Successfully reported this slideshow.
We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime.

New Orleans Flood Protection Inadequacy Policy Analysis Memo (Unpublished)


Published on

This is a policy recommendation addressed to President Obama (for purposes of a graduate school assignment.) Since I know someone who was personally affected by Hurricane Katrina, I felt I should learn more about how and why it happened and make informed suggestions on what could be done about it to prevent it from happening again. That being said, I am by no means an expert. Thought you guys might like to see why why I’ve been so busy this semester. Take it with a grain of salt. Hope you guys like it. Take care,
PS: Publishing not authorized without expressed written consent of the author, Trevor Lanham.

Published in: Technology, News & Politics
  • Login to see the comments

New Orleans Flood Protection Inadequacy Policy Analysis Memo (Unpublished)

  1. 1. MEMORANDUM TO: Barrack Obama, President of the United States FROM: Danielle C. Gray, Associate Counsel to the President DATE: October 21, 2009 SUBJECT: A policy analysis memorandum recommending the Dutch alternative as the most expedient, robust solution to inadequate flood protection in New Orleans, Louisiana. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: In order to address the pressing flood protection inadequacy problem in New Orleans, the implementation of the Dutch alternative is recommended, having been selected from three competing alternatives whereby the Dutch alternative is compared and contrasted against the LACPR alternative, with the status quo included merely as a basis for comparison. Next, these alternatives are evaluated against four criteria including sustainability, accountability, feasibility, and efficiency. Looking forward, the key implementation requirements would include adoption and implementation of the Dutch alternative as the new flood protection policy in New Orleans, establishment of an independent accountability and project tracking authority, and federal regulation of the National Flood Insurance Program. First, however, it is necessary to understand the problem. 1. PROBLEM It is now four years after Hurricane Katrina, yet the existing flood protection policy and its implementation remain woefully inadequate in New Orleans. In 1965, Congress tasked the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with providing New Orleans flood protection against “the worst storm characteristic of the region.” USACE based the protection system design on the 1959 Standard Model Hurricane which simulated a Category 3 storm, when in fact 40 percent of the storms hitting the greater New Orleans metropolitan area since then were Category 3 storms or higher.i Unless Congress takes a more aggressive stance on protecting New Orleans, her residents will needlessly remain ever increasingly vulnerable to what should be a preventable threat. That being said, before prospective alternatives to address this problem can be properly evaluated, it must be understood how this problem arose in the first place, to learn lessons from the past in order to avoid embarking on a vicious cycle of mistakes in the future. 2. CONTEXT Historically, the U.S. policy towards flood protection in New Orleans has been lackadaisical in implementing Congress’ original intent, to provide New Orleans residents timely and adequate flood protection. This apathetic approach to the flood problem became morbidly evident in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Indeed, because of failures at all three levels of the government and their administrative agencies to satisfy these intentions, they inadvertently contributed to the more than 1,836 deaths in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Yet, rather than learning from history’s lessons and increasing the level of protection, USACE has instead just finished the Category 3 protection in May of 2006 ii it set out to accomplish in 1965; a level of protection that many including Ivor van Heerdeniii claim would have been inadequate even if it had been 100% in place prior to Hurricane Katrina. As noted above, USACE is a major stakeholder in the implementation of Congressional flood control policy, whereby typically their role is to interpret what level of protection Congress desires and attempt to implement that intent into their design. Traditionally when the Secretary of the Army tasks USACE with a flood control project, they may think they understand what Congress desires, but then in the frame of the funds allocated to achieve their intent, USACE may either misinterpret their intent or may make the most it can with the funds it is allocated, even if it does not meet Congress’ policy intent. Since the Hurricane Katrina, Congress has adopted at least 4 pieces of legislation with other policies proposed to deal with New Orleans’ flood protection inadequacy problem, including Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2006 (P.L. 109-148), Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Hurricane Recovery, 2006 (H.R. 4939), Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008 (H.R. 2642), and the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (H.R. 1495).iv Thus, Hurricane Katrina ensured wetland restoration and flood protection upgrade bills made it on the Congressional agenda; however, Congress has yet to adopt any robust flood control legislation for New Orleans. Instead Congress has opted for quick fixes and legislation aimed at addressing ancillary determinants. These include itemized projects to address urgent problems that unambiguously contributed to the flooding after Hurricane Katrina, such as closing the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) which acted as a funnel, converging surge water that then poured into the heart of New Orleans during the hurricane. Implementing projects like closing the MRGO are positives steps to be sure; however, they fail to address the overarching inadequacy problem. Stepping back, it becomes obvious there are at least three big picture determinants at work here. First, Congressional primary stakeholders continue to deliberate on whether or not funding New Orleans’ flood protection should be a federal matter, despite a history of nationwide federal flood 1 POLICY ANALYSIS MEMO: FLOOD PROTECTION INADEQUACY IN NEW ORLEANS, LA | Trevor Lanham
