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April 22, 2007

Corps rebuilding floodwall weaker than pre-Katrina

Harry Shearer points to some disquieting news out of New Orleans: According to the Times Picayune, The Army Corps of Engineers is restoring the 17th Street Canal floodwall with steel pilings 13 feet shorter than the originals.

Read the whole Picayune article, it's some great science journalism.

The Corps insists that the shorter pilings pose no threat to the public because concurrent adjustments are being made elsewhere in the system to keep the water level from rising as high as it did in 2005.

However, professor Bob Bea of UC Berkeley, the marine engineer who lead the NSF's post-Katrina flooding investigation, remains skeptical. He worries that the shorter pilings could be the "fatal flaw" that dooms the flood control system. (Bea was interviewed extensively for Spike Lee's 2006 documentary When the Levees Broke.)

Bea and other experts are calling on the Corps to submit to more outside scrutiny and independent review of their flood-control strategy.

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Now, now, now. Let's not get all upset over nothing. The Corps of Engineers will have the time and the money to do things right in Louisiana just as soon as they finish painting the schools and get the power running in Iraq. (How's that going by the way? Has anyone heard?)

New Orleans can just take a number and wait.

We really do need to get over the fact that the heroic age of American engineering is over. Yes, its true our predecessors dug the Panama Canal, raised Galveston Island and erected the Golden Gate Bridge; they were laboring in innocence of the fact that The Government Can't Do Anything Right. Today, fortunately, we have the wisdom to know better; and if a Republican administration steals your money and gives you shoddy-ass public works in return, we know they really can't be blamed for it.

Hmm, i hate to seem pessimistic, fatalistic or insensitive, but it seems like rebuilding New Orleans, especially the areas worst hit (not by the hurricane per s but by flooding) is really in the end a losing propositiong. Even if you don't buy that global warming will increase the number and intesnity of hurricanes, it's clear that there will be another large hurricane to hit New Orleans, and especially if we build a shitty wall or even a deceent one, the same areas will be flooded and destroyed AGAIN. Yes, i know that the areas worst hit are mostly occupied by the poor and minorities, and it seems elitis and unjust to say that they have to leave their homes, while the reach who live in places less affected can stay, but the ecological and meterological reality seems to indicate that human habitation on the scale that was previously attempted in New Orleans just isn't feasible or even desirable.

Maybe the Dutch government should be hired for the project.

i heard a report on public radio about the levees one day

the depth that they should be built is on a section by section basis, however deep they should be is based on the how far down to solid footing they need to go, but instead of building sections that are 25 feet, 55 feet, 40 feet, etc as you progress down any given length, they just drove them down to an average of, say, 35 feet, notwithstanding the depth in that specifc area of the hardened base

I saw an interview with Ivor van Heerden in which he said that on a visit to the Netherlands he was embarrassed to talk about the New Orleans levees, so utterly abysmal were they compared to Dutch flood control technology.

Ironically, in the 1930s the Dutch government sent engineers to Louisiana to study modern flood protection techniques.

The best verdict would be by insurance companies. The last I heard however was that they have abandoned NO. I wonder if anyone can fill us in on this. Without property insurance NO is dead.

While it's fine to view the insurance industry as a cesspool of heartless greedy bastards there is no better place to find objective analysis of risks than what their actuaries produce. This may seem off topic but it's one to keep in the back of your mind as the nuclear power industry gets going again. In the late 50's when the designs were ready and the utilities were getting ready to order the plants the insurance companies refused to cover their liability. The government stepped in and provided it, in an admittedly tiny amount. Think about this. The free market said don't build them so the insurance, like the design work and the fuel costs were socialized If they want to build new plants we must insist that the liability is provided by the market, not the government.

New Orleans has the near ideal potential to serve as a testbed for the next generation of flood control technologies. These technologies will become increasingly important as sea levels rise and rivers see increased amounts of meltwater. The US has the potential to develop these technologies and ensure that it is US companies that have the necessary skills when other nations need them. Investment in flood control is good for the economy, both mitigating disasters and creating new market niches.

