orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

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November 27, 2012

Big bill for levee upkeep comes to New Orleans

(Continued)

NEW ORLEANS —

New Orleans is an unusual case because the area is inheriting the nation's first-of-its-kind urban flood control system.

"We've given a very expensive system to a place that may not be able to afford it over the long term," said Leonard Shabman, an Arlington, Va.-based water resources expert. Letting the Army Corps run it isn't much of a solution either, he added. "It's not like the corps' budget is flush."

The nation has spent lavishly on fixing the system in the seven years since Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and left 1,800 people dead.

"It is better than what the Dutch have for the types of storms we have," said Carlton Dufrechou, a member of the board of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, which monitors local environmental issues.

Ensuring it remains that way could be tricky. The biggest headaches are several mega-projects with lots of moving parts, all needing constant upkeep. The corps is building them across major waterways that lead into New Orleans.

Take for instance the 1.8-mile-long, 26-foot-high surge barrier southeast of the French Quarter that blocks water coming up from the Gulf of Mexico across lakes and into the city's canals. Water from this direction doomed the Lower 9th Ward and threatened to flood the French Quarter. Maintaining this giant wall alone will cost $4 million or more a year.

"You have to get out there and do exercises, do the preventive maintenance, change out equipment over time on a particular schedule," Turner said, enumerating the challenges. "There are a lot of cases where a single thing goes wrong and that can create a failure, a complete failure where you can't close the system."

There is a mounting list of to-dos.

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