Report on Federal Probe Into Deadly Katrina Flooding Released

June 29, 2009

An in-depth study by more than 150 experts commissioned by the Army Corps of Engineers to look into the catastrophic failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina is done, though the report released June 26 divulged little research that hadn’t already been made public.

The study, which cost about $25 million, took in nearly four years of research by a spectrum of specialists who analyzed levees, floodwalls, long-term hurricane patterns, the delta’s geology and pumping and draining systems. Most of the information in the report had been reported before the final release.

Known as the “Performance Evaluation of the New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Protection System,” the report was a highly technical study of the 2005 levee breaks that caused the flooding of New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish and Plaquemines Parish.

The researchers also attempted to model what future flood risks the New Orleans region faces as the Army Corps builds a bigger levee system by 2011.

Ed Link, a University of Maryland engineer who directed the task force, said the “risk assessment was a prototype” and that the IPET team laid a good foundation for future risk analysis.

Risk analysis is important because it tells people what chance of flooding they have over the long-term, depending on where their property is. He said a lot more risk analysis should be done to refine the models and give people a clearer sense of the risk they face.

“There has been a lot of learning, there is a lot more to learn,” Link said.

Jeffrey Jacobs, a senior program officer for the National Research Council’s Water Science and Technology Board, said the IPET report was important but that it needs to simplify its findings. The NRC reviewed the IPET work.

“The average citizen would look at it and throw his or her hands up and say, ‘I don’t understand all that,”‘ Jacobs said. “It could have been made more accessible to the lay-person; we recommended that they hire someone to explain what it all meant.”

He said citizens and businesses need a clear explanation of what kind of risk they face as the Army Corps spends $14 billion to upgrade the New Orleans levee system. Most of the work to improve the levees is scheduled to be done by 2011.

Through the risk analysis, the Army Corps has distributed “risk maps” that show the kind of flooding each street in New Orleans could expect to see over the next century and beyond.

According to those estimates, the metropolitan area will remain at risk of flooding from future hurricanes, even after the Army Corps finishes building the new line of levees, pumps and floodgates.

Long-term, the future safety of New Orleans will rely on building back the wetlands and barrier islands that have been lost over the past century and adapting life in the city to accommodate the flood risk, Jacobs said.

“There’s no reason to give up, but there are good reasons to think about development and habitation patterns,” Jacobs said. “It will take some leadership to bite the bullet. It will require some tough decisions.”

On The Web: The Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force:

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