He was an adviser to ASCE 's Task Committee on America's wetland, which recently
issued the report Restoring Coastal Louisiana: Enhancing the Role of Engineering and Science in the Restoration Program.
ASCE Policy Statement 498: Louisiana Coastal Wetlands
On May 3, 2003, ASCE's Board of Direction adopted a policy statement declaring its support for the “
efforts to reduce coastal land loss in the Louisiana coastal area, an area that has been named America's Wetland because of
its national importance.” The statement urged continued support of the existing program for Louisiana's coastal wetlands
funded by the 1990 Coastal Wetland Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act. It also endorsed “ the ongoing effort
to implement the comprehensive Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Program, which will further reduce land loss and provide additional
preservation and restoration.” In support of this policy, the statement noted the following:
An area of land bordered on the east by the State of Mississippi, on the west by Texas, and on the south by
the Gulf of Mexico has been disappearing at an alarming rate of 25 to 35 sq mi [65 to 90 km2] each year. In the
past 50 years, more than 1,500 sq mi [3,900 km2] have been lost. By the year 2050, another 1,000 sq mi [2,500 km2]
of coastal area will be lost if nothing is done to save it. The rate of this land loss is thought to be the highest in the
The coastal area currently provides a buffer from hurricane storm effects to approximately 2 million residents
who live within the 19 coastal parishes (counties). The loss of coastal area means that this population, which includes the
City of New Orleans, will experience the full force of the hurricanes, including storm surges that top levee systems and cause
severe flooding as well as high winds.
The current federal investment in preserving Louisiana coastal wetlands, through [CWPPRA], is $50 million
annually. The estimated cost of the comprehensive Louisiana Coastal Area Program for America's Wetland is approximately $470
million annually for 30 years, or $14 billion. The cost of inaction in America's Wetland has been estimated to be more than
$100 billion in infrastructure alone over the course of those 30 years.
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to Flaws in Flood Walls' Design as Probable Cause of Collapse
By CHRISTOPHER DREW and JOHN SCHWARTZ
Published: October 24, 2005
Oct. 23 - When the Army Corps of Engineers started to design a flood wall on the 17th Street Canal here in the early 1980's,
deep probes found what geologists viewed as a potentially weak layer of peat soil about 15 feet below sea level in the area
where the wall collapsed during Hurricane Katrina.
Yet in building the wall, corps officials acknowledge, they did not drive
the steel pilings - the main anchors for the structure - any deeper than 17 feet.
Several outside engineers
who have examined the designs say the decision not to hammer the pilings deeper and into firmer ground left the support for
the flood wall dangerously dependent on soil that could easily have given way under the immense pressure from floodwaters.
And members of a team
of experts from the National Science Foundation say it now seems that this simple failure probably led to the collapse of
the walls on both the 17th Street and London Avenue canals, which flooded many residential neighborhoods and surrounded the
Superdome with several feet of water.
Corps officials say
it is possible their engineers made a mistake, and in rebuilding the broken sections they are planning to hammer the new pilings
three to four times as deep. They also say their original design team may have seen other data suggesting that the soil was
stronger, or taken measures to compensate for any weakness in it.
say they have just started going through 235 boxes of the agency's records that could shed more light on why the engineers
believed the design was safe. And some outside investigators caution that they would like to examine more of the records before
deciding what caused the break.
Herbert J. Roussel
Jr., a consulting engineer who worked for the contractor that built the flood walls to the corps's design, said the peat layer
seemed to extend 15 feet to 20 feet below sea level where the breach occurred on the 17th Street Canal. He said that if the
original pilings "had gone through the peat layer, I don't think we would have had a problem."
He added that driving
the pilings just 10 feet deeper might have prevented the collapse.
Robert G. Bea, an
engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has examined the soil data for the National Science Foundation,
said the decision not to drive the piling deeper was "a design flaw."
Dr. Bea said he and
others in his group believed it was the most likely reason that the floodwaters broke through, shoving parts of the walls
and the earthen levees beneath them as far as 35 feet into nearby neighborhoods.
He also said that
even if the strength of the soil initially met the corps's standards, the designers might have underestimated how it would
deteriorate to what he called "thick pancake batter" once it got pummeled by the water surging into the canals from Lake Pontchartrain.
Walter Baumy, the
chief engineer for the corps's New Orleans district, said, however, that the problem was "a little more complicated than just
saying that there's a five-foot-deep layer of peat in there."
"What's probably more
important is, How did we account for it in the design?" Mr. Baumy said. "Or did we properly address it?"
He added, "We need
to step back and review our design and see if it was done properly at that time."
Peter Nicholson, an
engineering professor at the University of Hawaii who heads a review team from the American Society of Civil Engineers, also
said it was too early to "say conclusively that the weak soil caused the failure."
Dr. Nicholson said
the significance of the depth of the pilings also remained "a question that needs to be answered."
Still, some of the
engineers say the new information about the peat soil could also be significant in terms of what the corps will have to do,
and how much money it will need to spend, to ensure that the 17th Street and London Avenue flood walls hold up in future storms.
Mr. Roussel said tests
of the soil conducted before the walls were built showed that the layer of peat soil stretched under large expanses of the
wall on the 17th Street Canal. He said this could mean that instead of just replacing the 400-foot section that broke, the
corps might have to tear up much of the three-mile wall and the earthen levee beneath it.
Corps officials have said that if that is the case, they will not be able
to complete the repairs before the start of hurricane season next summer. That could also complicate efforts to repopulate
the city, making many residents more reluctant to repair or rebuild their houses.
The breaches along the 17th Street and London Avenue canals were part of a broad failure of the hurricane protection
system that let floodwaters into 80 percent of the city. Corps officials say huge waves surged over the tops of the levees
in the Lower Ninth Ward in eastern New Orleans and scoured out the soil on the other side, causing the levees to collapse.
But the corps now
agrees that the floodwaters never rose above the top of the walls along the 17th Street and London Avenue canals, which suggests
that they failed because of flawed design or construction, not just because of the overwhelming force of nature. In addition
to the breach on the 17th Street Canal, two sections of the flood wall on the London Avenue Canal gave way.
Much of the public
debate since Hurricane Katrina, a Category 4 storm, has centered on whether Congress should have approved billions of dollars
to upgrade the city's protection from Category 3 to the highest level, Category 5. But the new data about the soil and the
pilings also suggests that the corps might have been able to prevent much of the flooding at a much smaller cost.
pilings "wouldn't have cost a lot of money," Mr. Roussel said.
Mr. Roussel, who is
based in Metairie, La., represented the Pittman Construction Company, the contractor that built the concrete flood wall on
the 17th Street Canal, in a contract dispute with the corps in the 1990's. The dispute focused on whether weak soils had made
it hard to pour the concrete on 12 of the 257 sections of the wall; the corps ended up slightly easing its requirements to
allow for the difficulty.
Mr. Roussel said in
an interview that he was basing his broader comments on the vulnerability of the walls during the hurricane on the description
of the peat layer in a 1981 soil analysis that another firm had prepared for the corps. The existence of that document was
first reported by The Times-Picayune of New Orleans.
The teams from the
National Science Foundation and the American Society of Civil Engineers visited the breach sites recently, and they plan to
release a preliminary report in early November. Dr. Bea said he would push to include the concerns about the peat layer and
the depth of the pilings in the report.
But Dr. Nicholson
said he would resist that unless enough evidence emerged to create a clear consensus.
Joseph Wartman, an
assistant professor at Drexel University who is on the engineering society's review team, said he would also like to see more
of the corps documents.
But Dr. Wartman said
his initial reaction was that the length of the pilings seemed "to be on the short side." He also said it was "almost getting
to the point that it's academic" whether the fault lay with the peat - a black spongy soil left from old swamps - or soft
clay. He said the walls clearly "moved over a layer of soft material."
It is not clear how
much of the initial design work was done by corps staff engineers and how much by consulting engineers working for the corps.
But Dr. Nicholson and Dr. Wartman said the New Orleans levee designers might have assumed that the soil would have become
firmer over time as it was compressed by the weight of the levees above it.
Dr. Nicholson said
corps officials also performed strength tests and stability analyses on the soil beneath the flood walls and came up with
safety factors that were within their guidelines. But, he said, it is still unclear if the safety margin was adequate, or
whether their calculations considered how the levees would handle the flooding in an intense storm like Hurricane Katrina.
Katrina fuels calls for levee board mergers
Agencies waste money and are awash in patronage,
Sunday, February 05, 2006
By Jeffrey Meitrodtand Robert Travis Scott%%par%%Staff Writers
It was a typical morning for Lt. Vincent Yetta, a 25-year veteran of the
East Jefferson Levee District Police Department.
While patrolling the 30 miles of levees that ring the low-lying suburb,
Yetta found two cars illegally parked near a bike path, scolded a resident for failing to keep his dogs on a leash and responded
to a minor burglary at a warehouse on the batture near the Mississippi River.
Though Yetta believed the burglary was an inside job by someone who had
robbed the business twice in the past month, he decided not to pursue the case himself. Instead, he turned it over to the
Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, which has both crime scene technicians and a burglary unit.
"It's not like we work huge cases," said Yetta, who has never fired his
gun in the line of duty.
While the Police Department accounts for a third of the levee district's
$5.1 million budget, Yetta struggled to come up with a list of his most significant accomplishments or describe his biggest
"We're more public relations," he said.
To critics of local levee boards who have long complained that these flood-control
agencies fritter away their resources on puffery and patronage, such candor couldn't come at a better time.
This week, lawmakers will gather for a special session at which the hottest
topic is expected to be a proposal to consolidate four local levee boards into a single agency that would represent eight
southeast Louisiana parishes: Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard, and lakeside portions of St. Tammany, St. Charles, St. John
the Baptist, Livingston and Tangipahoa.
It's not a new idea. State and local officials have been talking about
various takeover proposals for more than 20 years. In the past, such moves were usually prompted by disgust over the way the
boards have awarded contracts or managed their money. Too often, critics said, levee boards have focused their efforts on
everything but levees.
But the most recent push for consolidation was inspired by the post-Katrina
failure of levees and floodwalls that allowed water to engulf 80 percent of New Orleans, most of St. Bernard Parish and parts
of East Jefferson.
Though a similar proposal died in November, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Walter
Boasso, R-Arabi, has significantly reworked the concept and gained an important ally in Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who was noncommittal
on the measure last year.
Aware that Congress and other national opinion makers are watching the
issue closely, Blanco has made it clear that the levee board bill is the most important of the 41 topics to be addressed during
the 12-day session. The previous failure to pass a levee board overhaul led to a public outcry and national media reports
drawing attention to Louisiana's penchant for patronage and parochialism.
"Our citizens are looking for the confidence that comes from a strong and
safe levee system. I stand with them," Blanco said while announcing the proposal last week. "Senator Boasso and I have joined
together to put forth a strong piece of legislation that will give our citizens that type of confidence."
Decades of trying
The move to consolidate the boards has drawn the support of government
watchdogs, including the Council for a Better Louisiana and the Public Affairs Research Council.
"Going back decades, reformers have tried to rein in the state's levee
boards, particularly the Orleans Levee Board, with little success," PAR President Jim Brandt said. "It is an anachronistic,
dysfunctional system that reeks of the old-style Louisiana politics. The priorities have been on backroom deals and appointments
more than on flood control, and the system has been immune to attempts at reform."
Indeed, the record is filled with examples of cronyism and questionable
spending at each of the levee districts in the New Orleans area. Top administrators have resigned or been fired after being
accused of misconduct. Pumping stations have failed or been overwhelmed, causing flooding. And, in New Orleans, levee inspections
have been so lackadaisical that they didn't even come close to meeting federal regulations, according to engineers around
One of the agencies' longtime critics has been FEMA, which sued three local
levee boards in 1981 and 1983, seeking to recoup a total of $126 million in flood damages paid to homeowners in Jefferson
and St. Bernard parishes. In the suits, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said parish and levee board officials were
to blame for three floods that swamped the area because the agencies did not do enough to protect homeowners in flood-prone
The two boards in Jefferson Parish settled the suit in 1986 after FEMA
agreed that its demand for drainage improvements was met by $80 million in work financed by a local bond issue.