  2. 2. protection funding that proves otherwise. Second, even when funding has been authorized, it has proved to be too little too late. Indeed, between the 1950s and 1995, federal funding for New Orleans flood protection projects decreased significantly. In fact, when Katrina made landfall, the government had funded only 87% of their expected commitment promised under the Flood Control Act of 1965, resulting in only 60% of the project reaching completion. Third, besides underfunding, there have also been environmental and tourism focused interest groups at the local level who have slowed implementation and who saw to it that USACE settle for a weaker flood protection design, also contributing to the inadequacy of this policy. Indeed, according to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration (LACPR) Final Technical Report issued July 17, 2009, at least 114 stakeholders are currently involved in the formulation of LACPR’s report. v While this participation is normally considered a positive feature in the policy process, the quarterly town hall meetings open to these stake holders has cost a year towards its adoption and implementation; time New Orleans does not have considering on average one Category 3 or higher hurricane hits the Greater New Orleans metropolitan area every three years. This may seem like a long time, but considering the last Category 3 or higher hurricane to hit New Orleans was Hurricane Rita just weeks on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is overdue. In fact, the central Gulf of Mexico is witnessing a trend of increased hurricane size, frequency and intensity since 1995. vi So, assuming one or a combination of prospective alternatives can address this problem, what measures should be used to evaluate the best course of action? 3. CRITERIA Perhaps if solutions to the problem were evaluated against criteria such as sustainability, accountability, feasibility, and efficacy, as vii opposed to Congress’ mainstay criterion of affordability, a solution would have been adopted by now. In evaluating sustainability, the question that should be posed to each proposed alternative is whether or not it is forward thinking enough to anticipate what might be important in the future and if it is a policy alternative that can endure and adapt to emerging threats and demands. For example, does the alternative incorporate wetland restoration into its implementation plan, or does it offer research that contradicts environmentalists who believe creating such marshland would be a sustainable venture. In a setting where the Government Accountability Office (GAO) only audits the USACE flood control projects in New Orleans once every four years, it becomes clear how a potential solution to the policy problem could be furthered by increased accountability. This accountability criterion should be measured in terms of the capturing the policy solution’s intent, meeting the policy solutions goals, implementation and spending transparency, project tracking, expediency, and enforcement. In the context of the Flood Control Act of 1965 which took 40 years to implement, it should be unambiguous how a prospective solution to the policy problem could achieve a consensus towards adoption were it to prove a more feasible alternative. Measuring feasibility, in this case, means asking whether the solution is politically acceptable or not and if the solution is even implementable. Finally, in an environment where Congress is dragging out health care policy formulation, which is arguably a higher priority than flood protection, it is unequivocally apparent how a potential solution to the policy problem could advance implementation if it proved the more efficient option. This efficiency criterion will be directed at the projected costs and outcomes of the potential solution, measuring efficiency in terms of the risk mitigated versus the cost (i.e. cost-effectiveness, a.k.a. cost-benefit analysis), maximizing utility for the greater good, robustness, participation, and value-added. Now that the reader is armed with more appropriate standards to evaluate some potential alternatives, which ones are worthy of consideration among those available? 