Friday, May 16, 2014

Property over people

Hurricane season is only weeks away now.  The Lens has provided us with a refresher course about what our brand new better than ever flood protection system actually does.

“It’s as if your poorly built, three-story house collapsed, so the contractor said, ‘Ok, I’ll replace it with a well-made, two-story house,’” said Mark Davis, director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law & Policy.

“The corps has rebuilt a system to a lower standard of protection than its poorly built system that collapsed during Hurricane Katrina,” Davis said.

Is the storm protection system around New Orleans better than the old one? “Absolutely,” Davis said. “Is it what we were supposed to have? No.”

That shift has had two important effects, Davis and others say:

It lowered the design height of walls defending a city located on a sinking delta during an age of rising sea levels.

And it changed the purpose of the system from protecting lives to protecting property – a lesser challenge for designers.

“That’s what Congress did” in directing the corps to build to a lesser standard, Davis said, “and that’s not what the law says they must do. People should be asking the city, the state, and their representatives in Congress how this happened. Someone should be telling that story.”

These adjusted design purposes were a specific focus of a presentation by Tim Ruppert at Rising Tide 5 called "When can we get some dam safety in New Orleans?"  I tried to dig up the video yesterday to no avail.  Luckily, Tim drew up some notes and links to supplementary materials you can still access here.

Meanwhile The Lens is hosting a web chat today with Davis and with Ken Holder of the U.S. Army Corps which should be starting just as soon as I finish typing this.  Click here to watch.

1 comment:

Clay said...

It's sad Tulane has a lawyer up there to talk about levees. I would have preferred, oh, say, a Civil Engineering professor...