The St. Bernard case took longer to resolve. To satisfy FEMA, the parish
agreed to build two new pumping stations and start requiring homebuilders to meet the government's elevation requirements
for new construction.
Though the $12 million pump project was finished in 1994, FEMA didn't relax
its oversight of new home construction until last year. Until then, the Lake Borgne Basin Levee District had to approve the
drainage plans of all new subdivisions.
"We had some pretty bad flooding problems here and it took some prodding
from the federal government to get that work done," said Bob Turner, executive director of the Lake Borgne district. "But
we stepped up to the plate and fulfilled our obligations. And they've worked. We have a much better drainage system than we
Despite the millions of dollars that have been poured into new drainage
projects, flood-control problems haven't gone away. In 1998, for instance, St. Bernard Parish Councilman Curtis Pitre blasted
the Lake Borgne levee district for the damage done to about 20 homes when two pumps malfunctioned.
It was the second time the pumps failed in less than six months. On both
occasions, Pitre personally drove to the pumping station to lend a hand, showing up at 2:30 a.m. during one storm to help
start a pump after a levee district worker gave up and left the building.
At the next levee board meeting, Pitre demanded the resignation of the
district's top administrator, saying he should have come up with an emergency plan to deal with such problems after the previous
pump failure. The board rejected his request, but acknowledged they weren't satisfied with how the crisis was handled.
A similar finger-pointing exercise followed in the wake of Katrina, when
Jefferson Parish officials accused each other of fumbling their responsibilities in the wake of the catastrophic storm.
Patrick Bosetta, president of the East Jefferson Levee District, claimed
thousands of homes in Kenner and Metairie wouldn't have flooded if Parish President Aaron Broussard had kept the pumping stations
staffed during the hurricane. Instead, Broussard ordered workers to evacuate, saying he feared for their safety.
Broussard said Bosetta is the one who made things worse by failing to immediately
inform the parish's emergency operations center of a breach on the New Orleans side of the 17th Street Canal in the hours
after Katrina passed.
Bosetta also was criticized by Parish Councilman Chris Roberts, who said
Bosetta "walked away" from his responsibilities when he refused requests by state and federal engineers to have his agency
help with the emergency reconstruction of the 17th Street Canal.
In fact, the governor's office, which removed Bosetta from the board in
December for poor performance during the hurricane, released letters from levee district employees who said Bosetta threatened
to fire them for helping New Orleans levee workers at the height of the flooding.
In the aftermath of Katrina, the two parishes also squabbled over a move
by Jefferson Parish officials to take steps to protect East Jefferson homeowners by closing a canal gate owned by the New
Orleans Sewerage & Water Board. Though New Orleans officials rejected the request, fearing it could worsen flooding in
the city, Jefferson Parish workers closed the gate anyway.
A regional approach
To supporters of levee board consolidation, such divisiveness is one of
the best arguments in favor of a single flood-control agency in the metro area.
"The person who runs this authority is going to have to work with every
local authority," Boasso said. "You're going to have people being held accountable. Maybe now, with the proper people in charge,
we could see some better things happen."
To improve storm response and planning, the new authority would create
a regional flood control plan, integrate a staff of professionals across the region and provide a single point of contact
for the many drainage service contracts and other agreements now handled by each levee district.
Boasso foresees an authority with latitude to rearrange personnel and draw
from the best expertise already in the ranks of the levee districts. A drainage control expert in St. Bernard, for example,
would be able to share his talent with the region.
Working as a team with no institutional barriers, the new staff would perform
more efficiently than the current system, Boasso said.
The new authority could also think bigger, he said. With existing boards
devoted to specific chunks of the metro area, it is hard to create hurricane protection projects that affect multiple parishes,
But the new authority could decide to support a "Great Wall" and floodgate
protecting the east side of Lake Pontchartrain from storm surge, an ambitious engineering feat inspired by a similar project
in Holland. Such a project at the Rigolets could reduce flooding in several parishes going as far west as Livingston.
A project of that size would require new local taxes, but only from residents
who would actually benefit from the structure, Boasso said. Supporters say federal financing would also be easier to obtain
because the region would be speaking with one voice.
The legislation also seeks to rid the boards of patronage by requiring
more objective appointment of board members, forbidding them and their families from business deals with the authority and
placing strenuous limits on their lobbying and political campaign activities.
Nominations for the 11 board appointments by the governor would be made
by a panel comprised of representatives from several engineering associations and public interest groups, not state lawmakers.
At least five members would have to be engineers, hydrologists or other
professionals who deal with water control. Three others must be professionals in other fields, such as law or accounting.
The remaining three could have any background. Under the bill, each parish would have one representative, and up to three
of the board members could be from out of state.
Engineers are a rarity on the existing levee boards. The Orleans and East
and West Jefferson levee districts have no engineers on their boards, and the Lake Borgne board has one.
Many current and former board members don't see the need for such expertise.
"We don't need more engineers. We've got engineers coming out of our ears
now," Bosetta said. "We've got the Corps of Engineers' engineers, we've got (state Department of Transportation and Development)
engineers. What you need are good administrators."
The new authority would hire a regional director, who must hold a bachelor's
degree in business, engineering, geology, hydrology, environmental science or any similar academic field and must have at
least 10 years experience in relevant work. Among the executive directors now in place at the four levee districts in the
region, only two would qualify under that standard. That director would oversee a team of executive directors operating in
As it stands, the districts are widely viewed as a playground for state
lawmakers, who nominate board members and seem to have undue influence over who benefits from the board's largesse, according
Among the notable relatives, the vice president of the Lake Borgne district
is Randy Odinet, the nephew of Rep. Ken Odinet, D-Arabi, an ardent critic of Boasso's bill. Randy Odinet has a background
in auto repair. Alan Alario, the cousin of Rep. John Alario, D-Westwego, is a shipping businessman on the East Jefferson district
Peggy Wilson, a former city councilwoman in New Orleans, said she found
out just how much power state Sen. Francis Heitmeier, D-Algiers, has over the board when she began asking questions about
legal work and other contracts during her brief tenure on the board in 2001-2002.
Wilson, a longtime critic of the board, was appointed by former Gov. Mike
Foster, who tried to revamp the agency by appointing a nun, a former Marine Corps general and others who had what he called
But eight months after she started poking into the agency's business, Foster
removed Wilson, who suspected that many of the contracts were going to Heitmeier's supporters.
"This is what Foster told me," Wilson said. "He said, 'I need the five
votes that Heitmeier controls. I don't want to get rid of you, but I am getting a lot of complaints from the Heitmeier crowd
and I need his five votes to get my agenda passed.' He was very polite when he said it."
Foster said he removed Wilson because all of the other board members threatened
to resign if she remained.
Heitmeier said he had nothing to do with Wilson's departure. And though
he personally nominated the last two board presidents, Heitmeier said he hasn't used his influence to win contracts for anybody,
including his brother, whose company earned millions of dollars by providing services to riverboat casinos that docked at
the levee board's marina.
"There are people who don't like me who say I am out at the levee board
running things," Heitmeier said. "I do not."
Wilson isn't the only public official who has questioned the way levee
boards spend money and manage their finances. Since former Gov. Buddy Roemer appointed the first inspector general in 1988,
the office has issued 13 reports alleging various misdeeds by officials at three local levee boards.
The inspector general's favorite target has been the Orleans Levee Board,
which has been the subject of six scathing reports. In 1989, a board member resigned shortly before a report came out showing
her company had won an $18,632 contract through an "unusually restrictive" bid process that eliminated all four of her competitors
for the job. She accused the inspector general of "participating in a witch hunt."
In 1997, the inspector general slammed the board for not seeking competitive
bidders on one of the biggest deals in levee board history, a 50-year contract with LeveeComm of Louisiana to top the city's
levees with a fiber-optic network. Ignoring requests from city officials, who accused the board of usurping its authority,
the Levee Board rushed to sign an exclusive contract with a company whose owners included several friends and advisers to
then-Gov. Edwin Edwards.
To oversee the work, the board created another public agency and drafted
bylaws that would have allowed board members to conduct secret meetings in foreign countries. What's more, levee board members
-- who received 10-year appointments to the new agency -- were given sole authority to fill future vacancies on the board.
The attorney general subsequently ruled that the bylaws were illegal, and
the inspector general said the board's actions demonstrated "a long-standing and continuing disregard of the public interest."
Orleans Levee Board President Mike McCrossen, who took the helm last year
when his predecessor was removed for illegally paying himself nearly $100,000 in back salary, acknowledged the board has a
"There is no way that myself or any commissioner on the current board could
attempt to justify what happened in the past," McCrossen said.
In December, the Orleans board unanimously endorsed a resolution urging
the Legislature to create a regional levee district for the greater New Orleans area.
David Voelker, a financial investor recently named to the board by Blanco,
said the district is burdened with a bloated bureaucracy that took years to build.
"This is our only chance to get rid of this patronage machine," Voelker
The West Jefferson Levee Board also has been a frequent target of the inspector
general's office. Among the findings: a former board president treated himself to thousands of dollars of meals at public
expense, even though he was not entitled to reimbursement; an outside lawyer gave out 35mm cameras to all nine members of
the Levee Board in an apparent violation of the state ethics law; and a former board member violated state regulations by
using one of the district's vehicles for personal use.
The most recent report came in 2002, when the inspector general accused
former member Ronnie Jones of using his position to steer engineering work to a company he was trying to create. In his defense,
Jones said he was helping the company because all of the district's other engineering contracts were going to another politically
connected firm. Jones was taken off the board five months later by Foster.
Board President Chip Cahill said the district has learned from its mistakes.
"The things that happened, most of them were minor in detail and we made
sure it wouldn't happen again," he said. "We've always cooperated with the inspector general and used these reports to make
our board better and stronger in the future."
Cahill's board and West Bank legislators are fighting the consolidation
movement, saying they fear the area's needs would be lost amid the monumental problems facing Orleans and St. Bernard. They
point out that such neglect is what prompted the West Bank to pull out of the Lafourche Basin Levee District in 1980.
"We didn't get a single project until we got our own district," Cahill
As Cahill sees it, the West Jefferson district is the best-run operation
in the metro area. With an annual budget of $2.9 million and 30 employees, it is certainly the leanest, even though the district
is responsible for twice as many miles of levees as the East Jefferson district.
Separate police needed?
The big difference, Cahill pointed out, is that the West Jefferson district
doesn't have its own police department. The East Jefferson District, with 56 employees and a $5.1 million budget, has 23 officers
and expects to spend $1.7 million on its police department in the current fiscal year.
The notion that levee districts need their own police agencies has been
a source of controversy for years. The debate has typically revolved around the Orleans Levee District, which, prior to Katrina,
employed 60 officers and spent close to $3 million a year on law enforcement.
In fact, the agency's police budget is larger than the operating budget
of the entire West Jefferson district.
In 1997, the Bureau of Governmental Research recommended that the Orleans
district merge its police force into the New Orleans Police Department because so much of its work involves patrolling neighborhoods
in the Lakefront area. Only a small amount of the department's time is spent on the levees, BGR found.
"If the activities performed by the Levee Board police are not specialized
to levees, there is little justification for the existence of a special force -- even if it is authorized by law," BGR concluded.
Three years later, the Orleans board received the same advice from the
New Orleans Police Foundation, which it had asked for advice on how to reduce the department's budget during a financial crisis.
Such a merger would save nearly $2 million per year, even accounting for the extra expense NOPD would incur to increase its
patrols, the foundation said.
Again, the board rejected the advice, in part because Lakeview residents
said they liked having their own police force to handle emergency calls and handle weekend traffic problems along Lakeshore
Today, with both Lakeview and the force depopulated, the Orleans Levee
Board police department is down to 39 officers and more time is being spent patrolling the levees, according to Assistant
Police Chief Donald Booth.
