I am pleased that the Committee has called this hearing. It is time to start applying what we know went wrong during Hurricane Katrina to the development of a rebuilding plan. We also need to explore the implications of the failures in New Orleans on the state of other flood control systems across the nation.
In previous hearings with the Corps of Engineers, we have been told that it was unclear whether the levees failed to perform as designed or if they were overwhelmed. In other words, we didn’t know if the levees get overwhelmed by a storm that was larger than they were designed to withstand – or if they simply failed.
Last week, at a hearing of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, we were told that they simply failed.
Representatives of the teams researching the floodwall breaches – including experts from Louisiana State University, the National Science Foundation and the American Society of Civil Engineers – informed us that the storm surge and winds that Hurricane Katrina brought to the Lakefront area of New Orleans were that of a category 1 hurricane. And though the levees and floodwalls were designed to handle a category 3 storm, many of the floodwalls failed.
Numerous factors seem to have contributed to these failures. This includes the differing floodwall heights and construction materials used in different parishes (controlled by different levee boards). It also appears that floodwalls were anchored into weak ground and not deep enough.
Clearly, we need to take a look at the way the Corps determines the appropriate design for floodwalls. We also must review how the Corps prioritizes projects and conducts their cost-benefit analysis.
Moreover, we need to know the impact of dividing the responsibility for maintaining levees and floodwalls within one flood control project between various local levee boards.
From a broader perspective, we must review other flood control projects across the region – and the nation – to ensure that the same problems did not occur elsewhere and that we have the flood protection we expect.
And some responsibility may lie in the way Congress and the Administration authorizes and funds flood control projects. If so, changes will need to be made there as well.
While I know we must spend a little longer looking at the failures that occurred in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, I look forward to moving into a more proactive mode. Identifying the changes is essential if we are to avoid this kind of failure in the future in New Orleans or any place else in the country.