4. ALTERNATIVES a. THE STATUS QUO Clearly, if one evaluates the status quo against the three aforementioned criteria, it becomes obvious that it is not really a viable option. Hypothetically, the status quo would lay New Orleans residents down in front of the proverbial bus to be run over by the next Hurricane Katrina (or worse), with no significant flood protection improvements to stand in its way. Therefore, the status quo was given a 5 at best in all four criteria, since the current level 3 flood protection only gets New Orleans half way towards the flood protection Congress originally intended in the Flood Control Act of 1965 and since implementation expediency is clearly not a high priority even though it should be among the highest priorities. b. THE ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEER’S LACPR ALTERNATIVE The second alternative is an USACE comprehensive flood protection plan as described in their July 17, 2009 LACPR Final Technical Report. This report was submitted to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works on September 11, 2009 for administrative review before it is subsequently presented to Congress. The LACPR report recommends a “multiple-lines-of-defense strategy…since no one solution can achieve the desired objectives for flood and storm surge risk reduction.” This strategy will require “a combination of coastal restoration features, nonstructural measures, and structural components that include Mississippi River diversions, marsh creation, evacuation, elevating structures, building levees and floodgates.”viii It is also important to note that wetland restoration and marsh creation are just two types of ‘nonstructural measures and alternatives meant to reduce the exposure to risk by removing vulnerable populations and assets from threat [which also includes] measures such as property buyouts or raising structures in place.’ ix Based on 304 computer simulated storms, the LACPR report created a model “for rebuilding the New Orleans levee system, for determining flood insurance maps, and for evaluation of hurricane risk to the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.”x Finally, the report took over 200 million alternatives “developed for three hurricane surge risk reduction design 2 POLICY ANALYSIS MEMO: FLOOD PROTECTION INADEQUACY IN NEW ORLEANS, LA | Trevor Lanham
  3. 3. levels…and then screened *them further+ to a set of 111 alternatives for evaluation and comparison and then further narrowed down to five or six alternatives.”xi i. EVALUATING THE LACPR ALTERNATIVE a.) Sustainability While the LACPR report purports it is “technically feasible” to achieve a “no net loss of the coastal landscape of south Louisiana,” the National Research Council (NRC) Committee does not believe in such an optimistic outcome, stating they are “skeptical whether such an effort [particularly wetland restoration] is achievable or economically sustainable in the long run and whether it can be accomplished without substantial adverse environmental impacts.” xii Furthermore, the LACPR alternative acknowledges a need for ‘an adaptive management framework to guide program and project management due to Changes in social, political, economic, engineering, and environmental conditions over the next decades, by incorporating new information and technology into new and existing projects as they become available and by assimilating lessons learned as new projects are developed.’xiii That being said, the alternative also lacks some adaptability since USACE would be under operating under the traditional process of multiple authorizations under the Water Resources Development Acts, Flood Control Acts and/or Defense Appropriation/Supplemental Appropriation Acts, which typically “entail lengthy re-authorization processes [which] if the Corps wishes to adjust operational goals—will hinder comprehensive, collaborative, and adaptive restoration and protection.” xiv Thus, the LACPR alternative earns a 8 in sustainability. b.) Accountability In terms of accountability, the LACPR alternative finally captures the intent of robust, Category 5 flood and storm surge protection, however, it is falling short of the policies goals in terms of expediency, as it has yet to be implemented four hurricane seasons after the fact (hurricane Katrina) and calls for structural construction times that could last 16 years and coastal restoration construction times that could take up to 25 years.xv Thus, for accountability it gets a 6, in so far as its attempt to change the status quo. c.) Feasibility With respect to feasibility, the LACPR alternative may be politically acceptable given the rigorous policy process it has undertaken towards achieving a comprehensive proposal, but it remains to be seen if the LACPR alternative can be adopted, let alone implemented or not. Also, according to LACPR’s own trade-off scheme, some of its measures have “relatively low acceptability related to potential indirect environmental impacts and potential for regional impacts to the Mississippi coast.”xvi Consequently, feasibility earns a 7, since the tradeoffs [from the Final LACPR Technical Report] have not been vetted through the stakeholders and our State partners, it is premature to definitively determine which plans or components are more desirable for either continued development or implementation.”xvii d.) Efficiency Finally, concerning efficiency, the LACPR alternative is far more cost effective than the Louisiana Katrina Reconstruction Act; however, its potential $132 billion price tagxviii is more costly than its Dutch counterpart. The NRC also criticized the report for involving too few stakeholders, wondering “how adequately a group of 114 stakeholders represent the interests of the roughly 2.3 million people that inhabit the coastal Louisiana study area.”xix Accordingly, the five or six alternatives narrowed down from the 111 mentioned above, might not be representative of the interests of all potentially concerned parties. Furthermore, the NRC feels the Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis used to narrow down the alternatives “is a potentially useful approach to evaluate projects with important environmental, social, and cultural impacts,” however the LACPR report failed to cite a ‘preferred alternative or support the rankings of alternative