The optimistic colonel is Col. Richard Wagenaar of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:
“I would build back now,” he [Col. Wagenaar] said. “I think the protection system that is in place now – especially along the canals to protect against surge – is better than it was pre-Katrina.”Which leads to my biggest problem with the USACE: Objectives vs. Results. The USACE calls their work a success when they achieve their desired objectives. We who live in the real world call their work a success when they achieve the desired results.
The USACE has set their immediate objective (pdf) to rebuild the levee system to pre-Katrina strength or better. (Before I go on, can we all agree that pre-Katrina strength is not a good benchmark?) Compare that to the results we would all like to see: protection that keeps us safe from a major hurricane.
So what do we have *now*?
Col. Richard Wagenaar, commander of the New Orleans District office of the corps, insisted the repairs already completed would be sufficient to protect New Orleans from most storms.What *will* we have?
Earlier, he outlined additional improvements already under way that would protect the area from the newly estimated effects of the largest storm expected to hit the city once every 100 years.Today, we are protected from “most storms” and four or five years from now we will be protected from “the largest storm expected to hit the city.” How they know the largest storm to expect is something truly worthy of the powers of Marie Laveau. They are basically gambling that a really big, unexpected hurricane won’t hit here.
Back to the pre-Katrina protection. The levees and floodwalls that failed didn’t necessarily fail at the height of Katrina’s strength. So, at what strength did they fail? At the mid-category 3 level? Weak category 3? Strong category 2? Mid-category 2? Weak category 2? For the New Orleans area, what is pre-Katrina strength?
When the USACE says we are better off now than before Katrina, I don’t really feel any better. I’m not the only one(previous T-P article):
Without armoring of earthen levees and the completion of unfinished parts of the levee system, the repairs don't provide protection from more than a strong Category 2 storm, added Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center and leader of Team Louisiana, a group of scientists and engineers reviewing the levee system for the state Department of Transportation and Development.I understand that van Heerden’s credibility has been questioned. But, he can be the under bet if we accept the USACE as the over bet. Since I’m closer to the better-safe-than-sorry end of the spectrum, I’ll take the under.
"A Category 3 storm will still flood the West Bank and New Orleans," van Heerden said.
Some might say that we can only know if the desired results are achieved when the levee system is tested. I would say that an army of engineers, if not the Army Corps of Engineers, has a bunch of equations saying otherwise. It can be done. We can protect this area from a major hurricane. It just needs to be made an objective by the U.S. government.
As a side note, the USACE apparently can’t even meet the objectives they have set:
Corps misses second deadline
The new floodgates and pumps in the 17th Street Canal won't be functional by Sunday as the Army Corps of Engineers had predicted, and the corps says it can't set a new target date until key players in the project weigh in next week on the agency's latest plan to increase drainage capacity at the site.