An extremely rare mudkitty link. The house on the left belongs to my brother and sister in law's house. New Rochelle is where the Petrie's lived on the Dick Van Dyke show.

http://us.f817.mail.yahoo.com/ym/ShowLetter?MsgId=3664_3558747_661578_2172_112491_0_20106_158586_1481944570&Idx=13&YY=84346&y5beta=yes&y5beta=yes&inc=25&order=down&sort=date&pos=0&view=a&head=b&box=Inbox

(sic)

Unfortunately this is not shocking. The last few administrations in this country have care more about the world than maintaining the U.S. Administrations as far back as Carter's knew the NOLA levees would not hold against a Category 5 hurricane. Yet no one, Republican or Democrat, did anything to prevent the Katrina disaster. Imagine how much money we could spend on our own infrastructure if we didn't waste money on a pointless Iraq war. There a laundry list of other worldly donations we make around the world that I would like to see ended and the money used on U.S. needs as well.

I agree with Eric Jaffa. Why not hire the Dutch to design and rebuild the sea walls and anti-flood protection in NOLA?

It is more than a bit misleading to say they're "rebuilding the floodwall weaker than pre-Katrina." They believe that the walls will, in fact, be stronger, and they have fixed the weakness that caused the steel pilings to be an issue during Katrina. If it wasn't for that other weakness, the shorter steel pilings would have been deep enough (in fact, they were in several levees that weren't breached.)

Even Raw Story has more accurate, less sensationalistic headline than this place.

It's obvious to me none of you have spend any appreciable time in New Orleans nor do you really know much about the geography of the area. To really bring you up to speed would take more time than I have to type and more patience than you have to read. Suffice to say that Katrina was a disaster waiting to happen. All you Bush bashers and Republican haters as well as catastrophic anthropogenic climate change alarmists just couldn't wait for such a disaster but the fact is New Orleans residents knew it was coming - I know of discussions of the exact Katrina scenario that occurred in the late 70s. To make it simple enough for all of you to understand, there was no amount of money, no defense good enough to prevent what happened to New Orleans. This is due to a combination of factors most of which are evident to anyone who takes as little as say three hours to study the issues. As for rebuilding - the simple fact is most if not all of New Orleans should NOT be rebuilt - it was basically a dumb place to put a major city in the first place and the changes made both in the greater metro area as well as with the Mississippi doomed it to become an even worse place. Further up the Mississippi someone got it right after the ENSO driven great floods not to many years back. At the southern end it seems we'll need yet another Katrina type event to finally teach us the lesson we shouldn't have needed in the first place. Finally, what's all the fuss about New Orleans, anyway. The Mississippi coast was hit harder - the only reason Katrina turned into such a tragedy for New Orleans was that state and local politicians (NOT Bush NOT Republicans - those responsible were for the most part Democrats) chose to gamble with people's lives by NOT putting into effect well written evacuation plans far enough in advance of Katrina's arrival to save lives. Here's the closing thought - most of New Orleans is far enough below sea level and sinking due to channelization of the river and other factors that it should simply be returned to a wild state - rebuliding should only occur in those areas able to be adequately defended from future events including but not limited to hurricanes. The whole size, shape and flavor of New Orleans should radically change to make the inevitable return of a Katrina-like storm an event that won't cause similar or worse damage and loss of life.

OH, and those who fell for the loony leftist lie that they're "rebuilding the floodwall weaker" don't understand the major design changes they made to the floodwalls that will allow them to be much STRONGER even with shorter pilings.

As for bashing insurance companies - they're doing the right thing! No company that wishes to remain in operation or to be able to make good on their policies would agree to any major underwriting in New Orleans.

Monty Python fans would understand, others will need this quote from the Grail pic:

"Listen, lad. I built this kingdom up from nothing. When I started here, all there was was swamp. Other kings said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show 'em. It sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So, I built a third one. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp, but the fourth one... stayed up! And that's what you're gonna get, lad: the strongest castle in these islands."

The only way for New Orleans to become "...the strongest castle in these islands" will be to radically downsize and redesign it but even that won't be enough because we've meddled too much with the mighty Mississippi. The Dutch give us examples of what is necessary - ironclad first line of defense. Layered defenses. Compartmentalization. But there are differences as well - There's a reason Tragically Hip sang "New Orleans is sinking man and I don't wanna swim!" For those of you that are prone to missing it the first time they even repeated it at the end for emphasis.

