Will New Orleans new disaster prevention system keep the waters out?

The new Seabrook Floodgate Complex was built in “record time” to protect New Orleans

New Orleans became the poster child for governmental and agency foot-dragging when it came to revitalization and replacing the enormous devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But after seven years and full funding from Congress, there is the real possibility that the city could weather the approaching hurricane season well.

The new Seabrook Floodgate Complex, built in what for government bureaucracy is record time and cost $14.5 billion, is a 133-mile chain of levees, flood walls, gates and pumps too vast to really view at one time.

A $165 million barrier now lies across the shipping canal that links Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Two “lift gates,” 50 feet across, can be lowered to block waters from Lake Pontchartrain. A 95 feet wide navigation gate can be swung into place when needed. The gates will, when open (which will be most of the time) allow easy boat traffic.

When a storm or hurricane threatens, however, they’ll seal the canal from the type of horrific surge that devastated the city’s Lower Ninth Ward during Katrina.

The Floodgate Complex under construction, photo by USACE public affairs, Flickr

But perhaps the greatest components of this complex are its two-mile “Great Wall”, which can seal off the channel from Lake Borgne to the east, or the billion-dollar west closure complex, which features the biggest pumping station on the planet.

“This is the best system the greater New Orleans area has ever had,” said Colonel Edward R. Fleming, the commander of the New Orleans district of the Army Corps of Engineers.

But there may be a catch that hasn’t been planned for.

According to an article in the New York Times, these new defenses were built to withstand and prevent a 100-year flooding event – the kind of flooding that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year.

But Katrina was generally considered to be a 400-year storm, and, with climate change, rising seas and more numerous hurricanes predicted, the chances for even harsher conditions to come are very real.

And reading between the lines can be revealing.

New storm-proofed pumps can drain off the flooding with relative speed.

Will it be fast enough or sufficient enough to get the job done should a fast and furious storm slam the area?

Repelling insane flood waters can’t merely be done by concrete systems. Coastal and wetland restoration are vital to the success of keeping New Orleans flood-free.

With all the expense, planning, construction and efforts made to protect New Orleans, whether it will be enough to get the job done is something that we’ll just have to wait and see. Mother Nature surely always has the last word.

One Response

  1. I think they missed the mark here. I hope to God I am wrong.

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