The $14 billion network of levees and floodwalls that was built to protect greater New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was a seemingly invincible bulwark against flooding.
But now, 11 months after the Army Corps of Engineers completed one of the largest public works projects in world history, the agency says the system will stop providing adequate protection in as little as four years because of rising sea levels and shrinking levees.
The growing vulnerability of the New Orleans area is forcing the Army Corps to begin assessing repair work, including raising hundreds of miles of levees and floodwalls that form a meandering earth and concrete fortress around the city and its adjacent suburbs.
“These systems that maybe were protecting us before are no longer going to be able to protect us without adjustments,” said Emily Vuxton, policy director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, an environmental group. She said repair costs could be “hundreds of millions” of dollars, with 75% paid by federal taxpayers.
“I think this work is necessary. We have to protect the population of New Orleans,” Vuxton said.