Design of New Orleans' new levees flunks FEMA standards

The levees that the Army Corps of Engineers is currently building in New Orleans do not meet FEMA standards, reports John Schwartz in today's NYT:

New Orleans's levees do not meet the standards that the Federal Emergency Management Agency requires for its flood protection program, federal officials said yesterday — and they added that the problem would take as much as $6 billion to fix.

FEMA has long based its flood planning on whether an area is protected against a flood that might have a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year, also known as a 100-year flood. Without that certification, the agency's flood maps have to treat the entire levee system as if it were not there at all, which means that people hoping to build in the affected areas might have to rebuild their homes at elevations of 15 or even 30 feet above sea level in order to meet new federal building standards.

But since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the agency has toughened its 100-year standard, based on new information about land subsidence and the increasing severity and frequency of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. There is also new data about weak soils in the area and the failure of some of the city's floodwalls.

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Here are some related, recent stories filed by John Schwartz from New Orleans, including:
- Engineers' Panel Urges Study of All Levees in New Orleans
- Museums Roll Again, but Where Are All the People?

Image: New Orleans in stereoscope. "The Levee," from a photoset of historic stereographs of New Orleans uploaded by Max Sparber.