Can We Protect New Orleans?

Team 4: Hurricane and Flood Protection

Main Members Objectives Background Case Studies Solutions Time Line Levee Management Maps References Mission 2010 Final Plan

Sources are cited by numbers. The numbers refer to categories in our References list.

Levee Management - The Levee Board

The current, ineffective levee board system in New Orleans is partly what led to the levee failures. The levees are controlled by local levee boards, and there is little interaction or communication between them. The safety standards vary greatly from district to district, and there was no set plan for the maintenance of the levee system. The levee boards are also involved in many other interests, such as real estate and economic ventures. This also causes corruption to be a hindering factor in the levee boards.

We plan to consolidate the levee boards into one body in which the each district would be represented. The Levee Governance Board would be in charge of overseeing the rebuilding of the levees to and their maintenance at the specifications and standards we set up earlier. The members of the board would be appointed by the governor and it would include engineers of technical expertise. All the land currently held by the levee boards would be property of the state. The Levee Governance Board would be responsible for the safety and upkeep of the levee system and would have to report to the governor on it activities and budget.

National Levee Safety Program Act of 2006 is a bill in Congress that sets up standards and protocol for the inspection and inventory of the levees, an interagency committee on levee safety with a National Levee Safety Advisory Board, and a National levee safety program. This is obviously a very important measure that would not only help ensure the safety of New Orleans, but many other port cities as well. 


Monitoring and Maintenance

The levee system pre-Hurricane Katrina had been very poorly maintained. Because of subsidence many of the levees had sunk below where they were supposed to be, and the levee heights are extremely inconsistent from region to region. As mentioned above, the Levee Governance Board would be in charge of overseeing all levee maintenance.

The Board would require a yearly inventory of the levee system. Any damage that is found would be fixed according to safety priority before the next hurricane season, or if on the river before the next high water. Subsidence would be taken into account every year by raising the levees to account for unacceptable sinkage.

Part of ensuring the safety of the levees is informing and involving the community and making sure that they don’t get complacent. One way in which we plan to do this is by involving the local universities, such as Tulane and University of New Orleans, in the levee monitoring program and research.

 Lack of knowledge about the state of levees protecting New Orleans was a major reason for failure.  Subsidence had changed the heights of levees in the city by feet in certain neighborhoods. 

To have a more systematic approach to levee monitoring, we are going to put electronic sensors in all the levees. Our plan includes the use of a Differential Global Positioning System that will monitor the relative positions of points along the levee system.  The DGPS system recommended by the United States Army Corps of Engineers for Levees and Groins has a horizontal movement tolerance of 1-2 ft. and a vertical tolerance of .5-1 ft.   We believe that this level of accuracy is not precise enough to protect New Orleans.  The levee system protecting New Orleans needs to be much more closely monitored.  We suggest using equipment with Feature Position Tolerance approaching that used in structure site plans.  Such sensors have horizontal tolerances of .01-.5 ft. and vertical tolerances of .01-.5 ft.  Operating with smaller tolerances would allow for engineers to detect the deformation of levees sooner. The readings will be transmitted by satellite to monitoring stations at the local universities. This system will be useful in the overall maintenance of the levees and for emergencies. If people at the monitoring stations see that the water pressure on the levees along the Mississippi River is too great, they could inform the Levee Governance Board who could then evacuate areas in danger.

A side benefit to the improved monitoring and maintenance of the New Orleans levees is all the skilled, well-paying jobs it will create. The maintenance of the levees will be a year-round task that will require a constant crew of workers. 

One of the lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina was that proper maintenance and monitoring is imperative to public safety.  We envision the monitoring system to be the first step in a levee maintenance program.  The decision to use small tolerances in our system was made keeping in mind the various subsidence rates throughout the city.  The fear is that some of the highest subsidence rates per year (6-10mm per year) are not larger than the tolerances of the USACE specified sensors.  Therefore, there was the danger of waiting years before being able to conclusively verify problems.  With the smaller tolerance engineers will be notified much sooner of issues.  We suggest that after such notification, that the levees in question be surveyed and adjusted as needed. 


 USACE. (2003 Jul 1). Engineering Manual 1110-1-1003.

Army Corps

Instead of involving the Army Corps, we have decided to hire private contractors to rebuild the New Orleans flood protection system. The present understaffed and underfunded state of the Army Corps. Many reports have surfaced that saying that the Army Corps had not built the levees up to the standards of the projected plans and had done an extremely inadequate job maintaining the levee system. The Corps knew that the flood protection system in place would not hold up to a strong storm. Misinformation was also rampant. The steel pilings in the 7th St. Canal levee should have been many 15-30 feet deep according to the records of the Army Corps; however, they were only a few feet deep. The Army Corps of Engineers needs to be help accountable for its failures in protecting New Orleans. Until the Corps reorganizes itself into a more efficient and productive body, we have decided to keep them out of the rebuilding process.