Posted on June 8, 2022
Hurricane season starts next week, and the New Orleans area is now more protected from flooding than ever before.
The $14.5 billion New Orleans Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System is officially complete. State and local leaders, as well as agencies, gathered at the surge barrier earlier Friday morning to talk about why this system is worth every penny.
“It’s worth it to me because 1500 people lost their lives from Hurricane Katrina,” Congressman Garret Graves said. “That number should have been zero. And so, how much are those lives worth? How much is the loss and destruction to families all across the region?”
Graves added, “Those people who say we can’t afford to do this have no idea what they’re talking about. We spent 150 billion dollars of federal taxpayer funds responding to, recovering from, picking up the pieces after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. So people who say we can’t afford to do it, they don’t know what they’re talking about. We can’t afford not to. This is one of the best investments you can make as taxpayers.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards also supported the project, saying, “The lesson here is when we invest in protection, when we mitigate against the risk of storms, we win.”
“We have 5 parishes that benefit from this system. Next week starts the next hurricane season. So what I can tell you is, as was demonstrated most vividly in August of last year, this system works,” Edwards said. “Every single aspect of this system was activated [during Ida] and it performed well.”
This system was no small feat.
“It’s the largest design-build contract project that we’ve ever done in our 247-year history,” said Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, Chief of Engineers for the US Army Corp of Engineers.
This system will require upkeep. Kelli Chandler, the Regional Director of Flood Protection Authority East said it will cost around 25 million annually just to upkeep the east bank side of the system.
“Every day we come out, we exercise the gates, we have a lot of checks that we do on fluid levels, and we exercise the structures, maintain the levees, do surveys, and it just takes a huge group of people on a day in and day out basis to maintain the system,” Chandler said.
But the government is ready to foot the bill.
“As a matter of fact, just last week, we authorized an additional 1.8 billion dollars to further strengthen, to further raise, to further improve this protection system for the 5 parishes,” Graves said. “This is a great investment; it’s one of the best protection systems in the world. It’s the best system we’ve ever had in this region and we’re going to keep making investments building on the lessons learned that this works.”
While this barrier and the other system counterparts don’t completely eliminate the risk of flooding, they do significantly reduce it.
“You could have had overtopping of this system in Ida. What’s different today about HSDRRS, is that the system is designed to accommodate that. It’s allowed to flow over the levees and we pump the water back out. Just parameters that we did not have in the previous system,” Lt. Gen. Spellmon said.
This is just the beginning. Though the US Army Corps of Engineers has completed this project, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and other partners will have to maintain it. Meanwhile, the Corps of Engineers and other state and local leaders are moving forward with flooding risk reduction work for surrounding parishes.