A massive levee system, approved by President Lyndon Johnson and supported by the Army Corps of Engineers during the Carter administration, would have held back the flood waters from Hurricane Katrina and saved the city of New Orleans, scientists and engineers have concluded. The proposed levee system was abandoned after environmental activist groups sued to stop construction of the project.
Blocked Levee FixThe proposed levee system gained bipartisan support after Hurricane Betsy, a Category 2 hurricane, barreled into the Louisiana coast in 1965. Congress passed legislation authorizing the project, and Johnson signed the bill into law.
In 1977, while the law was being implemented by the Carter administration, environmental activist groups obtained a court injunction to stop construction, arguing the levees would impede the flow of ocean water into Lake Pontchartrain and distress the lake’s shrimp population.
“If we had built the barriers, New Orleans would not be flooded,” Joseph Towers, retired chief counsel for the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans district, told the September 9 Los Angeles Times.
J. Bennett Johnston, a Democratic U.S. senator from Louisiana when the levee was approved by Congress and Johnson, agreed with Towers’ assessment. “It would have prevented the huge storm tide that came into Lake Pontchartrain,” Johnston told the Times.
“My feeling was that saving human lives was more important than saving a percentage of shrimp and crab in Lake Pontchartrain,” Towers told the Times. “I told my staff at the time that this judge had condemned the city. Some people said I was being a little dramatic.”
Johannes Westerink, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Notre Dame, ran computer simulations of the Katrina storm surge, this time with the scuttled levee system in place, and concluded “it would have stopped that,” according to the Times.