Interesting Background Information on the Levees

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by Adam's Apple, Sep 3, 2005.

  1. Adam's Apple

    Adam's Apple Senior Member

    Apr 25, 2004
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    They Saw It Coming
    By Mark Fischetti
    September 2, 2005

    THE deaths caused by Hurricane Katrina are heart-rending. The suffering of survivors is wrenching. Property destruction is shocking. But perhaps the most agonizing part is that much of what happened in New Orleans this week might have been avoided.

    Watching the TV images of the storm approaching the Mississippi Delta on Sunday, I was sick to my stomach. Not only because I knew the hell it could unleash (I wrote an article for Scientific American in 2001 that described the very situation that was unfolding) but because I knew that a large-scale engineering plan called Coast 2050 - developed in 1998 by scientists, Army engineers, metropolitan planners and Louisiana officials - might have helped save the city, but had gone unrealized.

    The debate over New Orleans's vulnerability to hurricanes has raged for a century. By the late 1990's, scientists at Louisiana State University and the University of New Orleans had perfected computer models showing exactly how a sea surge would overwhelm the levee system, and had recommended a set of solutions. The Army Corps of Engineers, which built the levees, had proposed different projects.

    Yet some scientists reflexively disregarded practical considerations pointed out by the Army engineers; more often, the engineers scoffed at scientific studies indicating that the basic facts of geology and hydrology meant that significant design changes were needed. Meanwhile, local politicians lobbied Congress for financing for myriad special interest groups, from oil companies to oyster farmers. Congress did not hear a unified voice, making it easier to turn a deaf ear.

    Fed up with the splintered efforts, Len Bahr, then the head of the Louisiana Governor's Office of Coastal Activities, somehow dragged all the parties to one table in 1998 and got them to agree on a coordinated solution: Coast 2050. Completing every recommended project over a decade or more would have cost an estimated $14 billion, so Louisiana turned to the federal government. While this may seem an astronomical sum, it isn't in terms of large public works; in 2000 Congress began a $7 billion engineering program to refresh the dying Florida Everglades. But Congress had other priorities, Louisiana politicians had other priorities, and the magic moment of consensus was lost.

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