Midwest Flooding: Failure of the Engineering Profession?

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Flooding due to levee failure in the Midwest happened for the same reason as the New Orleans flooding. Civil engineering mistakes, not nature is the reason that so many levees were overtopped and in many cases failed, says the national flood protection group Levees.Org.

What happened in New Orleans could happen anywhere, but this problem had not been addressed until the recent Midwest flooding.

The AP reported yesterday that residents in Gulfport, Illinois some 500 feet above sea level feel misled by the federal government who assured them they were safe from levee failure.

Meanwhile in the state of Iowa, Cedar Rapids, more than 700 feet above sea level, has been compared to New Orleans when levees breached during Katrina. And also mirroring New Orleans is a Wisconsin town 1100 feet above sea level when an embankment breached, emptying a lake into the nearby Wisconsin River.

Levees.Org, a national flood protection advocacy group, suggests that levee failure and flooding may not be a distinctly New Orleans problem.

The United States has thousands of miles of levee systems and 43 percent of the U.S. population lives in counties with levees, according to the Association of State Flood Plain Managers.

To illustrate this point, Levees.Org points out there are 3,786 flood gauges in America spread fairly evenly throughout the country. http://www.weather.gov/ahps/index.php

Responsibility for the design and construction of the most critical levees in America belongs to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the largest civil engineering agency in the country.

The group Levees.Org, founded after levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina, has campaigned to educate the nation that what happened in New Orleans is a case of federally directed civil engineering failures, not a simple case of a natural disaster or the city's low geography.

"Ever since Katrina, the citizens of New Orleans have been blamed because some parts of the city are below sea level," says HJ Bosworth, Research Director for Levees.Org. "What happened in New Orleans could happen anywhere, but this problem had not been addressed until the recent Midwest flooding."

The group has been clamoring for the 8/29 Investigation, Senate Bill 2826 filed by Senator Mary Landrieu D-LA because the organization responsible for the levees, the US Army Corps of Engineers sponsored the official investigation as to why the levees failed.

The "8/29 Bill" was endorsed yesterday by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, the new levee authority created in the aftermath of Katrina to consolidate the oversight of the multiple levee districts in southeast Louisiana. The resolution was proposed by authority Secretary John Barry, also the author of "Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America."

Levees.Org was founded in November of 2005 by Sandy Rosenthal, 51, and her son Stanford, now 17, while living in Lafayette, Louisiana after evacuating from New Orleans. They returned to the city and grew the organization to over 20,000 members. The non partisan grassroots group's mission is education that metro New Orleans was destroyed not by a natural disaster, but by the worst engineering failure in the world since Chernobyl.

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Sandy Rosenthal
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