Does the Corps of Engineers Read Wizbang?

Long time readers know that for several months now I’ve been calling the flooding of New Orleans a dam break. — That a levee is simply a long short dam and that it was a dam break and not a hurricane that flooded New Orleans.

After almost 6 months it seems someone is listening.

Levees get less scrutiny than dams
Critics note disparity in corps’ standards

As they near the end of their investigations into the deadly failures of New Orleans’ hurricane protection system, some of the nation’s top engineering minds have come to one unshakable conclusion: If the Army Corps of Engineers had built the region’s levees to the same standards it uses for dams, the city may well have survived Katrina without catastrophic flooding.

Representatives of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the National Science Foundation said Monday that some of the problems they think played key roles in the disaster — low engineering safety standards, lack of rigorous peer review and shoddy maintenance — are simply not tolerated by the corps when building dams, but are commonplace in levee projects.

“If you looked at a major earthen dam being designed during the same time frame as the 17th Street Canal (floodwall) was being designed, there would have been boards of consultants and rigorous outside peer review that probably would have detected and caught many problems that are coming to light with the 17th Street project,” said Larry Roth, deputy executive director of the society.

“There is a National Dam Safety Act that sets out specific requirements to make sure dams won’t have these problems, that they are safe for the people who live around them. There is no similar legislation for levees.

“We’re hoping one of the good things that comes out of Katrina is that the country finally recognizes the fact that levees protect as much human life and property as dams.”

Of course I know the Corps isn’t reading Wizbang. (And I won’t make a snotty comment about that requiring literacy.) But it’s nice to see that they are finally getting a clue.

That levees are not considered dams in engineering terms to the Corps is another surprise. (to me anyway) It has ramifications all around the country.

‘A very huge issue’

Ray Seed, a University of California-Berkeley professor who is a leader of the science foundation investigation, said this was “a very huge issue.”

“The corps actually has a very elegant set of policies set up for dam review and they do a very good job of it,” Seed said. “They bring in an outside panel of experts with great knowledge and experience in specific areas of science and engineering critical to building dams.

“They are independent of the corps and they do rigorous review of everything. Dams also have outside review panels meet every few years to review the safety of the dam and the maintenance efforts.

“We would like to see the same thing in place for levees, because they protect just as many — maybe more — human life and property as dams.”

Which brings me to my last point. New Orleans bashers have repeated the silly mantra that people were dumb to live below sea level where levees are needed to keep water out. Conveniently ignoring that millions of people live below dams and their intelligence is never questioned.

What *should* happen next is a nationwide review of any levees built by the Corps. I doubt it will happen, institutional stupidity being what it is, but it is obvious to even the most casual observer that the levees millions of people live behind are now suspect.

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