plans.’xx Not to mention the risk mitigation versus economic cost associated with the alternative fall well short of claims the Dutch boast they would achieve in their alternative. That withstanding, the LACPR alternative earned a 7 since it offers a robust solution and maximizes utility for the greater good. c. THE DUTCH ALTERNATIVE In their report at the request of USACE, the Dutch outlined five different strategies with costs between $18 and $23 billion and then ultimately recommended the ‘preferred strategy consisting of a protected city and closed soft coast,’ which for the sake of this analysis is hereafter referred to as the Dutch alternative. (See Figure 1 in the Appendices for a map of the Dutch alternative’s proposed structural enhancements.) The Dutch alternative intends to provide the greater New Orleans metropolitan area with ‘economically justifiable 1/10,000 per year or greater level of flood risk reduction modeled after the flood risk reduction approach xxi the Netherlands implemented after the 1953 flood disaster.’ In a country where cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam are below mean sea level and 60% of the Netherlands are threatened by floods, it is easy to see how the 1953 flood disaster killed 1836 Dutch and flooded 700 square milesxxii compared to 217 square miles of land permanently transformed to water in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.xxiii A disaster of such magnitude clearly moved the flood protection inadequacy policy problem to the forefront of the Dutch governments’ prioritized list of issues to address. Yet, in their strides to address the problem through ‘shortening their 3 POLICY ANALYSIS MEMO: FLOOD PROTECTION INADEQUACY IN NEW ORLEANS, LA | Trevor Lanham
  4. 4. coastline using hardened structures such as barriers, they disrupted the natural hydrology and suffered major adverse environmental impacts.’ Founded on lessons learned from this approach, the Rijkswaterstaat modified their flood protection system towards a ‘closed soft coast’ system which shortens the coastline where possible ‘while simultaneously maintains the unhampered flow of water, sediment, and nutrients, utilizing and nurturing the potential for nature to add to coastal flood protection and produce a sustainable ecosystem.’xxiv While their report makes a few marsh development recommendations, it does so with the caveat that USACE further research current rules of thumb regarding ‘the effect of surge and wave attenuation by vegetation with accuracy sufficient to develop reliable hydraulic design parameters in order to find the appropriate balance between structural and nonstructural flood protection measures.’ In short, further research is suggested to see if wetland restoration is even a viable defense mechanism against hurricane surge water, let alone a sustainable one. The Dutch recommend this short term structural approach over wetland restoration biased alternatives since it may take as much as ‘50 years to complete the marsh development – its benefits towards reducing future levee costs, barrier upgrades, surge reduction and wave load reduction on the levees withstanding – leaving the issue of what is to be done in the interim unresolved.’xxv Finally, the Dutch alternative estimates “the various structural components of the strategies can be realized within a period of about 10 to 20 years.”xxvi i. EVALUATING THE DUTCH ALTERNATIVE a.) Sustainability The National Research Council seems to prefer the Dutch “comprehensive conceptual design for restoration and hurricane protection” alternative to this LACPR solution stating “although that study [might] not necessarily represent an optimal approach to restoration and protection, it is an example of a clear proposal with a long-term vision on which immediate actions can be based.”xxvii The Dutch alternative even offers some policy implementation and evaluation features to help bolster sustainability, including eight separate short term ‘pilot projects’ to determine implementation feasibilities of installing the various recommended structural and nonstructural measures, regular ‘safety assessments’ of flood protection structures, and ‘a unified design-operation-maintenance philosophy which incorporates climate change, subsidence, structural change, and social factors into the ongoing evaluation of the protective capabilities of built structures.’ Rather than dismissing these evaluative features outright, the LACPR report in contrast prefers to deal with safety assessments in a later policy revision and have the scientific community at large tackle the pilot projects. Also, part of USACE’s reservations about a unified design-operation-maintenance stem from responsibility and prerogative issues, the fact that operation and maintenance are usually handled at the local government level. Given the Rijkswaterstaat’s success with their ‘closed soft coastline’ approach to their inadequate flood protection policy problem, the outlook for a similar strategy in New Orleans does indeed seem promising. However, what works in the Netherlands might not work in New Orleans. The Rijkswaterstaat understands this, which is why they recommended policy implementation and evaluative features to their proposed policy alternative. The Dutch alternative earns a 9 in sustainability, since it more appropriately calls for more research into wetland restoration sustainability and effectiveness as well as satisfying the need for ‘the development of long term sustainable solutions and adaptive management since strategic plans may change when coping with the uncertainties posed by sea level rise, subsidence, and the