As Nation Focuses on ‘Me,’ Not ‘We,’ Our Levees Suffer | The Times-Picayune

levee problems

Examples of ‘minimally acceptable’ levee problems. (

In the week since reading colleague Mark Schleifstein’s report that the Army Corps of Engineers has known for years its latest New Orleans levee system contains potentially fatal flaws, I’ve been unable to shake two famous quotes from this long, sad story.

Quote 1: “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.”

Quote 2: “It was a system in name only.”

That first one came from Mark Davis, director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law & Policy, when asked to give his opinion on the new system as it neared completion three years ago. He was making the point that the system was designed to a lower level of protection than the failed system it was replacing.

History is on his side. That deadly pre-Katrina system, ordered by Congress way back in 1965 but still incomplete in 2005, was supposed to withstand the “most severe meteorological event” likely to occur in the area.

At the time this was considered the surge from a 300- to 400-year storm. That obviously wasn’t done because the corps now estimates the levees that failed with deadly consequences during Katrina faced a surge from a 200- to 250-year event. (Katrina’s surge that flattened the Mississippi coast, however, is rated at the 400-year level).

The new system, meanwhile, is designed to stand up only to a 100-year storm. Clearly a lower level of protection than called for pre-Katrina.

Read the rest of the article at The Times-Picayune.