With hurricane season upon us and already a second named storm, residents in New Orleans are asking about the condition of their protective hurricane levees. This is especially true for residents whose yards back up to levees.
After all, it is household knowledge in the Big Easy that just prior to Hurricane Katrina’s arrival in 2005, residents living next to the 17th Street Canal (the city’s most important outfall canal) had reported water pooling in their yards. Records show that the city tested the water six months prior to Katrina and determined the seepage was coming from the canal.
However, the Army Corps of Engineers – the federal agency responsible for the canal’s floodwall – was never alerted. And tragically, the canal wall failed during Katrina flooding the portion of the city with the most people and property.
In light of this, one might assume that better maintenance inspections and better reporting of problems by the Orleans Levee District (OLD) would have resulted in the seepage being brought to the attention of the corps which would have acted on the information. Was the seepage was a red herring or the canary in the coal mine?