general transgression of the *Mississippi+ Delta itself.’xxviii b.) Accountability With respect to the accountability criteria, the Dutch option captures the policy solution’s intent and then some by not only providing for adequate protection in the here and now, but vis-à-vis evaluation features to ensure it is adequate in the future despite changing externalities. Unlike the uncertainty associated with wetland restoration, transparency is ensured in the sense that New Orleans residents will be able to see where the government spending is going, into the construction of physical protective structures, and whether it is money spent well or not, based on whether it fails to protect New Orleans or not. All that withstanding, the Dutch alternative only gets a 7 as it fails to specify ways to ensure implementation transparency and project tracking to ensure their preferred alternative is implemented expeditiously. c.) Feasibility In terms of feasibility, the Dutch plan might meet the same fate as the USACE proposal did in 1973, when they proposed a barrier floodwall-floodgate plan to satisfy their interpretation of the Flood Control Act of 1965; however, New Orleans rejected the plan for tourism and environmental impact reasons. Contrary to what the NRC may think, 114 stakeholders mean there are now at least 114 different better informed groups to make happy, let alone the relatively uninformed public. For example, while those living inside of the levee system may be concerned about the peace of mind that comes with a huge mound of earth between them and the ocean, duck hunters and shrimp trawlers might be more concerned with how the Dutch alternative will affect their livelihood. The Dutch have proven their alternative is implementable in the Netherlands. Consequently, the Dutch alternative earns an 8 in feasibility, since it will likely meet some local political opposition. d.) Efficiency 4 POLICY ANALYSIS MEMO: FLOOD PROTECTION INADEQUACY IN NEW ORLEANS, LA | Trevor Lanham
  5. 5. Finally, as it pertains to efficiency, the Dutch alternative’s projected costs may end up higher than its counterparts and its outcome is likely to have inadvertent environmental impacts too, but no alternative more cost effectively mitigates the risk posed by future hurricanes. So in the end, the Dutch alternative earns a 9 in efficiency, because it is a robust alternative and since it maximizes utility for the greater good, for the residents of New Orleans. So which is alternative better satisfies the criteria in its attempt to address the policy problem? 5. RECOMMENDATION Based on the comparison of the alternatives’ potential to meet the sustainability, accountability, feasibility, and efficiency criteria as depicted in the criteria matrix (see Table. 1 in the Appendices) and tackle the flood protection inadequacy policy problem, the Dutch alternative is chosen over the LACPR and status quo alternatives as the optimal solution to the policy problem. What the Dutch alternative lacks in accountability and feasibility is more than made up for in its sustainability and efficiency, and this policy analysis memorandum offers implementation (see section five below entitled Implementation Plan) suggestions to address its project tracking and regional acceptability shortfalls. When comparing the status quo, the LACPR alternative, and the Dutch alternative to their projected outcomes, they all have indirect environmental impacts, but the Dutch alternative offers protection with the lowest risk level in the shortest total construction time. If someone were choosing between the LACPR alternative with its Dutch counterpart in terms of cost alone, he or she might unwittingly pick the Dutch alternative, however, as hinted at above, the $20 billion figure assumes Dutch levee fill unit costs in the Netherlands, which are approximately nine times less than its USACE counterpart’s in the New Orleans area. While this levee fill cost difference accounts for some of the price difference between the two alternatives, it is important to keep in mind the Dutch alternative is mitigating risk at minimum (1/10,000 year level) which is 100 times that of the LACPR alternative’s minimum (some components risk would be only mitigated to the 1/100 year level). Another reason for the levee fill cost difference could be resulting from a lack of USACE private contract outsourcing competitions for levee fill work. Although the Dutch alternative lacks the early investment in wetland restoration the LACPR alternative offers, the Dutch alternative does recognize the potential benefits associated with marsh development in the long term, but feels such investments in the short term may be misplaced without pilot project studies to remove the uncertainty in their effectiveness and sustainability. And while New Orleans residents may have to give up their view of the ocean or the historic French Quarter, this is a small price to pay for peace of mind and ensuring there’s a New Orleans to enjoy for many generations to come. Barrack Obama is the policymaker in the best position to expediently address this policy problem since it concerns policymakers at all echelons and over 114 stakeholders, not only in New Orleans and the State of Louisiana, but within the United States Congress and Supreme Court as well. Right now President Obama is staring down the double barrel shotgun of a potential $100 billion class action lawsuit filed against USACE (and therefore the federal government) with over 400,000 plaintiffs holding it liable for damages to persons and property due to the failure of the federally installed levee system