Hurricane Ida made landfall with historic winds equaling the strongest ever recorded on the Gulf Coast. It brought a 12- to 15-foot storm surge that devastated some barrier islands.
As Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards announced in a press conference, the Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System appears to have met and passed Ida’s test. The HSDRRS’s interlocking system of barriers, sector gates, floodwalls, floodgates and levees includes 350 miles of levees and floodwalls, 73 non-federal pumping stations, three canal closure structures with pumps; and four gated outlets. It forms a barrier around East Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard parishes.
By any measure, that system is a remarkable achievement. Edwards said no levee within the system failed or was over-topped. It was built at a cost of $14.5 billion since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the surrounding area. Most of Katrina’s damage, including the flooding of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, came from flooding, not winds.
Ida’s damage wasn’t limited to the Gulf region. As its rains moved northeastward, it caused widespread flooding and damage along a broad swath, including New Jersey and New York City, where 14 deaths have been blamed on it.
The success of the HSDRRS in blunting the effects of a 100-year storm shows what the Corps of Engineers can do when it is given enough resources, and when the political will is there to complete a project.
The deterioration of locks and dams isn’t as noticeable and dramatic as the Katrina or Ida devastation was. But they have been suffering from a “slow motion” Ida over decades.
The lesson of the HSDRRS is a hopeful one. Given the will and the resources, we can and will mitigate risks, including climate risks, and harden infrastructure.
It’s a lesson that has already been partially applied on the waterways, in the speed-up of the construction of Olmsted Locks and Dam. The battles over the latest infrastructure bill indicate that the lesson has not fully sunk in. Let’s hope Congress is paying attention to the success of the HSDRRS and manages to decouple infrastructure investment from other agendas.
Meanwhile, all of us at The Waterways Journal have our Louisiana friends in the forefront of our thoughts. The speed and ferocity of the historic storm led to many challenges, many of which were clearly unavoidable. We wish you, your families and your crews all the best.