Hearings - Testimony
 
Full Committee
Comprehensive and Integrated Approach to meet the Water Resources Needs in the Wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
 
Major General Don T. Riley
Director of Civil Works, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, I am Major General Don T. Riley, Director of Civil Works. I am honored to be testifying before your Committee today, along with the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Mr. George Dunlop on the involvement of the Corps of Engineers in the Federal recovery and rebuilding effort for New Orleans and the surrounding areas. My testimony today will provide a brief status of our activities in the storm impacted area, and describe how the Corps of Engineers can assist in this effort.

Emergency Response support to FEMA

We are continuing to execute the Corps FEMA-related missions of debris management and roofing in the impacted area. Through October, we had removed over 14 million cubic yards of debris from areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama impacted by Hurricane Katrina. We have installed nearly 107,000 temporary roofs. The Corps has completed over 200 temporary public structures in Mississippi, including police and fire stations, city halls, post offices and other governmental buildings. Corps employees are also putting children back in classrooms throughout Mississippi, helping to bring towns back to a bit of normalcy.

Repairs to the Existing System

With our contractors, we are working around the clock on the repair of levees and floodwalls to reduce the risk of damage through the remainder of this hurricane season, which continues until the end of November, and the rainy season that the city normally experiences in December and January. Our goal is to complete this phase of the effort before the start of the next hurricane season, which begins in June 2006. Twenty-eight contracts have been, or currently are, advertised (13) or awarded (15), with an estimated value of approximately $175 million. Any delays in contract awards could impact our ability to complete work by June 2006. We are also actively gathering data and information to learn from the recent storms, and have begun an after action assessment of the existing storm damage reduction system.

Investigating the Performance of the Existing System

There is no single answer to the questions as to why there were failures in the storm damage reduction system as there were multiple breaches of levees and floodwalls at a number of locations. We have not yet determined the failure mechanism or mechanisms, which are likely to vary in each case. The answer to these questions will follow from a further investigation and thorough analysis of the data we are now collecting. In some cases, e.g. the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, we have observed evidence of overtopping that may have played a role. In other cases, e.g. the 17th Street Canal, we have observed evidence of massive soil movement that could have been a factor in how these levees failed. There is a need for considerable analysis to answer this question.

The Chief of Engineers has commissioned an Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) to perform the engineering evaluation. The IPET includes engineers and scientists from the Engineering Research and Development Center from Vicksburg, Mississippi, as well as from other Federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The data collection teams have been performing field work in the New Orleans area to obtain as much data as possible related to the performance of the levees and floodwalls and to ensure that data is collected before it is covered over or lost by cleanup or as a result of repair efforts. Over the next eight months, the IPET will examine and analyze the data and rationally test various hypotheses about the behavior of the infrastructure. The IPET will use collected data, laboratory testing, and modeling activities in its analysis. The work currently planned includes assessing the Geodetic Reference Datum; performing storm surge and wave modeling and interior drainage/flooding modeling; evaluating hydrodynamic forces, floodwall and levee performance, and pumping station performance; and conducting a consequence analysis and a risk and reliability assessment.

Until we can compare the evidence to an understanding of the hydrodynamic environment that resulted from the storm, the forces generated by the resulting surge and waves, how those forces were applied to individual structures and how the structures, given their design intent and capacities, should respond to those forces, we will only be speculating as to why they failed. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that we will not wait until the study is complete to begin applying what we are learning. As we learn, we will immediately act to incorporate those findings into the ongoing work in which we are engaged.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is supporting our efforts with an External Review Panel, which will provide an independent oversight of the IPET evaluation. The final IPET report will be released in June 2006. However, any important findings will be shared on an ongoing basis before then with those who are involved in the design, engineering, and repair of the existing New Orleans levees and floodwalls. We are making all findings available to the public and invite the public and the scientific and engineering community to share any information they may have. On October 29th, the Corps began publicly releasing available data by posting it on a publicly accessible web site, https://ipet.wes.army.mil. Additional data will be added to the web site as it becomes available. The IPET is collecting pre-Katrina documentation (design and construction drawings, soil sample records, etc.), post-Katrina documentation (hydrographic surveys, soil samples, concrete cores, etc.) and other performance data (eyewitness accounts, photographs, etc.). The data being released will include design memorandums dating back to the 1960s, and the associated reports for the Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana and Vicinity High Level Plan, which includes 17th Street Outfall Canal and London Avenue Outfall Canal. This information includes the project plan, hydrology and hydraulics, geology, foundation investigation and design (including the field exploration, soil borings, and laboratory testing) and the structural design.