in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, AND potentially another $84.6 billion invoice for damages, recovery, and reconstruction, should another Hurricane Katrina or worse hit New Orleans.xxix Better to bite the bullet and pay $20 billion now than another $84.6 billion when it is too late. In the context of our current recession, think of all the jobs that could be created, just like the ones Barrack Obama created when he earmarked funding for infrastructure in his stimulus package. Imagine as part of adopting the Dutch alternative, President Obama could attach transparency and independent accountability legislation, changing the way these infrastructure projects are handled in the future – in a move to discourage “pork barrel” legislation in the future, and thus appealing to the republican opposition. Finally, picture flood insurance regulations he could attach as a rider to legislation adopting the Dutch alternative: he could change the minimum national flood plain standards for urban flood protection, he could make purchasing flood insurance mandatory for those living in areas currently below the national flood plain standard, he could mandate an ad valorem based percentage of insurance premiums be applied towards defraying the costs associated with implementing this policy solution, and not to mention how he could specify EPA and epistemic community involvement towards removing the uncertainties associated with wetland restoration cost effectiveness. Now that’s change Americans can believe in. Of course recommendations are like hopes and dreams without a plan to implement them. 6. IMPLEMENTATION PLAN Thus, in order for the Dutch alternative to address the policy problem, first the President needs to present it to Congress to get it on the congressional agenda, and then set some deadlines for Congress to prioritize this policy problem with respect to other items on their agenda. This will help prevent the policy problem from dragging out any further and increase the likelihood of a more expedient implementation. The alternate process of getting enough Congressional signatures to get a bill onto the agenda is not very likely given the current economy and the utter failure of the singular attempt to do so mentioned above. 5 POLICY ANALYSIS MEMO: FLOOD PROTECTION INADEQUACY IN NEW ORLEANS, LA | Trevor Lanham
  6. 6. Next, the Dutch alternative must be incorporated into a legislative proposal as soon as possible so that it can undergo formulation and adoption. Once adopted, components of the Dutch alternative can be implemented, and perhaps some may even be completed before the next hurricane season, which resumes in June 2010. The NRC cites the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) as a “a good precedent for authorizing legislation for large-scale, adaptive ecosystem management projects, such as those that are needed to protect southern Louisiana into perpetuity. Authorized in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (WRDA 2000), the CERP is a 50/50 funding partnership with the State of Florida with a goal to restore, preserve, and protect the South Florida ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection (WRDA 2000, Section 601).” xxx Thirdly, this implementation will require an implementation authority. According to the LACPR report, the ‘recently restructured Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Authority (CWCRA) will implement the State Master Plan [which is really the state’s final approval of the LACPR final technical report] working in conjunction with USACE, other federal agencies, other state and local agencies, levee districts, parishes, private interests, non-government organizations, and the public.’xxxi The CWCRA is about as close to the quasi-Tennessee Valley Authority Ivor Van Heerden advocated to guarantee direct, separate federal funding and relatively autonomous authority. Fourthly, the CWCRA will need to be or appoint an independent accountability and project tracking authority to enforce project deadlines and ensure project implementation and spending transparency. This accountability authority should encourage private contract competition outsourcing; promote engineering marvel, and offer project incentives or rewards to drive down project costs. Fifthly, the National Flood Insurance Program flood protection standard needs to be changed. Since the National Flood Insurance Program standard for flood protection is accepted nationally as the de facto safety standard for providing protection against the 100-year flood, this standard must be revised for ‘highly populated urban areas such as New Orleans where hurricane protection system failure has been shown to be catastrophic because storm surges exceed the capacity of the hurricane protection system xxxii posing a major public safety concern, causing extraordinary property damage, and endangering evacuation routes.’ As a matter of flood insurance risk mitigation semantics, “the term ‘100-year recurrence interval’ is a frequently used term to describe an event that has a one per cent chance of occurring in any given year, or the surge associated with a hurricane expected to occur on average once in 100 years.”xxxiii As mentioned in the Alternatives section of this policy analysis memorandum, the LACPR “Task Force Hope” endeavors to provide New Orleans with 100-year recurrence interval protection, or 1/100-year risk reduction level protection, where as the Dutch alternative has shown it economically feasible to provide a minimum of 1/10,000-year risk reduction level protection. However, these risk calculations expressing the probability in percent of a storm occurring in any given year seem counter intuitive since only “Mother Nature” changes the likelihood of a storm occurring or not. If a 1/10,000-year risk level is to be understood as the likelihood of a hurricane exceeding the protection is less than 0.01% in any given year, than this probability now has meaning. Even if it is taken to mean preparing against “the 100 year storm,” also known as the worst storm that may be seen or come along only once every 100 years, it still seems problematic since on average a Category 3 or higher hurricane has hit the Louisiana coast once every three years. To put it in perspective, according to LSU scientists on the post Hurricane Katrina investigative panel, the current obsolete Category 3 levee system in New Orleans only provides 1/26-year protection against Hurricane Katrinaxxxiv, which was considered a 400-year surge event.xxxv Thus, while it is understood that the 1/10,000-year protection should be better than the 1/100-year protection, it is remains unclear what those risk levels actually mean in terms of protection, especially given the criticism of the Saffir-Simpson hurricane rating system of late. Furthermore, critics of this risk management standard point out it is difficult to ascertain accurate hurricane probability statistics because of changes in the climate and other environmental variable over the long term which in turn shifts long-term averages and extreme values over time, in a concept known as ‘non-stationarity.’xxxvi Any revision to the National Flood Insurance Program standards for minimum protection in highly populated urban areas ought to revise the standard, raising the minimums to account for these considerations as well as those mentioned in the recommendation section of this policy analysis memorandum. Finally, implementation will have to take into consideration how construction will be inhibited or even set back by the annual storm season. The implementation will have to ensure it is coordinated with any other ongoing flood protection and wetland restoration projects already in place, especially those that would be developed behind the levees that would be built under the Dutch alternative, to avoid any unintended flooding or indirect environmental impacts. Also, should the implementation costs run over budget, other sources of revenue should be considered such as lottery and gambling taxes, private and business tax deductions, as well as taxes on petroleum refined in Louisiana. Also, where possible the levees in the Dutch alternative should serve a dual or multi- purpose use, where they not only protect against floods but incorporate bike paths, parks, or rentable storage units. In addition, if the USACE ends up implementing the Dutch alternative, protectionary legislation should amended to that allows USACE to be held liable for not meeting policy intent, their own work, and for the work it outsources to local government and private firms. 6 POLICY ANALYSIS MEMO: FLOOD PROTECTION INADEQUACY IN NEW ORLEANS, LA | Trevor Lanham
  7. 7. i Hurricane Research Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Chronological List of All Hurricanes which Affected the Continental United States: 1851 - 2007,” February 2008, ii John Schwartz, “An Autopsy of Katrina: Four Storms, Not Just One - New York Times,”, May 30, 2006, iii Berkley researchers would second this notion. Indeed, as part of their post Katrina analysis of the Standard Project Hurricane and the Corps’ use of it as the basis for New Orleans levee system design, Berkley Professor Raymond Seed notes how “the creators of the standard project hurricane [of 1959], in an attempt to find a representative storm [which they determined to be a fast moving Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale+, actually excluded the fiercest storms *i.e. 1969’s Category 5 hurricane Camille+ from the database.” He adds “excluding outlier data is not appropriate in the context of dealing with extreme hazards.”iv Ivor van Heerden and Mike Bryan, The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina -- The Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist, Reprint. (Penguin Group (USA), 2007) iv “Search Multiple Congresses - THOMAS (Library of Congress),” v LACPR, “LACPR Summary Report,” July 17, 2009, p.S-12., vi Ibid., p. S-31. vii Since Hurricane Katrina, Congress has evaluated proposed solutions to the flood control policy implementation and flood protection inadequacy problem in New Orleans against affordability and legal responsibility criteria. These practical criteria would lead one to presume Congress is all but ready to adopt a solution to the problem; merely weighing the monetary allocations against U.S. obligations in Iraq and then having the Government Printing Office (GPO) put the bill into legal jargon based legislation. Far from it, in light of the failure of the only comprehensive flood protection bill to make it onto the Congressional agenda since Hurricane Katrina, Congress would understandably look upon any future counterparts with a dubious eye. vii Indeed, such was the failure of the $250 billion pork barrel legislation called the Louisiana Katrina Reconstruction Act of 2006 proposed by ‘Louisiana Looters’ Senators Landrieu and Vitter and their PELICAN Commission, for Protecting Essential Louisiana Infrastructure, Citizens, and Nature. Since the bill only earmarked $40 billion for the USACE towards flood protection development, and the remainder towards the Senators’ constituents, it’s no wonder no other comprehensive flood protection bills have made it on the agenda and in the formulation stage where one will ultimately await adoption once