Hearing on “New Orleans Hurricane and Flood Protection and Coastal Louisiana Restoration: Status and Progress”
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Thank you, Madam Chairman, for holding this hearing, and thank you to all the witnesses for agreeing to discuss these important issues with us today. I would also like to commend Senator Vitter for his tireless efforts on behalf of the people of Louisiana, particularly on issues related to the Corps of Engineers. EPW has not held a hearing dedicated to these Louisiana issues since a field hearing in February 2007. Both this hearing and that field hearing were prompted by Senator Vitter. He has worked very diligently to educate his colleagues here in the Senate on the importance of taking action, as well as on the details of what Congress needs to do to ensure proper protection for his State.
The issues surrounding how to provide hurricane and flood protection for New Orleans as well as appropriate coastal restoration activities are numerous and complex. The projects themselves are also very expensive. Oversight hearings like this one are an important step in ensuring that these things get done right. The people of Louisiana are counting on it for their very existence and way of life. The American taxpayers are counting on knowing that their tax dollars are being spent wisely, and not wasted on things that won’t work technically or that won’t provide all the benefits promised as justification for the costs.
This Committee previously has held several hearings establishing the reasoning for a federal role in coastal restoration activities in southern Louisiana. Unlike the situation with the Florida Everglades in 2000, the fact that we had a Chief’s Report for this project meant that I was able to support the authorization included in the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. Since a federal role is no longer in question, I hope our witnesses will focus more on the details of this effort. As the Committee of jurisdiction, we need to hear specifics about what is proceeding well and what the challenges and obstacles are. We need to hear if Congressional action is needed to better focus or prioritize the Corps’ activities in this area. My opinion is that the Everglades restoration effort is not going particularly well, and I hope we can avoid similar mistakes in coastal Louisiana restoration.
My understanding on the pump to the river issue is that we are basically discussing two options for reducing or preventing flooding in New Orleans. The first option, the one that is currently authorized and the Corps is constructing, combines the existing interior drainage system with the ability to pump water from the city’s three outfall canals to Lake Pontchartrain. Previous reports from the Corps tell us that this component within the larger system being constructed will provide a 100-year level of protection for the city.
The second option would also contribute to providing a 100-year level of protection, but it involves redesigning the interior drainage system to eliminate the need for interior pumps on the outfall canals, instead relying on pumping water just at the lakefront or in combination with pumping to the Mississippi River. Preliminary estimates indicate that this option may be significantly more expensive and complex to construct. Operationally, however, it may be more reliable than the first option.
I look forward to the discussion with the witnesses of the pros, cons and tradeoffs of each option, and I again thank Senator Vitter for prompting this hearing.