...Admitting You Have a Problem
As expected, I received some pushback from the previous post and would like to respond to the questions and criticism received. Most importantly, I mis-cited the report from which I drew the history of previous hurricane flooding in N.O. That info came from the Independent Levee Investigation Team (not IPET). I greatly appreciate Editilla of New Orleans Ladder for pointing out this huge error! Like the Corps engineers, I am also human and thus fallible.
Let me address the most significant criticisms.
There is no evidence, beyond unverified verbal accounts by Army Corps spokespersons, that local citizens "limited the scope of the first round of levees which failed so catastrophically" during Katrina.
I didn't speak to Army Corps spokespersons. This information, which is the extent of my evidence, was lifted directly from the ILIT report:
In 1960...the Corps plan opted to solve the drainage canal freeboard problem by installing tidal gates and pumps at the drainage canal outfalls along Lake Pontchartrain. This obviated the need for condemning all the homes built along the canal levees. The Corps soon found itself embroiled in a clash of cultures and goals with the levee districts, the S&WB, and the local citizenry, who flatly opposed the Corps' proposal.
...the Corps focus shifted to heightening the drainage canal levees using concrete walls, which was what the opposing groups desired. These walls were to be designed to withstand a Category 3 storm surge with 12 ft tides and 130 mph winds. (ILIT report, pp. 4-22 to 4-23)
We [Levees.org] stand by our assertion that allegations in a 3-page sworn affidavit by NOLA.com Founder Jon Donley thoroughly validate our suspicions of a deception campaign being waged by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Corps shouldn't be posing as individuals spouting off deceiving and incorrect information in online comment forums, but individual Corps employees should be able to spout off their personal views via any forum they choose. In my opinion, the way this issue about the Nola.com comments is playing out makes Levees.org look like it doesn't know how to handle criticism.
We hope to see both our supporters and critics at Rising Tide IV where we will sponsor the Early Riser Breakfast.
I do support Levees.org, which is why I care if some of the things they say is questionable. Often, the most helpful criticism comes from those who want to support and stand behind you.
[note: comment courtesy of Editilla~]This ILIT study lays a lot of blame in many places, but the cause of 80% of the flooding of New Orleans 8/29/05 is still indisputably the Corps of Engineers failure to get it right the first time --NOT Katrina storm surge. The ILIT study pretty much devastates that misnomer.
Umm, have ya read the ILIT report? The hurricane, of which a defining element is storm surge, is the FIRST in ILIT's list of what caused our levees to fail:[by Editilla~] Other perimeters of influence do not factor into the basic successful engineering of those flood walls and levees.
In the end, it is concluded that many things went wrong with the New Orleans flood protection system during Hurricane Katrina, and the resulting catastrophe had its roots in three main causes: (1) a major natural disaster (the Hurricane itself), (2) the poor performance of the flood protection system, due to localized engineering failures, questionable judgments, errors, etc. involved in the detailed design, construction, operation and maintenance of the system, and (3) more global "organizational" and institutional problems associated with the governmental and local organizations responsible for the design, construction, operation, maintenance and funding of the overall flood protection system. (ILIT, p. xix)
There is a reason hurricane storm surges are measured, recorded, studied, and feared: because they matter. If storm surge were not a factor, then levees and floodwalls would not be built according to how much storm surge and wave overtopping they could handle. Just because our floodwalls failed with 7ft as opposed to 14ft of storm surge does not mean surge was not a factor.
I mean, really, where exactly do people think all that fucking water that the levees did not hold back came from?
Basic successful engineering includes selection of types of structures as well as placement and maintenance of structures, both of which local government and citizens had some degree of control over:
The three drainage canals should not have been accessible to the storm surge. The USACE had tried for many years to obtain authorization to install floodgates at the north ends of the three drainage canals that could be closed to prevent storm surges from raising the water levels within the canals. That would have been the superior technical solution. Dysfunctional interaction between the local Levee Board (who were responsible for levees and floodwalls, etc.) and the local Water and Sewerage Board (who were responsible for pumping water from the city via the drainage canals) prevented the installation of these gates, however, and as a result many miles of the sides of these three canals had instead to be lined with levees and floodwalls. (ILIT, p. xxiii)
New Orleans officials were the ones who funded and built the outfall drainage canals despite being warned in the 1870's that they would direct storm surge right into the heart of the city, much like MRGO did. Until the 1950s, before the Corps became involved, it was the Orleans Levee Board who opted to raise these outfall canal levees again and again following each of the many overtoppings and breaches (listed in my previous post) that occurred during hurricanes. It was New Orleans officials who allowed homes to be built so close to those drainage canals, and once that occurred, do you really think the Corps faced any chance of constructing the wide, sturdy levees like the ones that have protected us from the Mississippi river since the 1850s? I understand that people don't want to have their homes torn down and forced to move. Hell, I wouldn't, but I also understand that we need to understand how we got to where we are today.
I'm not trying to reopen old wounds or rehash something that's been put to bed, like one person [i.e., Editilla~] insinuated about my motivations for writing my last post. This has been on my mind precisely because of the decisions we as New Orleanians are being asked to make once again and the coverage every Corps public meeting receives in the press. Also, my original post was not just about the Corps and floodwalls, it was about questioning the reluctance of our City Council to adopt higher elevations for rebuilding in a city that has been flooded 38 times -- THIRTY FRICKIN' EIGHT, people!! -- by Lake Pontchartrain. It was also about some people wanting to place pumps in City Park because they'd look too ugly by their lakefront houses, to hell with physical science and gravity and history which keep trying to tell us that that's just not a good idea no matter how you slice it. It was also about the continued lack of leadership in this City willing to face the hard truths and shepherd its citizens toward facing some tough truths when we need to. How can we expect the Corps and the feds to address their faults when we are insulted whenever asked to address our own community's faults?
By reading some of the dissenting comments, one would think I laid 100% of the blame at the foot of New Orleanians. I clearly said the Corps was to blame for the unacceptable design and failure of our flood protection, and I most certainly don't have a reputation of being a Corps sympathizer. What I would like to think I have a reputation for is pointing out facts, even the ugly ones; and the fact (unless the revered engineer and known Corps critic Robert Bea & his colleagues got it wrong in their ILIT report) is that many local officials and citizens prior to Katrina preferred the very system of outfall canals and floodwalls now in place. This does not mean we're stupid for living here. This does not mean the Corps did an excellent job of overseeing their design, maintenance, and construction because they didn't. It does not mean those walls didn't fail at half their design specifications. They did. It most certainly does not mean that people opting for the floodwalls should have seen the future and fully understood the implications of their decisions at that time. It just means what those words placed in that particular order are supposed to mean: that many people here preferred the Corps to build floodwalls instead of closing or reconfiguring the outfall canals, instead of the tidal gates and pumps at the mouth of the lake, and instead of giving up their homes.
So why even bring all this up? It's not an attempt to retell the Flood story in a manner that benefits the Corps, as one commenter [a.k.a. Editilla~] insinuated. It's an attempt to tell MORE of the story, beginning from the 1800s instead of starting halfway through (or even near the end of) the story at August 29, 2005. Sometimes life gives us the gift of past experience and hindsight, and we'd be doing ourselves and everyone who has to live with our decisions a giant disservice to not use that wisdom when we can. Those who do not understand history, or flat out deny it, are destined to repeat it...or at the very least act surprised when it occurs again.