Booth said the department plays an important role in keeping the levees
safe. For example, he said one of his officers recently stopped a contractor who was digging a four-foot hole in a levee in
order to make it easier to back up a truck and haul away debris. He said his officers also have reported seepage and other
problems that could affect the levee's structural integrity.
However, he acknowledged that such work is largely duplicated by the maintenance
department, which also rides the levees almost daily.
On alert for terrorists
At the East Jefferson Levee District, police officials say their job is
largely proactive. By maintaining a constant presence on the levees, they say, they are able to ward off trouble, such as
Moreover, they believe they play a key role in the nation's homeland security.
As Lt. Yetta makes his rounds, he also checks the perimeter of Louis Armstrong International Airport, as well as shadowy areas
under the interstate.
All of these areas are officially out of bounds for motorized traffic,
so Yetta takes a close look at vehicles he spots.
"We don't like to think about doomsday scenarios, but you could get a truck
crashing through a fence here trying to take out a plane," he said. "That's why we're out here 24/7."
Whether the district needs 23 officers to handle such duties would be decided
by the new authority, if Boasso's bill survives the special session. In its present form, the levee board bill would allow
the new authority to take over the police departments run by the individual districts and operate them as a single force.
In St. Bernard Parish, just two officers have handled the chores, even
though the Lake Borgne Levee District has 60 miles of levees to patrol, or twice that of East Jefferson.
Bob Turner, executive director of the Lake Borgne district, said he's down
to one officer since Katrina, but he doesn't really need more help. In fact, he said, patrolling has never been a priority
for the district, whose officers spend most of their time supervising prison inmates who clean culverts and handle other maintenance
Boasso said the authority will decide how big the force should be in the
"I find it hard to believe than it would get bigger" than the combined
forces today, he said.
. . . . . . .
Jeffrey Meitrodt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504)
826-3497. Robert Travis Scott can be reached at email@example.com or (225) 342-4197.
latimes.com : National News
September 9, 2005
A Barrier That Could Have Been
Congress OKd a project to protect New
Orleans 40 years ago, but an environmentalist
suit halted it. Some say it could have worked.
By Ralph Vartabedian and Peter Pae, Times Staff Writer
In the wake of Hurricane
Betsy 40 years ago, Congress approved a massive hurricane barrier to protect New Orleans from
storm surges that could inundate the city.
But the project, signed into law by President Johnson, was derailed in 1977
by an environmental lawsuit. Now the question is: Could that barrier have protected New Orleans from
the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina?
"If we had built the barriers,
New Orleans would not be flooded," said Joseph Towers, the retired chief counsel for the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans district.
Tower's view is endorsed by
a former key senator, along with academic experts, who say a hurricane barrier is the only way to control the powerful storm
surges that enter Lake Pontchartrain and threaten the city. Other experts are less sure, saying the barrier would
have been no match for Katrina.
The project was stopped in its tracks when an environmental lawsuit won a federal injunction
on the grounds that the Army's environmental impact statement was flawed. By the mid-1980s, the Corps of Engineers abandoned
The project faced formidable opposition not only from environmentalists but from regional government officials
outside of New Orleans who argued that the barriers would choke commerce and harm marine life in ecologically
sensitive Lake Pontchartrain.
The barrier would have protected New Orleans from storm
surges barreling into the lake through two narrow passages — the Rigolets and the Chef Menteur Pass.
Katrina, the lake — swollen 12 feet — was slammed by 135 mph winds against the city's storm walls and levees.
The barriers failed in five places and the city was flooded. On the city's eastern flank, the surge approached the city through
a network of canals from Lake Borgne, which was also swollen and raging.
After the damage caused by Betsy,
a Category 2 hurricane when it hit the Louisiana coast in 1965, the Army Corps of Engineers designed and began clearing sites
for the so-called Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Barrier Project. It required miles of levees and two massive storm gates that
could close off the Rigolets and Chef Menteur Pass if a hurricane was approaching.
Although the largely forgotten
project has been moribund for more than two decades, it has attracted renewed interest and regained credibility since Katrina
left about 80% of New Orleans underwater.
J. Bennett Johnston, a former powerful Democratic senator
from Louisiana and now a lobbyist in Washington, is working
on Capitol Hill to resurrect the barrier.
"It ought to be part of the deal," he said. "It would have prevented the
huge storm tide that came into Lake Pontchartrain."
The barrier would have run from a point near the Mississippi state line, known as Apple Pie Ridge, southwest across the marshlands all the way to the main levees of the Mississippi River, roughly 25 miles. Most of the barrier would have consisted of levees, roughly 9 feet to 14 feet high. In addition,
two massive control structures were to be placed on the inlets to Lake Pontchartrain.
The Rigolets, the larger
of the two inlets, would have required an 800-foot-long structure with floodgates and a massive locks that could close if
a hurricane or other storm surge were approaching the coast.
Similar floodgates protect the Netherlands from North Sea surges.
Towers, the corps' former chief counsel, said the project was
estimated to cost $85 million in 1965, or just over $500 million, adjusted for inflation. Estimates of the costs of Katrina's
damage and reconstruction exceed $100 billion.
The project was stopped on Dec. 30, 1977,
by U.S. District Judge Charles Schwartz Jr., who said the corps' environmental impact statement had failed to satisfy federal
Schwartz ruled that the region "would be irreparably harmed" if the barrier project was
allowed to continue. He chastised the Army for its inadequate environmental impact statement, which was based in part on a
single biologist who never submitted a written report.
Towers conceded that the plan was inadequate by today's standards,
but noted that the battle began not long after the National Environmental Policy Act was signed in 1970 and before much of
the case law involving the act was set.
The project faced strong opposition from the environmental group Save Our Wetlands,
fishermen and the St. Tammany Parish, just north of Lake
Pontchartrain, which had hoped to see a large shipyard
built on a bayou. The shipyard was never built; today the area is underwater.
The crux of the suit was
that the control structures would sharply reduce the natural flow of ocean water into the lake, damaging shellfish and other
aquatic life. Opponents were convinced that the barriers would cause an environmental disaster. They said it would drain the
wetlands, leaving it "extremely susceptible to hurricane tidal surges."
"And once a hurricane hits and floods these
low-lying areas, it's the taxpayers who have to pay for the disaster loans," Save the Wetlands said a few years ago.
The principal members of
the environmental group, several of whom lived in the flooded areas of the city, could not be reached for comment.
corps never appealed the injunction and it formally dropped the plan in 1986. But Towers, who is retired and lives in Long Beach, said in a recent interview that he still believed the plan was sound.
"My feeling was that saving human lives
was more important than saving a percentage of shrimp and crab in Lake Pontchartrain," Towers said. "I told my staff
at the time that this judge had condemned the city. Some people said I was being a little dramatic."
Since the 1960s,
the corps has become more sensitive to the concerns of environmental objections to its projects.
In part, the changes
have been forced by litigation the corps has faced.
The Save Our Wetlands website says that it "has been involved in
countless lawsuits, many of them against the Army Corps of Engineers to block public works projects."
After the corps
dropped its project, Congress opted to raise hundreds of miles of levees in New Orleans to withstand
a storm surge entering Lake Pontchartrain. Johnston, as well as others, said the original barrier plan would have been
more effective and cheaper than the subsequent plan.
The levee-raising plan cost more than $1 billion, though it was
never designed to handle anything greater than a Category 3 hurricane. Katrina was a Category 4 when it slammed into Louisiana.
Stephen Baig, who heads the storm surge team at the National Hurricane
Center, estimated that Katrina pushed a 27-foot surge at its eye near Bay St. Louis and raised Lake Pontchartrain by 12 to 13 feet.
It created a rotating seiche, a type of whirlpool, that took days to subside.
barrier designed after Hurricane Betsy could have been topped by a storm surge, but it would have still lessened the impact
of any surge into the lake and reduced the effects on the city's levee system.
But some experts say they are not sure
it would have prevented the current disaster.
Al Naomi, a senior project manager for the corps, said the levees and
control structures in the post-1965 plan were not big enough to control a surge and protect the city.
But the corps
is preparing to resurrect the project with bigger levees and a more environmentally friendly control structure.
can design a barrier to both protect human life and protect the environment," Naomi said. "It is technically feasible. All
we need is the authorization and the funding."
Before Katrina, however, the corps could not get $8 million to study
the project. It will almost certainly receive the funding now.
Katrina did shed light on the vulnerability of
New Orleans to the surges that can enter its complex network of canals and marshes from the
Gulf of Mexico.
A computer simulation of the hurricane that will be unveiled today is expected to show
that Katrina caused a surge of water of up to 15 feet on the city's eastern flank and up to 10 feet on Lake Pontchartrain's south shore with accompanying waves that raised the water level several more feet.
Johannes Westerink, a
professor of civil engineering at the University of Notre Dame who co-developed the computer program, said that based on the
latest simulation, the system proposed after Betsy would have been an "effective barrier" against the surge from Hurricane
"It would have stopped that," he said.
In the aftermath of Betsy, federal officials promised
better protection in the future.
"This nation grieves for its neighbors in Louisiana; but
this state will build its way out of its sorrow," said President Johnson a few days after the storm.
"And the national
government will be at Louisiana's side to help every step of the way."
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
| SAVE OUR WETLANDS, INC. ET. AL.
EARLY J. RUSH, III. ET. AL.
CLIFFORD L. ALEXANDER, ET. AL
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that defendants herein, Early Rush, District Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans District; Clifford
Alexander, Secretary of the Army; Douglas Costle, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Board of Levee
Commissioners of the Orleans Levee District, be, and they are hereby, ENJOINED from any further construction of the Chef Menteur
Pass, Rigolets, New Orleans East and Chalmette portions of the Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana and Vicinity Hurricane Protection
Project until such time as this Court shall have been satisfied that such defendants have complied in full with Title 42,
United States Code, Section 4332 with respect to preparation of an environmental impact statement for such project by means
of a revision of the August, 1974 Final Environmental Impact Statement in accord with Department of the Army Regulation 1105-2-507
The Court reserves the right to modify the injunction ordered herein upon proper
motion of any party.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 30th day of December, 1977.
Charles Schwartz, Jr.,
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
This matter is presently before the Court for determination as to whether or not an injunction
should issue restraining the United States Army Corps of Engineers from proceeding with certain portions of the Lake Pontchartrain,
Louisiana and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Project, for the reason that the Final Environmental Impact Statement prepared
by the Corps in August, 1974 fails to comply with the requirement of Title 43, United States Code, Section 4332. In addition,
the Court must determine whether or not certain “local assurances” of financial support for the project received
by the federal government from the Board of Levee Commissioners of the Orleans Levee District (hereinafter the Levee Board)
are in fact legally sufficient.
Plaintiffs in these consolidated cases are Save Our Wetlands, Inc. (SOWL), the Clio Sportsman’s
League, Raymond Mix, and the St. Tammany Police Jury. Defendants are Early Rush, District Engineers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
New Orleans District; Clifford Alexander, Secretary of the Army; Douglas Costle, Administrator of the Environmental Protection
Agency, and the Levee Board through its President, Guy LeMieux.
Although the proposed Lake Pontchartrain hurricane protection project (hereinafter LPHPP) consists
of multiple features, those at issue before the Court at this time are limited to the Chalmette and New Orleans East portions
of the plan and the proposed barrier structures at Chef Menteur Pass and the Rigolets. Other aspects of the proposed plan
have been dismissed from this proceeding by order of court or stipulation of the parties.
It is clear from the evidence in this case that the Final Environmental Impact Study for the Lake
Pontchartrain, Louisiana and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Project prepared by the United States Army Corps of Engineers dated
August, 1974 does not comply with the requirements of Title 43 United States Code, Section 4332 which provides in pertinent
“The congress authorizes and directs that, to the fullest extent possible: (1) the policies,
regulations, and public laws of the United States shall be interpreted and administered in accordance with the policies set
forth in this chapter, and (2) all agencies of the Federal Government shall ---
(A) utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use
of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts in planning and in decision-making which may have an
impact on man’s environment;
(B) identify and develop methods and procedures, in consultation with the Council on Environmental
Quality established by subchapter II of this chapter, which will insure that presently unquantified environmental amenities
and values may be given appropriate consideration in decision making along with economic and technical considerations;
(C) include in every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major
Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment, a detailed statement by the responsible official
(i.) the environmental impact of the proposed action,
(ii.) any adverse environmental effects which cannot be avoided should the proposal be
(iii.) alternative to the proposed action,
(iv.) the relationship between local short-term uses of man’s environment and the
maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity, and
(v.) and irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources which would be involved
in the proposed action should it be implemented.