a consensus is reached. In the July 17, 2009 final technical report Congress funded in 2006, LACPR used stakeholder input on preferences, cost efficiency, efficacy in reducing risk, environmental impact criteria to evaluate their proposed alternatives. Unsurprisingly, they dropped the stakeholder-proposed construction time criterion without relevant justification cited. Now, in light of the highest deficit in history and the current recession, perhaps it makes even more sense that Congress measures a bill by the “affordability” yardstick; however, if Congress waits too long, it might be funding another hurricane recovery effort in New Orleans rather than a preventative effort. van Heerden and Bryan, The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina -- The Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist, pp.343-345 viii LACPR, “LACPR Summary Report,” p.S-10. ix Ibid., p.S-4. x Ibid., p.S-10. xi Ibid., p.S-11. xii Ibid., p.S-12. xiii LACPR, “LACPR Summary Report,” p.S-31. xiv Ibid., p.S-36. xv LACPR, “LACPR Final Technical Report: Dutch Perspective Appendix,” July 17, 2009, p.12., xvi LACPR, “LACPR Summary Report,” p.S-15. xvii Ibid., p.S-35. xviii LACPR, “LACPR Final Technical Report: Dutch Perspective Appendix,” p.12. xix LACPR, “LACPR Summary Report,” p.S-12. xx Committee on the Review of LACPR Program; National Research Council, “Final Report from the NRC Committee on the Review of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration (LACPR) Program,” March 2009, p.30., xxi USACE and the Dutch Rijkswaterstaat, the agency in charge of flood protection in the Netherlands who are considered the world experts on flood protection, first consummated their venerable relationship with the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement which provided for the exchange of technical information and visitors to each other’s facilities. Despite this “long-standing relationship,” USACE waited until immediately after Hurricane Katrina to ask for engineers from the Rijkswaterstaat to come to New Orleans to “assist the USACE in developing plans for higher level protection against storm surge that could be generated by Category 5 hurricanes…*and to] obtain an independent view of risk reduction and restoration issues for the Louisiana coastal area from the Dutch based on their experience in dealing with similar issues in the Netherlands.” As a result of this visit and in response to this 7 POLICY ANALYSIS MEMO: FLOOD PROTECTION INADEQUACY IN NEW ORLEANS, LA | Trevor Lanham
  8. 8. request for assistance, “the Dutch Rijkswaterstaat and Netherlands Water Partnership, a Dutch consortium of government agencies, researchers, and consultants, produced a report titled A Dutch Perspective on Coastal Louisiana: Flood Risk Reduction and Landscape Stabilization.” It is also worth noting that the Dutch ‘report was prepared in parallel with the LACPR technical report but did not provide information directly in response to the USACE’s analysis.’ Ibid., p.12. xxii Diederik F. Timmer, Bas N. Jonkman, and Harry Stefess, “Flood Protection in the Netherlands: A Risk Based Decision Framework for Flood Protection,” August 2, 2006, p.6., xxiii Gaye S. Farris, “USGS National Wetlands Research Center Press Release: USGS Reports Latest Land Change Estimates for Louisiana Coast,” October 3, 2006, xxiv Although nonstructural measures are not included in the $20 billion cost associated with the preferred Dutch alternative, as it calls for purely structural enhancements of the levee system in the short term, the report also recommends the creation of three specific areas for salt and freshwater marsh development. LACPR, “LACPR Final Technical Report: Dutch Perspective Appendix,” p.7. xxv Bottom line, the Dutch alternative recommendation for “ridge levees or barriers with gentle slopes over a long distance (1000 feet or more) which attenuate surge and ridge levee waves while not stopping them altogether is strongly suggested as such a constructed project has the physical properties (mass and height) needed to compel some level of confidence as well as being able to be built within comparatively short time frames.” Furthermore, in contrast to the LACPR alternative, the Dutch alternative “does not recommend large scale diversions because of their potential [negative] effects upon salinity gradients and recommends instead piped sediment to locations where new marshland is desired.”xxv Ibid., pp.9-10. xxvi Ibid., p.12. xxvii Committee on the Review of LACPR Program; National Research Council, “Final Report from the NRC Committee on the Review of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration (LACPR) Program,” p.11. xxviii Ibid., pp.3, 14. xxix John Schwartz, “Civil Lawsuit Over Katrina Begins,” April 20, 2009, xxx Committee on the Review of LACPR Program; National Research Council, “Final Report from the NRC Committee on the Review of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration (LACPR) Program,” p.36. xxxi LACPR, “LACPR Summary Report,” p.S-28. xxxii Committee on the Review of LACPR Program; National Research Council, “Final Report from the NRC Committee on the Review of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration (LACPR) Program,” p.21. xxxiii Ibid., p.4. xxxiv LACPR, “LACPR Comment Addendum,” July 17, 2009, p.4., xxxv LACPR, “LACPR Summary Report,” p.3. xxxvi Committee on the Review of LACPR Program; National Research Council, “Final Report from the NRC Committee on the Review of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration (LACPR) Program,” p.21. 8 POLICY ANALYSIS MEMO: FLOOD PROTECTION INADEQUACY IN NEW ORLEANS, LA | Trevor Lanham