In addition to the IPET effort, the Secretary of Defense has directed the Secretary of the Army to convene an independent panel of national experts under the direction of the National Academies to evaluate the performance of the storm damage reduction system in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. The National Academies will assemble a multidisciplinary (e.g., engineering, atmospheric sciences, etc.) panel drawn from the public and private sectors and academia. The National Academies Panel will perform a high-level review and issue findings and recommendations based primarily but not solely on the data gathered by the IPET and the ASCE Independent Review Panel. The findings of the National Academies Panel will be subject to a peer review process before being released under the imprimatur of the National Academies. This forensic study is to focus on existing levees and/or floodwalls that were overtopped, breached, or failed during Hurricane Katrina, and whether such situations were the result of design, construction, or operation and maintenance issues, soil and geo-technical conditions, changed assumptions upon which the design or construction were based, the severity of Hurricane Katrina, or other factors. The National Academies Panel is expected to produce its final report by July 2006. All reports generated by these panels will be made available to the public.

Future Planning Efforts

Because large portions of New Orleans sit lower than the surrounding waters, reducing the risk of flood and storm damage in these areas can be challenging. City and Parish officials in New Orleans and surrounding parishes and State officials in Louisiana will have a significant and active role in planning for the future of these areas. The Corps of Engineers stands ready to work with them to design and build a flood and storm damage reduction system that is better than it was before the storm.

The Corps completed a reconnaissance study in August 2002, which recommended exploring further the options for improving the existing system. Development of a plan for a better system is an extremely complex undertaking. We will need to conduct an in depth evaluation of a broad range of options before developing recommendations on the best way to reduce the risk of future storm damage. That analysis would be provided through a feasibility study.

In such a feasibility study, a full suite of alternatives would be developed and analyzed for economic and environmental benefits and impacts, and mitigation plans developed where necessary. Any potential solutions would be fully coordinated with elected officials and other decision makers, stakeholders, and the public, and fully integrated with other water resources issues, such as navigation, environmental and coastal restoration along with storm damage reduction. It is expected that such a study could be completed in 2-3 years, under an expedited timeframe and subject to the negotiation of a cost sharing agreement and availability of Federal and non-Federal funding. We will work with local officials, and all interested persons to advance these investigations as expeditiously and cost-effectively as possible.

Coastal Ecosystem Restoration

As we set about the process of evaluating potential changes to the flood and storm damage reduction system in the New Orleans area, we must not lose sight of the important role that the lands of the Louisiana coastal area, including its coastal wetlands, can play. The proposed near-term aquatic ecosystem restoration plan for the Louisiana Coastal Area would prevent some of the ongoing wetlands losses, create new marshlands, and nourish existing marshes. While there is ample justification for coastal wetlands restoration for its own sake and a host of other reasons, some of the proposed aquatic ecosystem restoration measures would serve a dual purpose – by helping to maintain the integrity of the landscape surrounding the system of levees and floodwalls in the greater New Orleans area. It is especially important in this case that the storm damage reduction system includes these complementary coastal restoration measures. The Administration has recently requested the reallocation of $250 million of Federal funds provided by the Congress in the Emergency Supplemental for use in such activities. These activities are a necessary part of any future solution to reduce the risk of storm damage in the greater New Orleans area.

Ongoing Navigation Projects

In addition to our work on land, the Corps is heavily engaged in keeping waterways in the region navigable. These activities include salvage of sunken vessels and removal of other obstructions, repairs to locks and bridges, as well as dredging and survey operations across the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Mobile, Alabama.

Corps Participation in Community Planning

The Corps stands ready to work in close partnership with the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, the city of New Orleans, and other Gulf Coast cities, to assist them in a thoughtful, well-considered way as they plan for their future. The Corps is likely to have an active role in the restoration of public infrastructure in the disaster zone. We will be fully engaged in the Federal effort for the region affected by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita through the Gulf Coast Recovery and Rebuilding Council. In accordance with President Bush’s Executive Order of November 1, 2005, the Corps will not only be responsive to, but also proactive in, providing effective, integrated, and fiscally responsible support to State, local, and tribal governments, the private sector, and faith-based and other community humanitarian relief organizations in the recovery and rebuilding of the Gulf Coast region affected by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

This concludes my statement. Again, I appreciate the opportunity to testify today. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

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