Prior to making any detailed statement, the responsible Federal official shall consult with and
obtain the comments of any Federal agency which has jurisdiction by law or special expertise with respect to any environmental
impact involved. Copies of such statement and the comments and views of the appropriate Federal, State, and local agencies,
which are authorized to develop and enforce environmental standards, shall be made available to the President, the Council
as provided by section 552 of Title 5, and shall accompany the proposal through the existing agency review processes;”
The opinion of this Court that the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Lake Pontchartrain
Hurricane Project is legally deficient in light of the aforementioned statute is based upon the following facts which were
proved by a preponderance of the evidence at trial of this matter.
According to the FEIS at page I-3, paragraph 7 through page I-5 paragraph 17, the barrier structures
at Chef Menteur Pass and the Rigolets will be designed as follows:
(7) The Chef Menteur Pass Complex consists of a gated control structure, a navigation structure,
related channels, earthen closures at the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) and the Chef Menteur Pass and adjoining barrier
levees. Additionally, a small segment of the GIWW will be realigned southward of its existing location.
(8) The gated control structure and channel will be constructed west of the Chef Menteur
Pass and south of the present GIWW. The gated control structure will be 400 feet wide with a sill elevation of -25 feet. Eight
gate openings 46 feet wide will provide 9,200 square feet of opening below elevation 0. The openings will be closed by lowering
the two gate sections in each of the eight gate bays by means of gantry crane. These gate sections will be stored in each
gate bay. In the stored position, the bottom of the gates will be at elevation 3 feet. The approach channels will flare at
a 12.5șangle horizontally from the 400-foot width at the structure to width of 700 feet. From this point a constant channel
width of 700 feet will be maintained. The channel depth of 40 feet will be maintained. A closure dam will be located in the
present Chef Menteur Pass channel and at two locations along the existing GIWW.
(9) The Chef Menteur Pass navigation canal will run from west of the Lake Borgne opening
of the existing channel to the Chef Menteur Pass channel near the L&N Railroad bridge. The approach channel will be 125
feet wide. The navigation structure will be 84 feet wide with the sill at -16 low gulf (m.l.g.). Sector gates will be used
because of reverse head conditions and so the structure can be converted to a lock in the future if needed. The structure
will consist of a concrete gate bay on timber pilings, flanked by floodwalls. The top of the gate bay and floodwalls will
be at elevation 14.0 feet.
(10) Also included in the Chef Menteur Pass Complex is the relocation of the GIWW to the
south of its existing location. Barrier levees will be constructed to adjoin the Chef Menteur Pass Complex structures to each
other and to the US Highway 90 embankment which also serves as portions of the barrier levee. The protection levee will be
at an elevation of 14.0 feet adjacent to and in between the structures and will be at an elevation of 9.0 feet at other locations.
This elevation of 9 feet will allow flood surge overtopping for a short period during a hurricane, but this overtopping will
not significantly affect the water elevation of Lake Pontchartrain and affect the function of the barrier system.
(11) The Rigolets Complex will be located south of the US Highway 90 bridge. It will consist
of a gated control structure and a closure dam in the present Rigolets channel, a navigation channel and lock east of the
natural channel, and adjoining barrier levees.
(12) The gated portion of the control structure will be 800 feet long and 50 feet wide
with a sill depth of ~30 feet. There will be 16 gate bays each 46 feet wide. Each bay will have three vertical lift steel
gates which will be raised and lowered by an overhead gantry crane.
(13) The approach channel to the control structure will have an 800-foot bottom width and
a depth of ~30 feet at the structure sill. On the gulf side, the channel will slope downward from the structure along a 1
on 10 slope to a depth of ~35 feet and remain level for a distance of 100 feet, thence slope upward along a 1 on 10 slope
to the existing channel bottom. On the Lake side, the channel bottom will slope downward from the structure along a 1 on 10
slope to a depth of ~35 feet and remain level for a distance of 100 feet, and continue at this elevation for 2,300 feet, thence
slope upward on a 1 on 10 slope to the existing channel bottom. The channel sides will slope 1 on 3 from the bottom of the
channel to the surface of the ground.
(14) The closure dam will be located adjacent to the east and west sides of the control
structure. It will consist of a western embankment 710 feet long and an eastern embankment 3,965 feet long. The crest elevation
will be at 14.0 feet.
(15) A navigation canal and lock will be constructed east of the closure dam. The lock
will be 110 feet wide with 800 feet usable chamber length. The lock will be provided with sector gates with sill elevation
at ~14.0 feet (~13.2 feet m.l.g.).
(16) The proposed levee network south of the Rigolets consists of 2.4 miles of highway
levee and 0.4 mile of connecting levee. The levee system will utilize the existing embankment on US Highway 90, where its
grade is equal or greater than 9 feet which is some 3.3 miles west of the existing bridge crossing at The Rigolets. From this
point, going east, the levee will be constructed on the southern side and parallel to the existing highway embankment and
will terminate at the intersection of the connecting levee between the highway embankment and the closure dam. The controlling
elevation of the levee system is 9.0 feet.
(17) The levee network north of The Rigolets consists of 0.2 mile of levee between the
closure dam and navigation lock and 1.8 miles of levee extending north of the lock to US Highway 90 at Apple Pie Ridge.
In section 3 of the FEIS, “The Probable Impact of the Proposed Action on the Environment,”
it is indicated that model testing of the plan was carried out at the United States Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station
which indicated among other things “that the effects of the proposed hurricane surge control structures in Chef Menteur
and Rigolets passes on both salinities and tidal heights would be negligible.” The FEIS indicates that impact on marine
life in the Lake would not be deleterious and that the loss of marsh area resulting from construction of levees in some wetlands
areas and subsequent urbanization would not extensively decrease the secondary productivity of the lake.
In summary the FEIS presents a detailed plan for hurricane protection which, upon reading of the
FEIS, appears to closely approximate natural conditions in the areas and accordingly have little adverse impact on the area
environment. Unfortunately, testimony at trial reveals that he picture of the project painted in the FEIS was not in fact
a tested conclusion but a hope by the persons planning the project that it could in fact be constructed so as to meet the
environmental objectives set out in the FEIS. More crucially, the FEIS fails absolutely to aver in any way to questions which
the Corps had at the time of the FEIS as to the possible adverse effects of project as planned.
The model studies referred to in the 1974 FEIS were done in 1962 at the Waterways Experiment Station
(WES) in Vicksburg. However, these tests were not made on a model of the project as described in the FEIS. Instead the model
utilized the original design proposed for the barrier structures (Plan 1) which places such structures in man-made land cuts.
Subsequently, but prior to the issuance of the FEIS, the design plan was modified so as to place the barrier structures in
the natural passes as set out in the FEIS (Plan 2). The effect of the change in the placement of the barrier structures considerably
modified the effect on the barrier structures on the waters of the passes. However, the fact that the model studies relied
upon were based upon a significantly different plan is not disclosed in the FEIS.
In 1973 the Corps, through Jerome C. Baehr, Chief, Engineering Division, New Orleans Division,
requested further model studies. In a document requesting such studies (Exhibit P30) under date of October 5, 1973, Mr. Baehr
“During preparation of the detailed design memorandum by the contracting Architect-Engineer,
the Architect-Engineer’s representatives expressed concern that the hydraulic regime may have changed significantly
because their gradually varied flow hydraulic studies indicated a significant reduction in discharge on the order of 30 to
40 percent, would occur after installation of the barrier structures. Subsequent hydraulic studies by the New Orleans District
indicated that this was the case, although the magnitude of the head loss and discharges through the relocated structure were
dependant on the hydraulic §parameters assumed to apply to the structure. A review of results of the undistorted scale model
tests, conducted at WES in connection with the Hydraulic Model Investigation entitled “Effects on Lake Pontchartrain,
La. of Hurricane Surge Control Structures and Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Channel,” dated November 1963, indicated
that head losses were significantly smaller for the originally designed structure than the analytical computations indicated
for the same discharges in the relocated and redesigned structure. Additional analytical computations were made substituting
the originally designed structure in a new location and computing losses for the same discharges. The head losses were less
than those for the redesigned structure but still significantly greater than the 1:100 undistorted scale model tests indicated
they would be.”
Mr. Baehr concluded that:
“In view of the far-reaching and adverse consequences which might result if an inadequate
hurricane control structure is constructed under this project, it is imperative that an adequate hydraulic design be determined
to safeguard the environment of Lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne. The engineering and design on the structure is in an advanced
phase but only a limited amount of additional work can be accomplished prior to the resolution of this problem. Therefore,
it is requested that authority be granted the New Orleans District and Waterways Experiment Station to construct and test
a hydraulic model of the Rigolets control structures and closure dam. Funds are available under the project.”
The studies requested by the Baehr report were undertaken by the Corps. They were ongoing at the
time of the issuance of the FEIS and were not completed until 1976. However, neither their existence nor the underlying problem
giving rise to them are even suggested in any place in the FEIS.
It is further clear from the testimony that the Corps did not, as required by 42 U.S.C. §4332,
actually utilize an interdisciplinary approach to the formulation of the impact statement. The Corps relies upon consultation
with one hydrology/marine biology expert, Dr. Gordon Gunter. The totality of the Corps’ submission of the matter to
Dr. Gordon Gunter was by means of perhaps as few as one conversation with Dr. Gunter in which he was asked if a structure
altering neither salinity nor volume more than 10% would have adverse effect on the lake and the marine life in it. Given
this hypothetic, Dr. Gunter concluded that the project would not be harmful or have significant effect. Dr. Gunter was never
requested to submit a written report and accordingly did not. He was not requested to review the EIS in either its draft or
its final form.
Glen Muntz of the Corps of Engineers was a coordinator for the EIS. During the formulation of
the EIS he expressed to his superiors that he had reservation about statements in the EIS to the effect that the barriers
at the Chef and the Rigolets would not affect certain environmental characteristics of the area, it being Mr. Muntz’s
opinion that at that stage the statement should more properly have been “should not” rather than “would
However, such reservation is not hinted in the FEIS and in fact at page III-3, paragraph 5, language
of Dr. Muntz was in fact altered by the framers of the EIS. Dr. Muntz indicated that “organisms which utilize detritus
will decrease in numbers…” He did not suggest that, as the FEIS states, “…but this loss will not be
Although the FEIS refers to many engineering studies, it does not adequately reflect a cross-section
of the related disciplines. In many cases information relied upon by the Corps to support its conclusions was not even obtained
in written form.
Section 4332 requires that there be consultation by the drafting agency with other agencies with
special expertise in the area addressed or some jurisdiction over it. In the instant case the Corps should have consulted
closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The testimony reveals that although there was communication with that agency,
it was infrequent and unproductive.
The testimony reveals serious questions as to the adequacy of cost-benefit analysis of the plan.
Certain economic benefits were assigned to the plan resulting from the conclusion that the construction of levees in certain
marsh areas would allow urbanization in those areas. However, many of these areas have been designed as wetlands subject to
considerable limitation as to use. This considerable decrease in the possibility of urbanization is not reflected in the economic
benefits assigned to the plan. A Corps economist requested that the matter be restudied; however, such restudy has not come
Finally, in light of the problems of which the Corps was aware with respect to the possibility
of significantly decreased tidal flow through the structures as planned, there is inadequate evidence of the exploration and
evaluation of alternative plans as required.
