In a sweeping new study of the causes of the disaster in New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged today that the levees it built in the city were an incomplete and inconsistent patchwork of protection, containing flaws in design and construction, and not built to handle a hurricane anywhere near the size of Katrina.Following upon this post-mortem, the Corps redesigned and reconstructed the "system." Most of that rebuild is now complete. (It is still insufficient to truly meet the area's needs now and in the ever-worsening future but that is another story.) Meanwhile, the local levee boards were restructured and reformed in the expectation that they would be responsible for maintaining and operating the new system upon its completion.
"The hurricane protection system in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana was a system in name only," said the draft of the nine-volume report.
The region's network of levees, floodwalls, pumps and gates lacked any built-in resilience that would have allowed the system to remain standing and provide protection even if water flowed over the tops of levees and floodwalls, the report's investigators found. Flaws in the levee design that allowed breaches in the city's drainage canals were not foreseen, and those floodwalls failed even though the storm waters did not rise above the level that the walls were designed to hold.
What happens when one end of that system fails in its capacity to maintain the standard of the whole?
On Saturday, voters in St. Bernard Parish raised this question above the level of mere hypothesis. When the Corps hands over responsibility of the system to the local authorities, the Lake Borgne district will see its costs nearly double with no clear method of raising additional revenues. One would think the necessary funds could flow in from another part of the flood protection system. But, politically, this is still a system in name only.
Because New Orleans, St. Bernard and East Jefferson sit on the same sinking delta, storm surge invading one parish can flow into the others. That’s why the corps designed the new system as a perimeter defense — a chain of interlocking levees and floodwalls stretching from Kenner to Caernarvon.The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East was established specifically to oversee operations of the three levee districts that maintain this system. But state law prohibits taxes raised in one district from being used in another.The more populated parishes of Orleans and Jefferson have surpluses. But St. Bernard has struggled to meet the demands of the southern end of the system.