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THE NATION

Levee Engineers Were Unaware of Pooling Water

New Orleans residents say they reported the problem in their yards months before Katrina.

November 19, 2005|From Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Engineers responsible for monitoring the levees that failed after Hurricane Katrina were never told that canal water had been pooling in yards beside a flood wall months before the storm, an Army Corps of Engineers manager said Friday.

Residents who live along the 17th Street Canal told the Times-Picayune newspaper in an article published Friday that they had complained to the city Sewerage and Water Board nearly a year ago about water pooling in their yards.

City workers came out and concluded that environmental testing was needed to determine whether water was seeping through the levee, said Beth LeBlanc, whose home is about 100 yards from where the levee later failed.

But no one informed the Corps of Engineers or the Orleans Levee District, said Jerry Colletti, the corps' operations manager for completed works in the New Orleans District.

"Whether they forgot or let it slip, I don't know," Colletti said. "The management over there knows better, that something like that should be reported."

It was not clear whether the environmental testing was ever conducted. Calls to the Sewerage and Water Board seeking comment Friday were not returned.

UC Berkeley professor Ray Seed, part of a team studying the levee failures for the National Science Foundation, said such seepage was common with levees and did not necessarily indicate an imminent failure or even poor levee maintenance.

"At the same time, that ordinarily would be checked out," Seed said. "Communication among the many agencies involved with the levees in New Orleans [isn't] all that good."

Complaints about the management of the levee system have been growing since levee failures during the storm left much of the city inundated.

This week, the Business Council of New Orleans demanded that Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco replace political appointees on New Orleans-area levee boards with a single panel of flood-control experts.

"A great city has been devastated, and yet the Orleans Parish Levee Board continues to protect the unqualified and the corrupt," the council wrote to Blanco.

It cited a scandal involving a former levee board president who was forced out after giving cleanup contracts to relatives and claiming more than $90,000 in back pay.

Blanco has proposed a new state agency to oversee all levee districts in the state, and the Legislature is considering changes to levee oversight during a special session now underway.

Colletti said Friday that annual inspections by the corps and the Orleans Levee District might have discovered the pooling water, but those inspections were not easy along the 17th Street Canal, where private yards meet the base of the levee.

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