New Orleans Levee System Project Unfinished

In New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers has spent much of the past three years strengthening the levee system that Hurricane Katrina breached — but the project isn't supposed to be finished until 2011. Bob Turner, regional director for flood protection on the east bank of the Mississippi River, in southeast Louisiana, talks with host Jacki Lyden about the levees.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

In New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers has spent much of the last three years strengthening the levee system that Katrina breached, but the project isn't supposed to be finished until 2011.

On the line with us now is Bob Turner. He's regional director for flood protection in southeast Louisiana. He's on the east bank of the Mississippi River. Let me ask you about the levee system. We know that it's not finished, so what kind of shape are you in there?

Mr. BOB TURNER (Regional Director for Flood Protection, Southeast Louisiana): Well actually, on the east bank, that includes the greater metropolitan New Orleans area, St. Bernard Parish and parts of East Jefferson - well, all of East Jefferson Parish - the levees are in better shape than they were in prior to Katrina. However, we are still, you know, a considerable distance away from getting what's called a 100-year level of protection.

LYDEN: So how much storm surge do you think you could handle?

Mr. TURNER: It's hard to say exactly. Right now, the Corps is telling us that in the industrial canal area, we can handle about 10 foot of storm surge in there, 10 to 11 feet max, without having the walls overtopped.

If we get anything higher than that, then you know, we'll have water going into the Lower Ninth Ward area in New Orleans. At the present time, that's not forecast to happen, and as long as the storm stays on the current track, we should not see storm surge that high in the industrial canal this time around.

LYDEN: Which is of course in downtown New Orleans. Tell me a little bit about the west bank, where you think this might hit, and also the aftereffect. In Katrina, it wasn't necessarily so much the storm itself as the flooding afterward.

Mr. TURNER: Well on the west bank, even though their system is better than what we had prior to Katrina, there are some gaps, particularly along the Harvey Canal, and they've been working feverishly, the levee district over there, the West Jefferson Levee District, to close those gaps with sandbags and Hesco baskets, and you know, they're doing a herculean job over there, but the problem is is that in this particular storm on this track is forecast to put a considerable amount of water against temporary facilities that they're erecting right now, and some of the models are saying as much as six to nine feet of water could be pushed against that area.

If that were the case, then it's a possibility that we could have some significant flooding on the west bank of the river.

LYDEN: Do you feel better prepared than you did three years ago, emotionally anyway?

Mr. TURNER: Well you know, having been through, you know, Katrina and knowing what could happen, I guess, you know, and having lived through it, I guess I feel a little bit better, but you know, anytime one of these things comes along, there's a lot of anxiety in the air and a lot of anticipation, and you know, the main thing that all of us are doing right now is we're staying very busy.

LYDEN: Bob Turner is regional director for flood protection on the east bank of the Mississippi River in southeast Louisiana. Thanks very much for joining us from New Orleans, and we'll let you go. Thank you.

Mr. TURNER: All right, thank you.

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