The federal agency responsible for maintaining the city’s levees is dysfunctional and needs to be overhauled to prevent future catastrophic flooding, scientists said in a report released Monday.
The group also said routine underfunding of the city’s levee system was to blame for flooding during Hurricane Katrina.
“You tend to get what you pay for,” Dave Rogers, a member of the team of academics who extensively studied the system, said during a news conference.
The team, led by the University of California, Berkeley, looked into what went wrong last August when Katrina’s storm surge overwhelmed New Orleans’ flood defenses, killing more than 1,300 people.
The scientists have been highly critical of the Corps of Engineers, which was in charge of designing and building the complicated flood-protection system, and recommended setting up an independent oversight agency.
“You can’t understand a dysfunctional family from the inside,” said Robert Bea, a lead researcher on the team.
Lt. Col. Stan Heath, a Corps spokesman in Washington, D.C., said the agency will evaluate relevant recommendations. A Corps-commissioned report is due out June 1, the first day of hurricane season.
State, local authorities blamed
The report Monday called for an overhaul of the local agencies that oversee flood protection. It took aim at Congress for its piecemeal funding over the past 50 years, and at state and local levee authorities for failing to properly oversee maintenance of the levees.
Bea said it could cost $40 billion over 40 years to build an adequate flood protection system for New Orleans. Since Katrina, Congress has appropriated $3.3 billion for levee work, and President Bush has asked for $3.9 billion more.
The report also said floods overwhelmed levees and flood walls, both on the fringes and inside the city. Breaches were caused by weak soil in the levees, poor engineering and breakdowns in sections where different types of flood protection meet.
The Corps has been working to repair and upgrade the levee system before the start of hurricane season. However, Corps officials said part of the work will not be finished by then.
Raymond Seed, a member of the study team, said engineers must pay attention to other spots in the system that may fail if another hurricane hits New Orleans: “The next weakest link is the one you have to be worried about.”