Research Group: Critical Flood Risk Study for New Orleans Overdue, Plagued by Errors

March 3, 2008

The Army Corps of Engineers is taking much too long to complete a study that could let victims of Hurricane Katrina know their risk of facing another devastating flood, an independent research group said.

The National Research Council also questioned methods used and criticized errors in the draft of the block-by-block analysis of future flood risk in New Orleans.

“These issues are critical to the ability of residents and businesses to obtain financing and insurance for rebuilding in the area and for making decisions about the safety of living in New Orleans in the future,” the council said in its interim review of the risk study being done by the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force.

IPET is a commission put together by the corps to study failures of flood protection following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It has already put out seven volumes of studies on the New Orleans levee system and is working on the eighth. The whole report was supposed to be done on June 1, 2006.

The director of IPET, Ed Link, stressed that the emphasis is on getting the work done right and that the study is still in the draft stage.

“It was an interim draft, it had not received a thorough edit; we were by no means at a point when we felt we had a complete document,” Link said.

Urgency is vital in completing the risk segment because it identifies work needed to fulfill congressional mandates to build a more protective levee system for New Orleans, and identifies potential weak spots in current flood protection; other levee projects cannot move forward without it, NRC said.

So far, the biggest tool derived from the risk study are maps that show the likelihood of flooding and its severity over the next 100 years.

The maps, released in June, painted a rosy picture for some parts of New Orleans. Critics said issuing the maps without supporting data was a public relations stunt.

After Katrina, which struck Aug. 29, 2005, and flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, the corps dumped billions of dollars into research and flood-project construction.

So far, the IPET study has cost about $25 million. The corps recently committed an additional $250,000 to complete the risk study.

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