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article imageCould a New Orleans Flood Be Coming to a City Near You? Special

By Carol Forsloff     Oct 1, 2009 in Environment
Just as the hurricane season is underway, recent news brings concerns about levee protection. This is particularly true given the fact it has been found more than half the U.S. population lives in counties protected by levees.
Levees. Org, an advocacy group involved in issues regarding flood protection, found under the Freedom of Information Act that many Americans live in areas protected by levees. The figure is a whopping 54.83% to be exact. This figure represents over 156 million people who can be impacted by flooding in areas where levees might fail.
This figure is also significantly higher than the percentage reported to Congress in a June 2008 briefing in Washington DC. Just one year ago, the Congressional Hazards Caucus reported that 43% of the population was protected by levees.
"Many believe that the levee failure and flooding during the Katrina was a distinctly New Orleans problem," says Sandy Rosenthal, executive director of Levees.org, founded in New Orleans after Katrina and now with chapters in six states.
"In fact, levee failure and flooding is something that can happen in every continental US state," she says.
“Manmade levees, like navigational channels, highways and dams are alterations to a region's hydrological character and landscape, and if done irresponsibly can be devastating,” says H.J. Bosworth, lead researcher for Levees.org. “This may be what happened in north Georgia.”
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Georgia floods were a "once in 500 years flood," meaning the odds of such a thing happening are less than 0.2 percent in any given year.
But Jacqui Jeras, CNN meteorologist, said the urbanization of Atlanta and its suburban sprawl also contributed to the floods. "There used to be a lot more earth and soil to help absorb this stuff," she said. "But the rain really fell on the concrete jungle."
Sociologist and author Shirley Laska points out in a prepared statement that residential development is at the core of the methodsthat communities use to grow their tax base.
“It is a very powerful driver and participants are often regional, even national interests in conjunction with local, "growth machine"interests," says Laska. “The predictions of flooding are usually conservative and not table: development adds to more flooding becausewetlands are targeted (thus losing the absorption quality) andsurfaces are covered by "big boxes," streets, homes etc. so the flooding gets worse.”
Irresponsible changes to landscape in the name of economic growth can bring prosperity to a few but trauma and loss to many innocent people, notes sociologist Robert Gramling in his new book co-authored with Laska, Catastrophe in the Making, The Engineering of Katrina and theDisasters of Tomorrow. Gramling points out that in New Orleans, an ill-conceived navigation channel, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, exacerbated the effects of Katrina and was “..perhaps the most dangerous of all projects ever imposed” in the region.
Rosenthal, who has been active with support of legislation and regulations to help the people of New Orleans receive adequate protection against disasters from potentially failed levees, has also learned the Inspector General of the Department of Defense (DOD) has ignored US Senator Mary Landrieu's call for a federal investigation into alleged wrongdoing by the US Army Corps of Engineers and instead focused on one of the whistleblowers, Levees.org.
The Pentagon has concluded that no action is necessary in response to Senator Landrieu's call for an investigation into allegations that the Army Corps waged a strategic deception campaign to protect its image after its levees failed during Hurricane Katrina. One of the former editors of the Times Picayune supported the claims about this. Senator Landrieu's letter asking for an investigation referenced a sworn affidavit by founder and former editor in chief of NOLA.com, the online version of New Orleans' leading newspaper. The 3-page affidavit by Jon C. Donley alleged a coordinated attack campaign by the Corps of Engineers on citizen critics.
Rosenthal, the Executive Director of Levees.org said in August this year, “The American people deserve to know the full extent of this activity. Is this the handiwork of a few bad apples, or does it indicate a deception campaign funded with taxpayer money?” She went on to say that she felt depressed about what happened regarding the investigation, not because she felt she hadn't done enough, but because it revealed how little the government was interested in looking into serious matters like the failure of the levees that could make a good deal of difference in how things are done.
In the meantime as potential weather disasters loom during the season from June to November, more is known now about levee protection issues and the fact New Orleans citizens are only a percentage of Americans at risk from floods. It is the reason Levees.org continues its publicity campaign regarding those risks, given the fact that more than one city is exposed to possible levee failure and its devastating consequences.
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