Keeping the Waters at Bay
There's no shortage of ideas on how to protect the Crescent City. But ideas are the easy part
If there is full consensus on any one point, however, it is that no single solution will be enough to protect New Orleans from future storms. Instead, says John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, the focus should be on "multiple lines of defense"--starting with rebuilding the barrier islands and wetlands, and including enhancements to other flood barriers, like natural ridges and the raised beds of railway tracks and roads. The city itself should be compartmentalized into many smaller basins, the foundation says, so that any future flooding can be contained. The group is also pushing for flood-resistant buildings, like elevated homes. Even Roth, the engineer, agrees that New Orleans won't be able to simply engineer itself out of trouble. "You can't just rely on structural means of protection," he says. "You have to include flood-resistant design and city planning, and you have to look at rejuvenation and rehabilitation of natural barriers." Congress has thus far approved $1.5 billion for improved hurricane protection for the region, both for this year's repairs and for long-term upgrades, and last week the Bush administration asked for $1.4 billion more. But that may not be nearly enough. A 2001 study estimated that a linked hurricane protection and coastal restoration program could cost $14 billion and take up to three decades to complete.
Back at the 17th Street Canal, the repair work continues. In addition to fixing the mess from last year, the corps's plans this season call for a few upgrades, including stronger floodwalls topping the levees along the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal and some limited armoring of particularly vulnerable stretches of the system. The crude sheet-pile dams at the mouths of the city's outfall canals--17th Street and its sisters--are being replaced by temporary gated structures, which can be left open for regular drainage and slammed shut at the approach of a big storm.
Come hurricane season, says the Army Corps's Baumy, "I'm confident [the system] will be able to withstand the hurricane it was designed for." That means a Category 3 storm--exactly what the previous system was designed to withstand and exactly the strength at which Katrina hit New Orleans. Others believe New Orleans deserves a system that could withstand a Category 5 blow. Come June 1, New Orleans residents will have plenty to think about.
PROTECTING THE CRESCENT CITY
With the 2006 hurricane season less than four months away, the clock is ticking on efforts to repair flood barriers and begin the process of upgrading the Crescent City's protection. Basic repairs and modest upgrades to the levees, floodwalls, and canals are scheduled to be completed by June 1 of this year under a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project, Task Force Guardian. Another corps effort, Task Force Hope, will focus on longer-term upgrades, though the ultimate goal of an integrated levee and floodwall system to shield the area from a category 5 storm most likely is years away.
Built near the outlets of the 17th Street, Orleans Avenue, and London Avenue outfall canals, these pumps and gates will prevent another Katrina-type of storm surge from swelling into the canals toward the city and washing over the levees and floodwalls.