Levee Expert: Fargo Levee Flop Not So Different from New Orleans

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The failure of a river levee in N. Dakota has reminded the nation that levee failure and flooding is not a distinctly New Orleans problem or even a coastal problem says a New Orleans levee expert. Fargo, where the levee failure in N. Dakota occurred, is 900 feet above sea level. Furthermore, forty three percent of the nation's population lives in counties protected by levees.

don't we all deserve levees that work?

The failure of a river levee in N. Dakota has reminded the nation that levee failure and flooding is not a distinctly New Orleans problem or even a coastal problem.

Fargo, where a levee failure occurred in N. Dakota, is 900 feet above sea level. Many cities that flooded in the Midwest last June 2008 were also a substantial height above sea level.

"Here is yet another wake up call to how much of the population is vulnerable to the same sorts of problems experienced in New Orleans," says Sandy Rosenthal, Founder of Levees.org, a New Orleans based grassroots group formed after the devastating levee failures flooded the New Orleans area during Hurricane Katrina. The group is devoted to education on the dangers of unsafe flood protection.

Forty three percen t of the nation's population lives in counties protected by levees. And the most important levees - like those in New Orleans - are water projects designed and built by the federal US Army Corps of Engineers.

After the catastrophic levee failures that unleashed flood water in 80% of New Orleans and 100% of nearby St. Bernard Parish, the Chief of Engineers Carl Strock ordered a study of the hurricane protection system of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. That study, called the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force, composed of 80% Corps employees is still incomplete and the results are not expected until late April or early May.

"Meanwhile, almost half the nation's population could be in danger and not know it," says HJ Bosworth Jr, professional engineer and research director of Levees.Org.

Thirty nine of America's fifty largest cities lie partially in flood plains.

"This means that a significant portion of America's citizens may be in the same boat as New Orleans," says Rosenthal.

To help citizens understand the scope and nature of their vulnerability, Levees.Org created a searchable data base so citizens anywhere in the US could simply type in their zip code and find out if they are vulnerable to flooding. The website can be accessed by typing http://www.AreWeAtRisk.org

The site AreWeAtRisk is composed of levees identified by the USACE as being in a state of active failure. Twenty four remain accounted for. Fargo was not listed either because either it was one of the 24 vulnerable levees unaccounted for or it was not a federal levee.

After Katrina, the grassroots group levees.org has pushed for a truly independent bipartisan analysis of the flood protection failures. They enlisted the help of actor John Goodman and New Orleans resident to do a public service announcement closing with the words, "don't we all deserve levees that work?"

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