March 09, 2006

Would Flood Gates Have Helped New Orleans?

I received this email from my hubby's Uncle. Hubby's Uncle just retired from Northrup Grummen and he worked closely with several branches of the U.S. Military on projects and knew a lot of higher ranking Military people.

He received the email from one of them, while I can not vouch for it's true authenticity I can say I have never recieved a untrue email from Hubby's Uncle.

Take the information for what it's worth.


Here is the story in New Orleans as per Vald Heiberg:

I was the District Engineer in New Orleans in the '70's as we fought the "Greens" over putting two huge "Dutch style" flood gates at the east end of Lake Ponchartrain. That was the Corps plan, to allow us to protect ALL of the lake shore and to keep the levees where needed along the lake (especially at New Orleans) lower. The soil conditions near the big Lake are atrocious, unlike along the Mississippi River where centuries of natural levees with far better soil exists. Higher levees near the Lake clearly was the wrong answer for the hurricane protection. I even invited all our "green" attackers to Vicksburg, flying them there for a day in 1975, to visit with the world's best model and hydraulic
experts at the Corps labs.

But I didn't convince those rabid "greens," and they sued the Corps to stop those massive flood gates. A Federal judge agreed with them: "Just build those New Orleans Levees higher", we were told in court.

Meantime, Dutch, British, and Italian engineers visited our Vicksburg experts to get their facts right for their projects, and yhey built systems providing far more protection. For the Dutch, they protect their urban areas against 10,000 year flood events. The Congress allows the Corps to build to (at most) 100- or 200-y ear protection.

In 1986, the Corps finally gave up the decade-long fight to keep those huge gates. That concession was perhaps my biggest error as the Corps' "Chief," but there simply was no support from the Federal courts or the Congress who assumed "higher levees are the answer."

Katrina showed everyone the error of abandoning those huge flood gates, yet that story remains poorly told. There are some critics who say "It wouldn't have made that much a difference." I am certain they are wrong, and know that future hurricanes will be far better handled by a flood gate system more like the Dutch, Brits, and Italians have chosen. But in yhe '70's and beyond, the "greens" had the upper hand. Perhaps now, with the waste and chaos of Katrina and Rita behind us, our future protection will include those large flood surge gates! I have provided these thoughts to the chair of the National Academies committee who are studying "the big picture" for future New Orleans Hurricane flooding protection.

Now you know "the rest of the story" . . . and I was there. Too bad the author of that scurrilous attack on the Army Corps of Engineers didn't know his/her facts. And I hope you find a way to share this with those who saw your earlier piece.

Vald Heiberg Commander, New Orleans District '74-'75
Member, Mississippi River Commission, '75-'78
Director, Civil Works, Corps of Engineers, '79-'82
Deputy Commander, Corps of Engineers, '82-'83
Commander and "Chief of Engineers", Army Corps of Engineers,

Posted by Quality Weenie at March 9, 2006 08:24 AM | TrackBack

Thanks for posting this. I know this sort of thing works. When livin' in CA, there was a huge resevoir/lake a few miles down the road (as the crow flies). When the heavy rains came, they would open a floodgate and release the water into the river, which was usually a mud puddle in the summer. It kept the lake from overflowin' and destroyin' property.

Posted by: Harrison at March 9, 2006 01:24 PM