Levee calculations

by on August 31, 2008 at 12:32 pm in Current Affairs | Permalink

I can’t track down the original source here, but it sounds broadly consistent with other things I’ve read:

Under the 100-year standard…experts say that every house being rebuilt in New Orleans has a
26 percent chance of being flooded again over a 30-year mortgage; and
every child born in New Orleans would have nearly a 60 percent chance
of seeing a major flood in his or her life…

At the same time, the corps
has run into funding problems, lawsuits, a tangle of local interests
and engineering difficulties — all of which has led to delays in
getting the promised work done.

An initial
September 2010 target to complete the $14.8 billion in post-Katrina
work has slipped to mid-2011. Then last September, an Army audit found
84 percent of work behind schedule because of engineering complexities,
environmental provisos and real estate transactions. The report added
that costs would likely soar.  A more recent
analysis shows the start of 84 of 156 projects was delayed — 15 of
them by six months or more. Meanwhile, a critical analysis of what it
would take to build even stronger protection — 500-year-type levees —
was supposed to be done last December but remains unfinished.

On the road to recovery, the
agency has installed faulty drainage pumps, used outdated measurements,
issued incorrect data, unearthed critical flaws, made conflicting
statements about flood risk and flunked reviews by the National
Research Council.

When it comes to storm protection and urban reconstruction, "halfway" is not a good solution.  There could have been a real rebuilding and protection, or the price signals from insurance companies could have been allowed to shrink the city more fundamentally than what happened.  Here is a relevant study.

1 jorod August 31, 2008 at 12:39 pm

New Orleans is the only city in the world that is below sea level and regularly gets hit with category 3-5 hurricanes. Does it make sense to keep rebuilding it? Do the taxpayers deserve this persecution?

2 ups August 31, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Of course that contractors are eager to do things halfway. If the time line slips and operations need to be recalculated/rearranged.. they get more money than it was initially agreed. Also.. if in a couple of years everything needs to be done again, then, they get even more money.

3 jimbino August 31, 2008 at 2:27 pm

The problem, of course, is the gummint’s involvement in the solution. If we waited for gummint solutions to problems, we wouldn’t have the lightbulb, cinema, dynamo, automobile, airplane or E=mc**2.

What we would have, if it weren’t for gummint, includes decent schools, retirement security, health care and sufficient energy. If only WalMart were put in charge of delivering those, like it does cheap food, Chinese products, eyeglasses and prescription drugs!

4 Doug Blair August 31, 2008 at 2:46 pm

We cannot abandon New Orleans.
Short version: New Orleans handles a huge amount of material instrumental to our economy. The port is necessary, and cannot operate without workers to run it. Mardi Gras is optional; the port of New Orleans is not.

5 Anonymous August 31, 2008 at 6:43 pm

It’s all Bush’s – and McCain’s – fault!

6 Steve Sailer August 31, 2008 at 8:12 pm

The U.S.S. Yorktown, badly shot up at the Battle of the Coral Sea, limped into Pearl Harbor on May 28, 1942. The first estimate was that it would take 90 days to repair. But the Japanese fleet was steaming for Midway, so, by turning off electricity to much Honolulu to run the repair machinery, the drydock got the job done in 36 hours. So the Yorktown arrived off Midway just in time to help win the War in the Pacific on June 4.

How long would it take modern America to fix the Yorktown? 36 months?

7 John Dewey August 31, 2008 at 9:02 pm

Cyrus: “Morgan City, 60 miles to the west, is above sea level, and along the channel the Mississippi would be following without the dikes.”

IMO, rerouting the Mississippi River and recreating the infrastructure already in place between Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and the ocean is not feasible. To do so would require several decades if not a century to build the ship channels, relocate the refineries and chemical plants, rebuild the port infrastructure, create a port city of sufficient size, etc, etc. It just cannot be done. Nor is there really an reason to do so.

8 Anonymous August 31, 2008 at 9:29 pm

This marks the third city-threatening hurricane in only four years — remember Ivan, before it veered east? Any former resident who hasn’t returned already now almost certainly never will. Who wants to keep dodging bullets?

Even if Gustav is considerably weaker than was feared just a day ago, even if it spares New Orleans entirely, it might strike the final fatal blow to the city’s revival and attempts to reconstruct and repopulate.

9 RJ August 31, 2008 at 11:43 pm

“At the same time, the corps has run into funding problems, lawsuits, a tangle of local interests and engineering difficulties — all of which has led to delays in getting the promised work done.”

A friend of mine who grew up in NO tells me that many of the levees are state and city responsibility. He says the level of corruption and incompetence in managing those make the Corps of Engineers work look impeccable by comparison.

10 Max September 1, 2008 at 2:47 am

That sounds like grad school work 😉
However, I am not really surprised about these results when I look at government work and how they project costs and schedules…

@Larry: Say this to the people of Holland, which live behind a levee system for more than a few hundred years. I think they will disagree with you.
Also, I think many villages in China, Swiss and Germany will also protest because their cities are in imminent danger of dams that could break! I mean, if the engineering work wouldn’t exist or break down, they’d be head-deep in the water…

11 Andrew September 1, 2008 at 7:19 am

Famous last words of a government quickly becoming irrelevant “Be scared.” “If you stay we will not help you.” “We are from the government and we are here to help, do you have any weapons in your dingy?”

I know nothing about NO other than if I go back I’ll have made a mistake or a wrong turn somewhere. Frankly, I know more than I care to, and am getting tired of hearing about the place.

Just thinking out loud here. The main problem with levees around something is a few breaches means you might as well have none. So, NO is primarily a port. So, why not build elevated train tracks on berms that doubles as a series of bulkheads. Circuitous routs would be a plus. The tunnels underneath for cars are a problem. Have dump cars that can drop bags full of sand and polyacrylamide into the underpasses at an X hour notice. Now is the time to buy up rights of way.

Of course it’s nuts and wouldn’t work. Any other ideas?

12 jorod September 1, 2008 at 10:50 am

When Chicago burned in 1871, the town was rebuilt with all private funds…so I’m told!!

13 John Dewey September 1, 2008 at 9:08 pm

“Morgan City is barely above sea level. It is surrounded by swamp & marsh that often floods with a high tide and South wind.”

Thanks for setting these folks straight, macquechoux. Isn’t it amusing that folks who have never visited Louisiana can look at a map or a television news story and quickly devise solutions to flooding problems we’ve worked on for two centuries? Relocate the mouth of the world’s most economically significant river? No problem!

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