The Court is further of the opinion that it has jurisdiction over the defendant Board of Levee
Commissioners of the Orleans Levee District which entity is a partner with the Federal Government in the hurricane protection
project at issue herein. Named Individual Members of the San Antonio Conservation Society vs. The Texas Highway Department,
446 F.2d 1013 (5th Cir. 1971).
The Court is of the opinion that the evidence adduced in connection with the giving by the Levee
Board of “local assurances” regarding its capability to perform was not sufficient to the extent contemplated
by Section 221 of Public Law 91-611 (42 U.S.C. 1962d-5b). While the Court does not determine hereby whether or not the Levee
Board can subsequently comply with the aforementioned statute, further documentation of the record is not required at this
time as such issue is not necessary (in light of the reasons previously stated) to the Court’s issuance o an injunction
in this case.
The Corps urges that as of December, 1977, design changes to the proposed barriers have been devised
which will approximate the environmental conditions set out in the FEIS. While the Court is of the opinion that any agency
has not only the right but the duty to continually revise and improve its plans, such revision subject to the FEIS in this
case does not cure the defects in that document.
The purpose, among other things, of an environmental impact study is to aloe interested partied
adequate and accurate information by which to assess the merits and demerits of a proposed plan. It must and should reflect
any concerns which the planning agency has about the project as well as the advantages of it.
It is clear that the EIS in this case was based upon a design which had not been adequately tested
and contains data which ostensibly pertains to such design which was in fact the result of testing of another significantly
different placement of the barriers with significantly different impacts. The report is not candid and is in fact misleading
in suggesting that the barriers as planned would closely approximate the natural passes with minimal impact when the Corps
possessed serious question about this, was engaged in further testing, had not developed a final of adequate plan. In short,
the EIS actually expresses only a hope that a project can be accomplished in the desired way while on its face it appears
that such project and result are a tested fact. As written the EIS actually precludes both public and governmental parties
from the opportunity to fairly and adequately analyze the benefits and detriments of the proposed plan and any alternatives
For the foregoing reasons it is the opinion of the Court that plaintiffs herein have demonstrated
that they, and in fact all persons in this area, will be irreparably harmed if the barrier project based upon the August,
1974 FEIS is allowed to continue. As the Chalmette and New Orleans East portions of such project are not separable parts of
such plan, they too should be enjoined pending revision of the impact statement to conform with the statutory dictates.
Accordingly, it is ordered that defendants herein be enjoined from further construction of the
barrier structures and associated structures at Chef Menteur Pass and the Rigolets, and the New Orleans East and Chalmette
portions of the Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Protection Plan until such time as they shall have complied with the Department
of the Army Regulation No. 1105-2-507 Paragraph 7a with regard to revision of the environmental impact statement regarding
The foregoing opinion should in no way be construed as precluding the Lake Pontchartrain project
as proposed or reflecting on its advisability in any manner. The Court’s opinion is limited strictly to the finding
that the environmental impact statement of August, 1974 for this project was legally inadequate. Upon proper compliance with
the law with regard to the impact statement this injunction will be dissolved and any hurricane plan thus properly presented
will be allowed to proceed.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 30th day of December, 1977.
Protecting New Orleans to Cost Billions
Saturday September 17, 2005 6:31 PM
AP Photo NY120
By MATT CRENSON
AP National Writer
All it takes is cash and time.
Given enough money, engineers agree that they could eventually build a system of levees and other flood control
structures sufficient to protect New Orleans from another Katrina or even a stronger hurricane. But it would cost billions,
and the work might not be completed for up to 30 years.
The question is, and always has been, how much the federal government is willing to pay for that protection.
``New Orleans is what it is because the federal government made it that way,'' said Robert Hartwig, chief
economist at the Insurance Information Institute. ``And what it is today - underwater.''
Much of New Orleans, especially the neighborhoods that were most severely flooded by Hurricane Katrina, would
not be inhabitable at all without the ramparts that have been constructed around the city over the past 40 years. After Hurricane
Betsy destroyed much of New Orleans in 1965, Congress authorized a massive construction project to ensure that such a storm
would never threaten the city again.
The project began by raising the levees along Lake Pontchartrain on the city's north side, and linking them
to the Mississippi River levees to form the ``bowl'' that encloses New Orleans. Over the years, Congress also approved levees
to protect suburbs south and east of the city.
At 13 to 18 feet high those levees are high enough to handle another Betsy, but not a Katrina, a Category
``We tend to build for the last storm,'' said Craig Colten, a professor of geography and anthropology at Louisiana
It isn't that nobody thought a storm more powerful than Betsy would ever strike New Orleans. The Army Corps
of Engineers had looked into the prospect of building the city's levees up to Category 5 protection. But levee construction
projects proceed over decades, and the last one isn't even close to finished. Some of the follow-up projects to the original
1965 effort, added during the 1980s and '90s, aren't scheduled for completion until 2018.
``The whole thing takes a long, long time,'' Colten said.
Now that Katrina has supplanted Betsy as the Crescent City's most recent catastrophic storm, the government
is likely to embark on a new round of flood control construction. This time, experts say, the goal is likely to be Category
5 protection, achieved through a diversified approach that includes not just higher levees but storm gates and the abandonment
of some low-lying areas.
``City and parish officials in New Orleans and state officials in Louisiana will have a large part in the
engineering decisions to come, and the Army Corps of Engineers will work at their side to make the flood protection system
stronger than it has ever been,'' President Bush said Thursday evening.
Bringing just the area of New Orleans along the Lake Pontchartrain shoreline up to Category 4 or 5 protection
would cost $2.5 billion to $3 billion, according to the Army Corps of Engineers' latest estimates.
For comparison, the National Flood Insurance Program received approval this week to borrow $3.5 billion for
the settlement of Hurricane Katrina claims. And the losses to the program could go higher than that, said Ed Pasterick, a
senior adviser in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's mitigation division.
Bringing the whole city up to Category 5 protection would take about 30 years, Army Corps of Engineers project
manager Al Naomi estimated before Hurricane Katrina. Parts of the project could be expedited, but it will be years before
all of New Orleans is protected against the strongest storms.
Katrina may also generate the support needed to go ahead with Coast 2050, a plan to restore some of the marshes
and swamps along the Louisiana coast that have disappeared since the 1930s. Those coastal wetlands help decrease the destructiveness
of an incoming hurricane by slowing down, and thus spreading out, the storm surge it pushes ashore.
The cost of the Coast 2050 Project would be more than improving the levees - about $14 billion over 30 years,
depending on how much of it was implemented.
``There are lots of ways of protecting the city,'' said Joannes Westerink, a civil engineer at the University
of Notre Dame who builds computer simulations of hurricane storm surges for New Orleans and other parts of the U.S. coast.
Some experts recommend putting flood gates in the channels that funnel water toward the city, specifically
in the Mississippi River itself and in the Rigolets, a narrow passage that connects Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico.
The gates would be left open under normal conditions, allowing water and ship traffic to pass unhindered.
In the event of an approaching hurricane they would be closed to keep the storm surge from getting into Lake Pontchartrain
or moving up the river.
London has a system of such gates in the Thames River. In the Netherlands, an extensive system of dams and
gates protects the population from storm surges.
Within New Orleans itself, experts recommend improving the pumps that are used to remove rainwater from the
city. Because the levees around New Orleans create a below-sea level bowl, every drop of rain that falls inside the barrier
has to either evaporate or be pumped out.
There's no way that pumps could keep New Orleans dry in a Katrina-scale flood. But if they were elevated and
had their own power generation, Colten said, the pumps might be able to pump the city dry in days rather than weeks.
It might also be possible to elevate some neighborhoods above flood level. Civil engineer Henry Petroski of
Duke University has even suggested raising the entire city. The city of Galveston, Texas, used that approach after a hurricane
washed over it in 1900, killing as many as 8,000 people.
Individual houses could be elevated as well. Many homes in New Orleans are already jacked up off the ground
for flood protection, but since the 1950s the majority of them have been built directly on concrete slabs.
And it would be just as helpful to go down as up. New Orleans could create drainage basins inside the levee
walls to collect floodwater that would otherwise flow into the lowest-lying neighborhoods.
Finally, some have suggested restoring some of the city's most vulnerable areas to the marshlands they once
were. Neighborhoods that are up to 13 feet below sea level today got that way in part because they were built on marsh soils
that compacted after being drained. The longer those areas are kept dry, the lower they will sink and the more flood-prone
they will become.
Generally, the lowest parts of New Orleans lie in a belt just behind the high ground of the Lake Pontchartrain
shoreline that stretches from the Ninth Ward in the east to Jefferson Parish north of Louis Armstrong International Airport.
``The lowest of the low areas probably shouldn't be redeveloped,'' Colten said.
There is plenty of time for the vocal debate that is bound to accompany such proposals. The Army Corps of
Engineers estimates it will be next year before the Big Easy's flood protection is back up even to where it was before the
``Certainly we're not going to be able to restore the levees back to their original protection before the
end of hurricane season,'' said Col. Duane Gapinski, the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers task force responsible
for pumping New Orleans dry.
That leaves vast swaths of the city vulnerable to even a relatively weak tropical storm. But as long as 80
percent of New Orleans remains damaged or destroyed by Katrina, another hurricane would add more insult than injury.
Tuesday, Sept. 6,
2005 10:18 p.m. EDT
Carl Limbacher and NewsMax.com Staff
Louisiana Officials in Flood-Money Scam
Nine months before the Hurricane Katrina disaster, three Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency
Preparedness officials were indicted for obstructing an audit into flood prevention expenditures.
In a November 2004
press release, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Louisiana announced:
"A federal grand jury has returned two separate indictments charging three members of the State
Military Department with offenses related to the obstruction of an audit of the use of federal funds for flood mitigation
activities throughout Louisiana.
"The two emergency management officials were senior employees of the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security
and Emergency Preparedness. Both were charged with conspiracy to obstruct a federal audit."
Gov. Kathleen Blanco told Louisiana's News-Star at the time that she was disturbed by the indictments. She
said the National Guard is cooperating with the investigation "as I expect them to do."
Reports of rampant corruption among Louisiana's state and local agencies have been cited in recent days to
explain why officials were so ill-prepared to deal with the Katrina disaster.
Louisiana Officials Could Lose the Katrina
Jeff Johnson, CNSNews.com
The Bush administration is being widely criticized for the emergency
response to Hurricane Katrina and the allegedly inadequate protection for "the big one" that residents had long feared would
hit New Orleans.
But research into more than ten years of reporting on hurricane and flood damage mitigation efforts
in and around New Orleans indicates that local and state officials did not use federal money that was available for levee
improvements or coastal reinforcement and often did not secure local matching funds that would have generated even more federal
In December of 1995, the Orleans Levee Board, the local government entity
that oversees the levees and floodgates designed to protect New Orleans and the surrounding areas from rising waters, bragged
in a supplement to the Times-Picayune newspaper about federal money received to protect the region from hurricanes.
"In the past four years, the Orleans Levee Board has built up its arsenal.
The additional defenses are so critical that Levee Commissioners marched into Congress and brought back almost $60 million
to help pay for protection," the pamphlet declared. "The most ambitious flood-fighting plan in generations was drafted. An
unprecedented $140 million building campaign launched 41 projects."
The levee board promised Times-Picayune readers that the "few manageable
gaps" in the walls protecting the city from Mother Nature's waters "will be sealed within four years (1999) completing our
circle of protection."
But less than a year later, that same levee board was denied the authority
to refinance its debts. Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle "repeatedly faulted the Levee Board for the way it awards contracts,
spends money and ignores public bid laws," according to the Times-Picayune. The newspaper quoted Kyle as saying that the board
was near bankruptcy and should not be allowed to refinance any bonds, or issue new ones, until it submitted an acceptable
plan to achieve solvency.
Blocked from financing the local portion of the flood fighting efforts,
the levee board was unable to spend the federal matching funds that had been designated for the project.
By 1998, Louisiana's state government had a $2 billion construction budget,
but less than one tenth of one percent of that -- $1.98 million -- was dedicated to levee improvements in the New Orleans
area. State appropriators were able to find $22 million that year to renovate a new home for the Louisiana Supreme Court and
$35 million for one phase of an expansion to the New Orleans convention center.
