Cajun Levee Leader Windell Curole: Failed levees not source of Katrina flooding

Here is an interesting perspective I came across recently concerning the engineering and flood protection issues surrounding Hurricane Katrina.

You can sense the frustration of the author, Mr. Windell Curole of the South Lafourche Levee Board, who is speaking for the Association of Levee Boards. Apparently, the news media ignorantly assigned the term “levee” to anything that failed and led to floods after Katrina, thus leading politicians, policy makers and the chatting classes to believe that levees were indeed the source of the failures. According to Mr. Curole, it wasn’t the levees at all — but other less reliable flood control devices such as flood walls.

This is exactly the kind of fundamentally important distinction the media fails to make in its haste to summarize.  There are a lot of people who — right or wrong — do not like levees at all.  Their cause it seems was unfairly assisted by the inaccurate and ignorant use of the term levee to apply to all flood control in the region.

So, like levees or not, I offer the following summary and memo in a modest effort to contribute to a more accurate and productive understanding of the important issues at stake here:

Misunderstood Issues:

1. The 17th Street and London Avenue walls failed during the storm without overtopping
and the levees that were not successful experienced excessive overtopping and erosion
due to overtopping.

2. The US Army Corps of Engineers’ high level plan along the east side of Lake
Pontchartrain was abandoned because of a lawsuit by environmentalists, fishermen and
lack of federal support.

3. The US Army Corps of Engineers’ high level plan was to construct levees along the
southern rim of Lake Pontchartrain to protect New Orleans. Gates were proposed to
close the outfall canal, but the city did not relocate the city pump stations. Floodwalls
along the canals replaced gates at the end of the canals.

4. The I-Walls’ failure along the 17th Street and London Avenue canals caused most of the
flooding in the New Orleans proper.

5. Water entered the city for over three days through the floodwall breeches on the two
outfall canals allowing flooding up to 4½ feet above sea level inside the city.

6. Had the walls along the outfall canals not failed, flooding would have been minimal in
New Orleans proper.

This is a (soon) failing flood wall in the 9th Ward– not a levee.

The Levee Didn’t Fail by Windell Curole