New Orleans Levee System is Completed ahead of the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season

A celebration was recently held to commemorate the completion of the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System, an expansive levee system consisting of gates and flood-walls that will defend the Greater New Orleans Area against severe storms, according to this feature by

Known colloquially as “the Great Wall of Louisiana,” the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS)’s completion was celebrated by Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and various other state, local, and federal officials. The completion of the Greater New Orleans Hurricane System came just under two decades after Hurricane Katrinaprompted Congress to provide $14.5 billion to begin constructing a system that would provide the Greater New Orleans area with a protective system to help fend off future storm surges. That initial $14.5 investment allowed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to apply the latest data science and engineering practices in the design and construction processes.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards spoke of the project and the massive achievements of those involved in its completion by saying, “the HSDRRS is the largest civil works project in the Corps’ history and is the result of nearly two decades of hard work and collaboration at the local, state, and federal level. The people of New Orleans have experienced the worst Mother Nature has to offer, and with the completion of the system, they’ll be protected by the best of engineering, design, and hurricane protection.”

Now that the construction is completed, the federal government has formally turned over the completed system to Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for purposes of operation and maintenance. Chip Kline, the chairman of Louisiana’s CPRA, called the system “one of the greatest engineering feats in the history of the world.” Kline went on to say, “this is a monumental day for Louisiana. In the past year, the state’s coastal program has made historic investments in restoration and hurricane protection across South Louisiana, and the turnover of the HSDRRSis yet another critical step in this effort. With its completion, nearly a million people and over $170 billion in assets are better protected.”

Because two New Orleans-area flood protection authorities will be taking over the maintenance and operations of the system upon its completion, both the East and West Louisiana Flood Protection Authority will fund the upkeep and operation of the levee system. This amounts to about $7.8 million for the west bank and $25 million for the east bank.

While forecasters are already predicting a particularly active hurricane season for the Gulf Coast, Louisiana State Officials are already determined to make it clear to residents that this levee system project will not eliminate all risk factors and that people should still make evacuation plans ahead of time. The Governor’s office reminded citizens that as the state and Greater New Orleans region enter into the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season, the HSDRRS should never be considered to be a “life safety system.”

Commander of the USACE New Orleans District Col. Stephen Murphy spoke of his confidence in the project’s final form by saying, “we know that eventually, we will face a surge greater than the 1-percent elevations so we designed the HSDRRS to be overtopped. With all of the armoring now in place, this system enters the 2022 Hurricane Seasonstronger than it has ever been.”

Due to the detrimental active Hurricane season of the past two years, not only is the completion of this “Great Wall of Louisiana” greatly appreciated, but it should be noted that it is only one component of an individual or the state’s overall hurricane preparedness plan. For the state of Louisiana, that means the local, state, and federal emergency response plans, which are coordinated and rehearsed throughout the year, are also an integral part of preparing for the storms to come.

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Lafourche Levee Systems Withheld Most Water from Ida

For all the damage left behind by Hurricane Ida, matters could have been made much worse if the levee system of South Lafourche had failed, but the levees held strong when it mattered most, according to an article from HoumaToday that details the strength of Lafourche’s levees.

On August 30, 2021, it was reported by the Associated Press that Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards examined a preliminary survey of the state’s levees, and he reached the conclusion that the levee systems, thankfully, had done “exactly as they intended and held the water out during Hurricane Ida.”

Hurricane Ida initially made its landfall on the shores of Port Fourchon on August 29, 2021. When it touched land, it was a vigorously strong Category 4 storm with winds of 150 mph. These finds blew down countless trees and decimated many homes in its path, but they were not able to penetrate the South Lafourche Levee system despite facing a particularly high storm surge of 12 to 15 feet.

Windell Curole is the executive director of the South Lafourche Levee District, and after he had spent hours looking over the Lafourche levee system in late September, he had said, “it’s still amazing looking at what took place and the power of that storm. This levee was originally designed for a strong Category 2 or a weak 3. It was a close call. There were no guarantees.”

Curole continued to detail how essential the levee system’s foundation was throughout the roughest parts of the storm by saying, “ We knew the winds were extremely strong for an extremely long time. We didn’t get a chance to get to the pump station and the floodgates for 18 hours. I’ve never seen South Lafourche look so bad. That wind came in and just tore it up. If we would’ve had a levee breach, we think people would have died. You can’t move when the wind is blowing like it was. There would have been 5 or 6 feet of water in some of those houses. We are very fortunate that didn’t happen.”

The news of Lafourche’s successful levees was well-received being that the United States Corps of Army Engineers had decertified south Lafourche’s hurricane-protection system after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They had attributed the decertification to the levees lying too low to be able to provide adequate protection.

At one time, the ring levee in South Lafourche was only 13 feet high in the south and nearly 8 feet high in the north, but after residents passed a 1-cent sales tax in 2015, the system was appropriately elevated. A new building program was created in the district to raise the levee to at least 16 feet and 13 feet above sea level on the south and north ends, respectively.

Additionally, praise came in from Washington to celebrate the Lafourche levee’s strength, as it was reported that United States Representative Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, praised Curole and the entire district for taking the time necessary and putting in additional effort to improve the levee system. He said, “Curole and the Levee District worked with the citizens of Lafourche Parish and the State of Louisiana to help invest in better hurricane-protection projects for our community. Despite the headwinds of cease-and-desist letters, legal threats, and government red tape, they succeeded. They knew that if they could get the Larose to Golden Meadow system elevated, lives, homes, businesses, and communities could be spared from future storms. The levees held, and their effort saved a lot of lives and prevented severe destruction.”

It’s certainly affirming to learn that despite experiencing some of the toughest storm conditions South Louisiana has seen in some time, that our vital levee systems are maintaining the peace by doing what they’re built to do: protect and withhold.

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