The following year, the state legislature did appropriate $49.5 million
for levee improvements, but the proposed spending had to be allocated by the State Bond Commission before the projects could
receive financing. The commission placed the levee improvements in the "Priority 5" category, among the projects least likely
to receive full or immediate funding.
The Orleans Levee Board was also forced to defer $3.7 million in capital
improvement projects in its 2001 budget after residents of the area rejected a proposed tax increase to fund its expanding
operations. Long term deferments to nearly 60 projects, based on the revenue shortfall, totaled $47 million worth of work,
including projects to shore up the floodwalls.
No new state money had been allocated to the area's hurricane protection
projects as of October of 2002, leaving the available 65 percent federal matching funds for such construction untouched.
"The problem is money is real tight in Baton Rouge right now," state Sen.
Francis Heitmeier (D-Algiers) told the Times-Picayune. "We have to do with what we can get."
Louisiana Commissioner of Administration Mark Drennen told local officials
that, if they reduced their requests for state funding in other, less critical areas, they would have a better chance of getting
the requested funds for levee improvements. The newspaper reported that in 2000 and 2001, "the Bond Commission has approved
or pledged millions of dollars for projects in Jefferson Parish, including construction of the Tournament Players Club golf
course near Westwego, the relocation of Hickory Avenue in Jefferson (Parish) and historic district development in Westwego."
There is no record of such discretionary funding requests being reduced
or withdrawn, but in October of 2003, nearby St. Charles Parish did receive a federal grant for $475,000 to build bike paths
on top of its levees.
Democrats blame Bush administration
Congressional Democrats have been quick to blame the White House for poor
preparation and then a weak response related to Hurricane Katrina. U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on
the House Government Reform Committee, joined two of his colleagues from the Transportation and Infrastructure and Homeland
Security committees Tuesday in a letter requesting hearings into what the trio called a "woefully inadequate" federal response.
"Hurricane Katrina was an unstoppable force of nature," Waxman wrote along
with Reps. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). "But it is plain that the federal government could have
done more, sooner, to respond to the immediate survival needs of the residents of Louisiana and Mississippi.
"In fact, different choices for funding and planning to protect New Orleans
may even have mitigated the flooding of the city," the Democrats added.
But Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) suggested that Waxman "overlooks many other
questions that need to be asked, and prematurely faults the federal government for all governmental shortcomings; in fact,
local and state government failures are not mentioned at all in [Waxman's] letter."
Davis wrote that Waxman's questions about issues such as the lack of federal
plans for evacuating residents without access to vehicles and the alleged failure of the Department of Homeland Security to
ensure basic communications capacity for first responders might "prematurely paint the picture that these are solely, or even
primarily, federal government responsibilities.
"This is not the time to attack or defend government entities for political
purposes. Rather, this is a time to do the oversight we're charged with doing," Davis continued. "Our Committee will aggressively
investigate what went wrong and what went right. We'll do it by the book, and let the chips fall where they may."
The House Government Reform Committee will begin hearings on federal disaster
preparations and the response to Hurricane Katrina the week of Sept. 12. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is schedule
to hold hearings on the economic recovery from Katrina beginning Wednesday morning.
© 2005 CNSNews.com. All Rights Reserved.
JUNE 2003 CIVIL ENGINEERING MAGAZINE
THE CREEPING STORM
J.J. Westerink and R.A. Luettich, all
n the late summer
of 1965 a disorganized storm system formed over the warm, tropical waters of the mid Atlantic. Soon the
storm grew into a high-powered cyclone—a twisting mass of wind and water that would torment the Gulf Coast in the coming
days. The National Hurricane Center gave it a hauntingly innocuous name: Hurricane Betsy.
J.J. Westerink and R.A. Luettich, all
Storm prediction was still in its infancy then and researchers could not get a read on Betsy’s erratic
path. She zigzagged north from Puerto Rico and first seemed to be heading straight toward the Carolinas. At the last moment,
however, Betsy swerved toward the Bahamas, then again toward Florida, finally veering west of the peninsula and straight toward
On September 9 Betsy hit the southern tip of the state. Almost every building in the small coastal town of
Grand Isle was quickly destroyed. With 150 mph (240 km/h) winds, Betsy barreled up the Barataria Basin toward New Orleans.
Lake Pontchartrain—which is just north of the city and is connected to the Gulf of Mexico—swelled with raging
waters. Easterly winds pounded the high waters, in some areas easily topping the levees meant to protect the city. In streets
in the eastern part of town water reached the eaves of houses.
Betsy finally calmed near Little Rock, Arkansas. She had dropped only 4 in. (100 mm) of rain on New Orleans
and had claimed 81 lives and caused more than $1 billion in damage. Unlike any storm before it, Betsy made clear that the
city was all too vulnerable to hurricanes. Cradled in a wide southern meander of the Mississippi River just north of the Gulf
of Mexico, New Orleans is surrounded by Lake Pontchartrain to the north, Lake Borgne to the east, and lakes Cataouatche and
Salvador to the south. This ring of freshwater is also surrounded by hundreds of square miles of wetlands and the Gulf of
Mexico. To make matters worse, most of the city is below sea level.
Soon after the damage from Betsy was assessed, Congress made a historic decision to appropriate federal funds
to build a system of levees to protect the city from a similar storm in the future. Its cultural significance aside, New Orleans
was fast becoming the most important port in the nation—feeding commodities up the Mississippi to all of the Midwest
and serving as an important base for the burgeoning oil and gas industry. Congress was not about to let it wash away.
Today New Orleans rests within a bowl formed by 16 ft (4.9 m) tall levees, locks, floodgates, and seawalls,
the edge of the bowl extending for hundreds of miles. It is bisected from west to east by the Mississippi River, which is
also contained within massive engineered embankments. Water flows through and all around the city while its residents go about
their daily routines. A system of levees forming a ring around the northern half of the city to protect it from surging waters
in Lake Pontchartrain is set to be completed within the next decade. Construction of a similar system around the southern
half of the city will probably take several years longer than that.
But almost 40 years after beginning these projects, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the midst of reassessing
them on the basis of an ominous question: Are the protective barriers high enough?
The design of the original levees, which dates to the 1960s, was based on rudimentary storm modeling that,
it is now realized, might underestimate the threat of a potential hurricane. Even if the modeling was adequate, however, the
levees were designed to withstand only forces associated with a fast-moving hurricane that, according to the National Weather
Service’s Saffir-Simpson scale, would be placed in category 3. If a lingering category 3 storm—or a stronger storm,
say, category 4 or 5—were to hit the city, much of New Orleans could find itself under more than 20 ft (6 m) of water.
Some experts worry that even a less severe storm could flood the city. In the 40 years since the design criteria
were established for New Orleans’s hurricane protection levees, southeastern Louisiana’s coastline has been subsiding—settling
in on top of itself—even as the natural height of the sea rises. A century ago any hurricane heading toward New Orleans
would have had to traverse a 50 mi (80 km) buffer of marshland. Today that marsh area is only half as broad and the hurricane
would be striking a city that itself sinks lower every day.
or at least 7,000 years
the incredible charge of the Mississippi River has made and destroyed dozens of courses throughout southern Louisiana. As
water from an area that now extends over 31 states—from as far west as Montana and as far east as New York—washed
through the delta, sediment flooded over the river’s edge, building bayous and uplands that eventually became thick
enough to send the river in a new direction. After 1718, when a Frenchman named Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville founded
New Orleans on one of those precarious ridges, the river would change course no more.
The location of New Orleans was ideal for portage because traders could access the Mississippi from the gulf
via Lake Pontchartrain, avoiding the treacherous lower 100 mi (160 km) of the river. In the late 1800s Corps engineers began
constructing levees of a more permanent type along the river’s channel and cleared sunken ships, dead trees, and other
detritus from its outlet to the gulf. With the levees in place, the lowlands beyond the river did not flood as often, and
people began building homes in areas once reserved for alligators, mosquitoes, and yellow fever.
In the spring of 1927, the Mississippi River flooded in a way that had never been recorded before. Raging
waters tore through levees in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, killing at least 1,000 people and inundating 1 million
homes. It was the mighty river’s last hurrah. Soon thereafter, Congress directed Corps engineers to straighten the river
in places, add floodgates in others, and increase the height of its levees all the way from Vicksburg, Mississippi, to the
gulf. At the same time, New Orleans began developing what has become the most sophisticated drainage network in the United
States. Today almost 200 mi (320 km) of canals lead to 22 pumping stations located in the low points of the city. The stations
are able to pump 35 billion gal (132.5 million m3) of water per day from the city into the surrounding lakes. They
could fill the Superdome stadium, the home of the New Orleans Saints football team, to capacity in 35 minutes.
The city is now well protected from floodwaters from the Mississippi. Storm surge from hurricanes, however,
is another matter.
|Since variations in the storm’s
profile occur more rapidly on land, the AdCirc nodes there become more refined. In the open ocean the nodes are spaced every
15.5 mi (25 km), but in New Orleans they are as close as 330 ft (100 m). A snaking line of highly refined nodes represents
the Mississippi River, above. In a bathymetric representation of the same area, top, New Orleans surrounds the 109th flood
In the Flood Control Act of 1965, passed shortly after Hurricane Betsy pummeled New Orleans, Congress appropriated
funds to increase the height of the levees around the northern side of the city, where Lake Pontchartrain ominously abuts
what used to be swampland but today is suburbia. With help from a meteorologist from the National Weather Service, Corps engineers
determined a wind speed and pressure that they felt closely characterized Hurricane Betsy. The work was done before the development
of the Saffir-Simpson scale, which today is used to categorize hurricanes. At the time Corps engineers called their approximation
a standard project hurricane (SPH), equivalent to what today would be called a fast-moving category 3 storm.
Engineers determined that the levees bordering the Mississippi River as it passes through the city were sufficient
to withstand any surge produced by an SPH. So the idea was to create a rough semicircle of hurricane levees along the boundary
of the lake that would start at the Mississippi River levee west of New Orleans and end at a point to the east of the city.
Additionally, levees, floodwalls, or both would have to be constructed around each of the area’s drainage canals, as
well as around bridges crossing those canals and around the pump stations emptying into the lake.
As the program continued, one project spiraled into another. In 1986 Congress authorized the Corps to build
a system of levees around the southern half of the city, also forming a rough semicircle extending to and from the Mississippi
River levees. In the mid-1990s Congress continued to expand the southern protection zone, requiring a total of about 65 mi
(105 km) of levees and thereby protecting tens of thousands of homes.
“People live their entire lives in an area that is below sea level and it just becomes a fact of life,”
says Al Naomi, the project manager for all of the Corps’s hurricane protection levees in southeastern Louisiana. “They
just keep taxing themselves for drainage and levee improvements to make sure they can stay here. Staying dry is very important
in this city. People will vote for improving drainage before they’ll vote for improving schools.”
Naomi was in high school when the Corps began constructing the levees bordering Lake Pontchartrain. And he
will probably retire long before the barriers around the southern part of the city are completed—in 2018 if all goes
as expected. In the next few years he will also oversee the beginnings of three Corps levees that are now being constructed
around less populated areas outside of New Orleans: Venice, Grand Isle, and Larose. About $900 million has already been spent
on Louisiana’s hurricane protection program, and before the current projects are complete more than $1.4 billion will
The basic framing system consists of continuous
girder trusses spanning the 90 ft (27 m) distances between columns. These large spans and floor-to-floor heights ruled out
the use of conventional steel building framing. The building’s gravity-load-carrying system contains more than 40,000
tons (36,000 Mg) of high-strength steel.
Congress is also currently spending millions of dollars on several Corps studies to assess the feasibility
of creating hundreds of miles of levees throughout the marshland of southern Louisiana. Those projects—which would be
particularly difficult to construct owing to the scarcity of levee borrow material in wetlands—would cost an additional
ven as the Corps approaches
the long-awaited conclusion of some of its first levee projects—with many more on deck—it finds itself in the
midst of a major reassessment to determine if any of the levees surrounding the city will actually provide the level of protection
for which they were designed.