Cass initially impressed me but not for long:

"...it seems like rebuilding New Orleans, especially the areas worst hit (not by the hurricane per s but by flooding) is really in the end a losing propositiong."

Right you are...

"Even if you don't buy that global warming will increase the number and intesnity of hurricanes..."

But not about the expected affect of global warming (at least you didn't call it "anthropogenic" - could it be you're aware it's primarily if not completely natural?) on hurricanes. Those spinning catastrophe myths tell it like you did - the number AND intensity of hurricanes will increase. Then there's the crowd that says the number will decrease or stay the same but the severity will increase significantly and they've "proven" the theory with dubious studies of photos over a short period (not even one complete ENSO cycle) which they claim allows them to accurately predict (FROM A PHOTO) how strong a storm was 10, 20, 30 or more years ago. If we could predict storm intensity from images we wouldn't have crews risking lives by flying into them... anyway I'm rambling! The fact is that yes, a NATURAL increase in sea surface temperatures will increase the number of disturbances capable of generating hurricanes but the corresponding increase in tropical winds will tend to shear the storms apart before they become hurricanes and the net effect may well be LESS and LESS SEVERE storms that reach hurricane strength.

"it's clear that there will be another large hurricane to hit New Orleans"

On the nose again...


"and especially if we build a shitty wall or even a deceent one, the same areas will be flooded and destroyed AGAIN."

Not necessarily, but to prevent floods will cost so much that to make it worthwhile (to prevent the rest of us from assuming crushing debt so people can repopulate 100% of pre-Katrina New Orleans) the median home price in New Orleans will have to be artificially set at a level higher than Florida, California or Hawaii, for instance...

"Yes, i know that the areas worst hit are mostly occupied by the poor and minorities"

WRONG! Some of the richest areas of town were wiped out. Remember, you're talking to someone who lived there for years and while I was there I drove both limousines and medical supplies to virtually every part of town (and surrounding communities) so believe me, I know where the rich people lived & where the poor people lived.


"and it seems elitis and unjust to say that they have to leave their homes"

It's "elitist" and the only elitists are the liars who are saying someone said that. Who said that? Well I'll tell you who - I'm saying that! Not only to the poor, though... to anyone who lived in any area of New Orleans (including the rich and ultra-rich) that was signficantly below sea level.

"while the reach who live in places less affected can stay..."

"The reach"? Nobody said anyone had to go... nobody said anyone could stay. You're making things up.

"but the ecological and meterological reality seems to indicate that human habitation on the scale that was previously attempted in New Orleans just isn't feasible or even desirable."

EXCELLENT, you closed with a perfect truism.

I know the things you got wrong were fed to you and many others - if you looked into it, really dug, I think you might be amazed at what you find that is contrary to some of the ideas you've clearly formed. If you're really interested in New Orleans, not just commenting because you're bored, please do.

That wasn't me, brother. The author of a comment is identified below that comment.

OOPS, sorry LOL. I had it backwards... Apologies Cass, guess it was Matt Z who made the comments I responded to. I misunderstood the attributions. My bad.

ON to what you said:

"Today, fortunately, we have the wisdom to know better; and if a Republican administration steals your money and gives you shoddy-ass public works in return, we know they really can't be blamed for it."

Acutally it's the DEMOCRATS who want to take your money and turn it into useless, shoddy public works and agencies... but I gess you missed that.

CFROST:

Now, now, now. Let's not get all upset over nothing. The Corps of Engineers will have the time and the money to do things right in Louisiana just as soon as they finish painting the schools and get the power running in Iraq. (How's that going by the way? Has anyone heard?)

New Orleans can just take a number and wait

------

Well since the surge things are supposedly better but we'll see. It's a fluid situation over there in Iraq and subject to change even as we discuss it. One thing is for sure - if the "cut and run" crowd EVER gets their way things will get much worse very quickly.

New Orleans should get up off the pot and start fixing things for themselves, for a change, rather than waiting for a handout. 35 years before Katrina the exact Katrina scenario was discussed and it was admitted then no defenses would ever be built that could withstand such a storm for economic and asthetic reasons. Call them KOOKY, I know, but they knew that no matter how much they spend and how high they built nature "... would... find a way" to defeat them, so to speak.

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