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Levee System Needs Overhaul

September 17, 2005

By Kevin Caruso

The levees failed miserably in New Orleans, as did the Bush Administration.

And even though the Bush Administration is beyond repair (the incompetence exhibited in the aftermath of Katrina is as bad as it gets), the levee system is repairable, but will require a massive overhaul.

Levees were first built in New Orleans in the 1700s, when the city was first settled. And the basic construction of the levees has remained essential the same ever since: Most of the levees still consist primarily of soil with some type of reinforcement (such as waterproof cement) to help strengthen them.

But the piecemeal process of construction and repair over the years has caused many weak areas in the system.

"[The levees] have been extended and rebuilt a number of times, and with a system like that, not a uniform system, it's possible that the add-ons are not as robust as new construction," said John Schuring, a geotechnical engineer and professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology.

And the repaired Katrina breaches have added additional weakness to the system.

Another disturbing problem is that the levees were designed to ONLY withstand a fast moving category 3 hurricane.

So, clearly, a major overhaul of the entire levee system needs to occur not only to fix all of the weak areas, but also to strengthen the system so that it can withstand a category 5 hurricane.



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