In the mid-1960s, Corps engineers who were asked to model the storm surge associated with an SPH did not have
many tools at their disposal, at least not by today’s standards. With wind speeds developed by the U.S. Weather Bureau,
they used variations of Newton’s second law to predict a storm’s conservation of mass and momentum. The engineers
created a hypothetical storm in one-dimensional slices, eliminating the geometrical complexity of the real world, then drove
it on a straight line from the Atlantic perpendicular to selected locations near the shore of the gulf.
Assuming a constant wind velocity over Lake Pontchartrain, the engineers computed the buildup of water at
the levees along the lake’s south shore on an hourly basis. They ran simulations mimicking the characteristics of hurricanes
that hit New Orleans in 1915 and 1947 and then used the ratio between the actual storm surge recorded during those hurricanes
and their computed value to create a factor of safety for the new levees.
“It was a very coarse approximation,” says Joannes Westerink, a professor of civil engineering
at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in computational fluid dynamics. “But it’s what they could do
at the time.”
Westerink and a colleague—Rick Luettich, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s Institute
of Marine Sciences—have developed a modern hydrodynamic circulation model that seems magical by comparison. Their Advanced
Circulation Model for Coastal Ocean Hydrodynamics, or AdCirc, is a two-dimensional numerical model that predicts long-term
periods of circulation along coastal shelves, coasts, and estuaries. It is used to predict a wide variety of flows, but during
the past decade the Corps has devoted millions of dollars to improve its ability to model hurricanes. For the past four years
Corps engineers have been calibrating a model expressly designed to represent the New Orleans area.
Red lines in the AdCirc grid, below, represent
levees and other structures that might slow or stop hurricane surge. Researchers are most worried about surge buildup in Lake
Pontchartrain, which surrounds the 164th flood gauge north of the city, opposite. Some models indicate that surge in the lake
from a strong storm could flood the city to a depth of 25 ft (7.6 m).
The numerical equations that underlie AdCirc are similar to the ones used by Corps engineers back in the 1960s—each
a variation on Newton’s second law. But the solutions produced by AdCirc are sufficiently complex to create a two-dimensional
storm that actually moves within a defined geographic boundary. The boundary—which includes the Atlantic coast all the
way from Nova Scotia to Argentina—is divided into a grid of nodes containing depth of water, land structures, and any
other real-world characteristics that would affect the storm’s profile.
As recently as the 1980s, hurricane models were run on single processors, vastly limiting the number of nodes
that could be solved efficiently. Today, AdCirc is run on parallel processors—as many as 256—and is capable of
continuously solving as many as 1 million geographic nodes. This processing power is what enables AdCirc to solve such a large
set of equations. In turn, AdCirc enables modelers to initiate a hurricane simulation on the open sea, where a storm’s
path is more predictable and its characteristics can be closely defined.
Because less information is required to accurately simulate a hurricane on the open sea, the nodes in that
area are not as rigorously defined as those near the coastal shelf. In the areas of a boundary where more variation of depth
exists—on the coastal shelf and on land—the nodes contain highly refined information so that they more effectively
define variations in the storm. In a visual representation, this boundary takes the shape of a finite-element grid.
The nodes in the middle of the ocean contain information based on a 15.5 mi (25 km) grid, but they become
increasingly refined as they approach the shoreline. In the case of a boundary surrounding New Orleans, where the grid extends
inland all the way to Baton Rouge, the nodes over land are spaced every 330 ft (100 m) and include information about topography,
canals, levees, and any other land masses that might affect storm surge.
On a supercomputer at the Corps’s Waterways Experiment Station, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, engineers
run AdCirc simulations of Hurricane Betsy and of Hurricane Andrew, a category 3 storm when it hit Louisiana in 1992. It takes
roughly an hour to run the calculations representing 24 hours in the life of the storm. Eventually a trace of storm surge
levels is produced at about 200 locations around New Orleans; Corps engineers then compare those results with the actual surge
levels recorded in those areas.
Jay Combe, a Corps engineer in charge of the modeling effort, meets every six months with an advisory panel
composed of several of the world’s premier modeling experts to review the results. Once AdCirc has been refined to the
point where it satisfies Combe and the review committee, it will be used to conduct a comprehensive reassessment of New Orleans’s
existing and planned hurricane levees.
Combe says that point should be reached this summer. “I think we’re getting close to the right
answer,” he says. “But I want to feel totally confident. And I want our outside review team to feel that this
is the best we can do with the state of the art right now.”
Combe is cautious with his work because he knows how much is riding on it. In the coming months Corps engineers
will use AdCirc to determine if the levees that have been going up around New Orleans for the past 40 years are tall enough
to resist storm surge from an SPH. Perhaps even more important, when the model is ready Naomi will use it to determine what
it would take to protect New Orleans from a category 4 or 5 hurricane.
In 1999 the Corps was authorized by Congress to study the feasibility of various proposals for protecting
the city against such devastating storms. An obvious possibility would be to raise the current levees to a height deemed acceptable
by an AdCirc analysis. That, however, would also require widening the levees, which may not be possible in many areas because
of the proximity of homes. Among other alternatives, Naomi will investigate the possibility of creating an immense wall between
Lake Pontchartrain and the gulf to keep water out of the lake during a severe storm. Such a project would involve constructing
massive floodgates at the Rigolets and Chef Menteur passes, where storm surge would enter the lake.
According to Naomi, any concerted effort to protect the city from a storm of category 4 or 5 will probably
take 30 years to complete. And the feasibility study alone for such an effort will cost as much as $8 million. Even though
Congress has authorized the feasibility study, funding has not yet been appropriated. When funds are made available, the study
will take about six years to complete. “That’s a lot of time to get the study before Congress,” Naomi admits.
“Hopefully we won’t have a major storm before then.”
|A time-lapse simulation of Hurricane Betsy—with
integrated wind speed and direction—replicates the storm’s movement through Louisiana in 1965. Several hurricane
models are calibrated by the surge associated with Betsy, which did not hit New Orleans directly but flooded much of the city.
f a storm
of category 4 or 5 were to hit New Orleans before the city was adequately prepared, what toll would it exact?
In the 1980s Joseph Suhayda, then a coastal oceanographer in the civil engineering department at Louisiana
State University (LSU), began to seek an answer to this question by simulating storms with a modified version of a hurricane
model used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Suhayda first began modeling the storms to help parishes in
southeastern Louisiana determine appropriate flood elevations for FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. As his modeling
capabilities improved, he began to more closely investigate the level of protection provided by the levees encircling New
Suhayda’s model contains a geographic information system overlay that divides a fairly large boundary,
from Alabama to Texas, into 0.6 mi (1 km) grids containing information about ground elevations, land masses, and waterways.
The FEMA hurricane model does not draw on the same processing power as AdCirc and in general produces more liberal projections
of flooding from storm surges. But by solving numerical equations representing a storm’s pressure, wind forces, and
forward velocity, Suhayda was able to use the model to predict the storm surge associated with an actual hurricane dozens
of hours before it hit land. By subtracting the elevations on a topographical map of coastal Louisiana from those surge values,
he was able to approximate the flood risk of a given storm.
In the 1990s, Suhayda began modeling category 4 and 5 storms hitting New Orleans from a variety of directions.
His results were frightening enough that he shared them with emergency preparedness officials throughout Louisiana. If such
a severe storm were to hit the city from the southwest, for instance, Suhayda’s data indicate that the water level of
Lake Pontchartrain would rise by as much as 12 ft (3.7 m). As the storm’s counterclockwise winds battered the levees
on the northern shore of the city, the water would easily top the embankments and fill the streets to a depth of 25 ft (7.6
m) or more.
Suhayda’s model is not the only one that describes such a catastrophe. A model called SLOSH (Sea, Lake,
and Overland Surges from Hurricanes), which is used by the National Weather Service and local agencies concerned with emergency
preparedness, portrays an equally grim outcome should a storm of category 5 hit New Orleans. The SLOSH model does not contain
nearly as many computational nodes as does AdCirc, it does not use a finite-element grid to increase the resolution of the
nodes on shore, and its boundary is much smaller. Even so, its results are disheartening.
“Suppose it’s wrong,” says Combe, the Corps modeler. “Suppose twenty-five feet is
only fifteen feet. Fifteen feet still floods the whole city up to the height of the levees.”
Experts say a flood of this magnitude would probably shut down the city’s power plants and water and
sewage treatment plants and might even take out its drainage system. The workhorse pumps would be clogged with debris, and
the levees would suddenly be working to keep water in the city. Survivors of the storm—humans and animals alike—would
be sharing space on the crests of levees until the Corps could dynamite holes in the structures to drain the area. In such
a scenario, the American Red Cross estimates that between 25,000 and 100,000 people would die.
That prospect—and the amount of time it would take the Corps to construct adequate levee protection
against a storm of category 4—have inspired Suhayda to push for what he calls a community haven project. His idea is
for the city to construct a 30 ft (9 m) tall wall equipped with floodgates through the center of town to protect the heart
of New Orleans and such culturally important areas as the French Quarter. That portion of the city lies between two bends
in the Mississippi River and is therefore already protected by adequate levees on three sides. With its gates closed, the
wall would complete a waterproof ring around the area.
Suhayda says the wall would be cheaper and faster to build than the larger projects under consideration by
the Corps. It could be constructed along an existing right-of-way and act as a sound wall most of time. “We’re
going to build sound barriers along most of these roads anyway,” Suhayda says. “So for a small added cost, go
ahead and make them capable of withstanding wind loads and hydrostatic heads.”
The Corps would not necessarily be involved in the construction of such a wall because the latter would be
land based. Even so, Naomi is adamantly opposed to the idea. “How do you protect people from two-hundred-mile-per-hour
winds?” he asks. “Where do they go? What buildings are designed to withstand that? Where do they get their power
and their food, and where do they rest their heads at night? Just keeping the water out isn’t enough. You don’t
want to give people a false sense of security by saying that this is a refuge unless you have a place for them to go.”
For the most part, New Orleans does not have places for people to go. The American Red Cross no longer provides
emergency shelters in the city because its officials cannot guarantee the structural integrity of the locations. There simply
are not enough buildings in the area that could withstand the forces of a category 4 or 5 storm.
During the past 10 years Marc Levitan, a wind and structural engineer and the director of LSU’s Hurricane
Center, has been involved in hundreds of building investigations throughout New Orleans to determine if certain structures
could be used as so-called refuges of last resort. “With the vast majority of them, if you really do an analysis, you
really wouldn’t want to use them,” he says. “They all have some sort of deficiency.”
Most people would not wish to remain in the city if a category 4 or 5 storm were in prospect, but evacuating
could be difficult. Experts say close to 400,000 people could be stranded in the city. There are an estimated 100,000 people
without easy access to automobiles, and those who can drive may not be able to do so. During Hurricane Andrew, interstates
throughout the South were brought to a standstill because simultaneous evacuations were taking place in several states. The
only major planning improvement since then has been the decision to keep traffic away from the coast on both sides of evacuation
Complicating the difficulty in New Orleans is the fact that each of the city’s three major evacuation
routes is over or near water. Suhayda’s model indicates that during a storm of category 5 Interstate 10, which is constructed
on piers for a distance of almost 20 mi (32 km) west of the city, could be covered by more than 5 ft (1.5 m) of water.
ater has literally
made New Orleans what it is today. Some locals call southern Louisiana the re–United States because in essence the ground
is made up of sediment from throughout North America that has made its way down the basin of the Mississippi. The decision
to live in this place, however, has also made water the enemy.
“We’re trying to enforce human decisions on a natural process,” says Naomi. “What
we’re trying to do is take a snapshot of geologic time and say, ‘This is what we want; this is where we want to
live.’ The question is, Is it going to be feasible in the long term?”
Naomi says this question will not be answered with levee feasibility studies alone. It will also require a
more complete understanding of the natural processes at work in and around New Orleans. For example, the wetlands of coastal
Louisiana, which would act as a buffer and slow any storm during its approach to the city, are dying because the freshwater
and nutrients that historically flooded into them from the Mississippi can no longer escape the river. At the same time, the
sediment deposited here by the river long ago is subsiding, and no new sediment is overflowing to replenish it.
The Corps estimates that in southeastern Louisiana a football field worth of wetlands sinks into the sea every
30 minutes, leaving the residents of the area more vulnerable to hurricanes every inch of the way.
In an attempt to curb this growing threat, or, as some refer to it, creeping catastrophe, the Corps is developing
a plan—in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources,
and other state and federal agencies—to rehabilitate coastal wetlands throughout Louisiana. Known as the Coast 2050
Plan, it would require $14 billion over the next 30 years to restore natural drainage along the coast and direct the movement
of sediment from the Mississippi to rebuild marshes. It also calls for the installation of sediment traps at key locations
in the river, from which the material would be pumped through 100 mi (160 km) long slurry pipelines to rebuild wetlands and
Research conducted in the 1970s indicates that Louisiana’s coast has seen no physical growth since the
1880s. By 1913 it was subsiding at a rate of about 7 sq mi (18 km2) per year. Since 1990 various groups have attempted
to stave off the effects of coastal erosion under the auspices of the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration
Act, but until now there has been no large-scale collaboration.
Naomi says he will be keeping a close eye on the Coast 2050 Plan in the future because he is certain it will
affect his assessment of New Orleans’s hurricane protection program. But does the question of subsidence raise a more
“Everyone here sees different symptoms,” says Roy Dokka, a geology professor at LSU and the head
of the Louisiana Spatial Reference Center. “If you’re a biologist you see the forest dying. If you’re running
an oil field down on the coast you see that the roads you used to drive down are now under water during certain periods of
time. If you’re an emergency preparedness person you notice that the evacuation roads tend to flood earlier than they
did ten years ago.”
The true situation, however, is almost too grave to consider. “Coastal Louisiana is sinking under its
own weight,” Dokka says. “The ground in Louisiana is ultimately going to go under.”
Indeed, the state is subsiding so quickly that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s
National Geodetic Survey (NGS) considers the orthometric markers in Louisiana surveyed every decade for the North American
Vertical Datum (NAVD) to be “obsolete.” Dokka and his colleagues, together with experts from the NGS, are now
using high-powered transponders and numerous Global Positioning System satellites to develop “true” elevation
points in the state on the basis of their relation to the center of the earth.
Using a rate of subsidence measured at a tidal gauge off the coast of Grand Isle adjacent to an original NAVD
marker, Dokka was able to calibrate rates of subsidence at hundreds of other markers around the state. His results indicate
that the elevations of some areas have dropped as much as 2 ft (0.6 m) since they were last surveyed for the NAVD. Based on
Dokka’s “true” elevations, some of the Corps’s levees in New Orleans may be more than 1 ft lower than
their posted elevation.
And the sinking continues. In the next 70 years, Dokka and his colleagues estimate that about 15,000 sq mi
(39,000 km2) of land in southern Louisiana will be at or below sea level. In the same amount of time, some of the
areas in and around New Orleans will have subsided by 3 ft (0.9 m).
“New Orleans is right there,” Dokka says, pointing to a graphic illustration of his research on
a computer screen. “But I guarantee you that won’t last, because the ocean is right there on both sides, and any
kind of storm is going to take out that area.”
Such dire predictions would seem to favor a drastic solution, such as the Coast 2050 Plan. But Dokka is not
easily convinced. “They’re not going to dump freshwater on the areas where people live,” he says. “Even
if they haul up the flag of victory and save the wetlands, these areas where people live will not be saved.”
Instead, Dokka proposes an even more ambitious alternative. In 100 years, he says, subsidence will have made
Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne one large lake bordering New Orleans to the north and east and opening into the Gulf of
Mexico. By diverting the Mississippi into the lake and using sediment from the river like “a big cement truck”
to build up a protective boundary along its north shore, engineers could create “the world’s greatest harbor.”
“It’s all going to be artificial in the end anyway,” Dokka says. “People are just
beginning to discover what is happening here. But nature wins. Nature always wins in the end. It doesn’t give up. It
just keeps on going.”
ut the Coast 2050
Plan currently has widespread support among environmentalists, the oil and gas industry, and hurricane protection specialists.
People such as Windell Curole consider it the last, best chance to save southeastern Louisiana. Curole (pronounced
“cure-all”) is the general manager of the South Lafourche levee district, which maintains hurricane protection
levees around Bayou Lafourche, a rural area west of New Orleans and the place where he was raised. Decades ago Curole’s
grandfather paddled through the wetlands there in a hollowed-out cypress tree collecting oysters. Today much of the same area
is completely submerged in salt water.
On a recent sunny morning, Curole visited a freshwater diversion project near New Orleans called Davis Pond,
one of only two such diversions from the Mississippi River. The project involves a canal west of the city that releases about
1,000 cfs (28 m3/s) of freshwater from the top of the river into a 9,300 acre (3,700 ha) pond that eventually feeds
into Lake Cataouatche. By filling the marsh with freshwater, the idea is to decrease its salinity while feeding it valuable
nutrients, in this way mimicking the marsh environment that would have existed before the sides of the Mississippi were dammed.
First authorized by Congress in the late 1960s, Davis Pond was completed by the Corps in March 2002. In the
1960s it was seen as a fairly aggressive step toward addressing the issue of coastal erosion. Today, in Curole’s words,
it is seen more as a “Band-Aid.” The project—which does not divert sediment into the marsh in any measurable
quantity—is meant to alleviate a total of about 1 sq mi (2.6 km2) of land loss. By most estimates, coastal
Louisiana is losing as much as 35 sq mi (90.6 km2) of land per year to subsidence. Despite this grim reality, Curole
refuses to see anything in Davis Pond except signs of hope. “It’s a little leak for the river,” he says,
looking over the water, “but a giant leak for mankind.”
This is Curole’s first trip to Davis Pond, a place that he and other supporters of the Coast 2050 Plan
hope will be viewed as a sort of pilot project for future diversion efforts. Traveling by airboat over thick, floating marshes
and rounded levees, he enthusiastically points at countless alligators, scurrying nutrias, and several bald eagle nests. He
snaps pictures of waterfowl as if he has never seen them before, or, more likely, as if he might never see them again.
The boat stops at the end of the pond near a rock weir separating it from Lake Cataouatche, the New Orleans
skyline in the distance. “It’s just so nice to see the growth here, the green growth,” Curole says. Smiling
large, eternally optimistic, he continues: “If we run this thing harder, up to six thousand cfs, or even more, I think
we’ll start seeing white shrimp up in here again. That is a major hurdle. If we can start running this at six thousand
cfs, who knows what we can do.”
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Coastal Land Loss in Louisiana. The lowlands of far southern Louisiana, slowly sinking into the Gulf
where boundaries blur between river, ocean, and land, are disappearing. ... small river-mouth tributaries and wetlands.
Lower Louisiana contains ... protected by barrier islands, which absorb heavy storm ... All along the Mississippi,
flood-control levees have ...bonus.com/contour/Env_Lit/http@@/.../article.php/1129.php
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pdf Coast 2050: Toward a Sustainable Coastal Louisiana
LCW Conservation, RT Force, W Conservation, R … - Louisiana Department of Natural
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JW Day Jr, AY Arancibia, WJ Mitsch, AL Laura- … - Biotechnology Advances, 2003
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L Cardoch, JW Day Jr - Environmental Management, 2001 - springerlink.com
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Research challenges and opportunities to enhance ecological functions in
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the central …, 1996 - srs.fs.usda.gov
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Landscape Modeling of the Mississippi Delta
JF Martin, E Reyes, GP Kemp, H Mashriqui, JW Day … - Bioscience, 2002 - bioone.org
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Vol. 14, No ...
www.csc.noaa.gov/cz/CZ05_Proceedings_CD/pdf%20files/posters/Meselhe-hydro.pdf - Text Version
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(May/June 2005) - Storm Water Management: ...
... the gulf's hypoxia from the problems of wetlands losses in the Mississippi delta
and throughout the Mississippi basin," says John W. Day, distinguished
www.csc.noaa.gov/magazine/2005/03/article2.html - 12k - Cached
Services Center GIS Integration and Development ...
... Geological Survey of Alabama, March
2004 ? August 2005, $75,620. Rescuing and Documenting
Toxic Pollutant Data Sets for the Mobile Delta
and Bay. ... Mississippi. ...
www.csc.noaa.gov/id/project_sum.html - 22k - Cached
Ecosystems in the Mississippi delta region, economic develop-ments and technological control
of the …
F Trombetta - bscw.iuav.edu
... 1 Ecosystems in the Mississippi
delta region, economic develop- ... Positive side effects
on environ- ment, such as restoration of
stocks of natural capital of the ...
View as HTML - Web Search
Greenhouse effect and coastal wetland policy: How Americans could abandon an area the size of …
JG Titus - Environmental Management, 1991 - yosemite.epa.gov
In Louisiana, the restoration of natural deltaic processes is far more important ...
Figure 3b illustrates
the loss of vegetated wet lands by 2100 for alternative ...
Cited by 15 - View as HTML - Web Search - csa.com
[BOOK] Measuring the Benefits of Federal Wetland Programs
PF Scodari - 1997 - print.google.com
... Wetland restoration
impacts are more readily ... These wet- lands arefoundalmostexclusively
alongthe SouthAtlantic and
... accretion process in the Mississippi Delta. ...
Cited by 4 - Web Search - csa.com - Library Search
CHAPTER 8 DISTRIBUTION LIST AND OTHER
SDU Beer, C Resource, AN Bolotte, L Britsch, RSL … - lca.gov
1994. Scientific assessment of coastal wetland loss, restoration and management
in Louisiana ... of two marsh
management plans in the Mississippi delta on material ...
[PDF] TWO MARSH CREATION/RESTORATION
METHODS USING DREDGE MATERIAL ...
... the slurry into open water. This delta component provides increased habitat diversity
Kemp. 1990. Land loss rates: Mississippi River deltaic plain. US Army ...
- Professional Dialog
... to farm the same crops," and "fisherman, fur trappers, and?residents of the Mississippi
Delta will continue their activities as always." They
go on to claim ...
www3.csc.noaa.gov/beachnourishment/html/human/dialog/series2c.htm - 27k - 2003-06-19 - Cached
US Coastal Observing
Systems - Western Gulf of Mexico
... Pontchartrain. Work is currently underway on the first shelf station and funding
exists for at least one other station near the Mississippi River delta. LUMCON ...
www.csc.noaa.gov/coos/texas_gulf.html - 34k - Cached
- The Need for a Systematic Approach
... salmonid populations to the thousands of square miles representing the Mississippi
Delta and the Florida Everglades. Restoration opportunities
abound in every ...
24k - Cached
[PDF] Coastal Services
... the gulf's hypoxia from the problems of wetlands losses in the Mississippi delta
and throughout the Mississippi basin,"
says John W. Day, distinguished ...
www.csc.noaa.gov/magazine/2005/03/issue.pdf - Text Version
- For the Expert
... JN Day, and A. Hamilton. 2003. Potential nitrate removal from a river diversion
into a Mississippi delta forested wetland. Ecological Engineering 20:237-249. ...
www.csc.noaa.gov/coastal/expert/natreview/natreview13.htm - 55k - Cached
Energy and Water
Development Appropriations Act
... flood control projects on the Mississippi River and its tributaries; (5 ... Restoration
Fund; (5) California Bay-Delta Restoration (including the Walker
River Basin ...
www.csc.noaa.gov/opis/html/summary/ewda.htm - 12k - Cached
- The Planning Process
... forest, a fishery, or a single imperiled species (Figure 2). On the Mississippi River
delta in Louisiana, the vision is to reverse the loss of coastal wetlands ...
www.csc.noaa.gov/coastal/planning/planning.htm - 41k - Cached
... is always one level higher than the stream into which it flows . For instance , the
Mississippi River is
a level - one stream , the Ohio River is a level - two ...
www3.csc.noaa.gov/salmonid/srp_gis/metadata_view/hyrol/srp_hydrarca.htm - 101k - 2004-08-30 - Cached
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