[Marxism] Katrina redux
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jun 21 14:33:30 MDT 2008
NY Times, June 22, 2008
Call for Change Ignored, Levees Remain Patchy
By MONICA DAVEY
CANTON, Mo. The levees along the Mississippi River offer a
patchwork of unpredictable protections. Some are tall and earthen,
others aging and sandy, and many along its tributaries uncataloged by
The levees are owned and maintained by all sorts of towns, agencies,
even individual farmers, making the work in Iowa, Illinois and
Missouri last week of gaming the flood calculating where water
levels would exceed the capacity of the protective walls especially
After the last devastating flood in the Midwest 15 years ago, a
committee of experts commissioned by the Clinton administration
issued a 272-page report that recommended a more uniform approach to
managing rising waters along the Mississippi and its tributaries,
including giving the principal responsibility for many of the levees
to the Army Corps of Engineers.
But the committee chairman, Gerald E. Galloway Jr., a former
brigadier general with the Corps of Engineers, said in an interview
that few broad changes were made once the floodwaters of 1993 receded
and were forgotten.
"We told them there were going to be more floods like this," said Dr.
Galloway, now an engineering professor at the University of Maryland.
"Everybody likes to go out and shake hands on the levee now and offer
sandbags, but that's not helpful. This shouldn't have happened in the
While the committee's recommendations certainly would not have
prevented the Mississippi and its tributaries from rising to
catastrophic levels, Dr. Galloway said they could have lessened the
sense of helplessness and limited some of the damage.
Among the committee suggestions that Dr. Galloway said were largely
overlooked: a more systematic approach to what the 1994 report
described as "a loose aggregation of federal, local and individual
levees and reservoirs" on these Midwestern rivers in which, that
report said, "many levees are poorly sited and will fail again in the future."
And after Hurricane Katrina destroyed levees protecting New Orleans
in 2005, Congress passed a bill setting up a program to inventory and
inspect levees, but it failed to provide enough money to carry that
out, Dr. Galloway said.
"We don't even know where some of these levees are," he said.
"Someone needs to go out and count the levees and see what's wrong with them."
All along the bloated Mississippi last week, the odd nature of this
collection of levees autonomous but yet connected played out in
towns like this one, Canton, about 125 miles northwest of St. Louis.
Walking along the top of Canton's earthen levee on Wednesday, water
up to its brim, Richard Dodd barked instructions into a walkie-talkie
and scanned for leaks and bulges in it, the only thing left between
the river and the heart of this city. Mr. Dodd, an alderman, was
worried, too, about the levees he could not see along hundreds of
miles, up and down the river and its tributaries. A break in one
could spare other towns, he said, or send water rushing in unexpected
directions, including here.
Canton's mayor, Joe Clark, looked across the river to Meyer, Ill.,
where one of more than 20 levees either broke or overflowed last
week. "It would sure seem better to have this all under one
jurisdiction," Mr. Clark said, "but that's just not the way it is."
As it happened, the overflowed levee across the river from Canton may
have been what spared his town from damage.
In just one stretch along the Mississippi, based on federal data
available on Friday, at least 13 levees were overwhelmed by the river
this week, offering a window into the system.
Three of the levees where water broke through or came over the top
were built and owned by local people, towns or agencies, and were not
certified as meeting federal standards, records show. Four others
that overflowed and then had holes break were built and maintained by
towns or drainage district boards, but had been certified by federal
authorities as meeting their standards.
The Army Corps of Engineers built or helped reconstruct the other
six, though local authorities now own them and are responsible for
"There is a patchwork quilt of levee responsibility when it comes to
this," said Butch Kinerney, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency
Management Agency. "There is no federal agency which oversees levees.
That doesn't exist. There are places where, back when, Farmer Joe
pushed up a bulldozer full of dirt and made his own levee."
For more than a century, people near this river have been trying to
hold it back. Levees rise from these banks and the banks of its
tributaries in all heights and shapes, many built decades ago by
people, towns, groups of farmers.
Made of sand, clay, dirt and, in some cases, unknown materials, some
levees guard towns, others protect farm fields. There are long,
elaborate walls, like one here known as the Sny that runs more than
50 miles down the river. Others, tiny private levees, particularly
those on the smaller tributaries of the Mississippi, have long ago
been forgotten, and the federal authorities acknowledge that they are
uncertain where all of them are.
People in the Upper Midwest have been wrestling with the "hodgepodge"
of levees, as one Missouri geologist describes the situation, for
decades, even as officials in the 1920s designed a more standardized
system of protection south of here, along the Mississippi downriver
of Cairo, Ill., and all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
After an enormous flood in 1927, the southern stretch of the river
was deemed part of a project area, and ordered to have levees
designed by the Corps of Engineers. "Those were good levees, all
built to a single standard," said John M. Barry, who wrote "Rising
Tide," a book about the 1927 flood.
But the flood had not devastated the Upper Mississippi region to the
degree it had in the south, and the political atmosphere, given the
enormous price of levee building, left those to the north out of the
equation, Mr. Barry said. So people here kept building on their own.
In the 1960s and '70s, there were calls for improvements: In some
cases, Corps officials built or rebuilt certain levees (including
Canton's in the 1960s), then handed them back to the local
authorities. Federal authorities also inspect and certify some levees
as meeting corps standards, a designation that allows communities to
receive subsidies if their levees fail.
But such certification is not mandatory for all levees. Of some 250
levees in this region alone, about 180, many of them in the
Mississippi's tributaries, do not meet the federal standards; they
may have poor construction, signs of stress, trees growing on them,
All of which has left an odd assortment of levees protecting these
towns, even now.
"It's still sort of ad hoc," said Ron Fournier, of the Rock Island
district of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Even as people here battled the rising waters this week, the
disconnected nature of these levees played out in complicated ways.
All around, people tried to raise their levees just a little more,
just enough, they hoped, to keep them above water. Atop the levees,
they piled sandbags, stone, wood. Town to town, it seemed an
arms-race-like battle to go higher. Here in Canton, carpenters spent
days hammering a two-foot wooden frame addition to the top of their
levee, then padded that with sand bags tricks they learned from
1993. "We were green back then," confided Mr. Dodd, the alderman.
But a topped-off levee in one town was not without effect on others
along the river, some said.
"We always flood fight and raise levees during events like this with
little or no coordination or regard for the impact it will have on
people upstream or across the river," said Paul A. Osman of the
Illinois Office of Water Resources. "When you raise a levee, that
water has to go somewhere."
Many experts said it was impossible to know whether a comprehensive
levee system might have changed things last week in the areas where
water flowed over levees, in the endless corn and soybean fields near
Meyer, Ill., or in the trailers and homes near Winfield, Mo. Many of
the levees overflowed as opposed to breaking up or splitting open
first; they were simply overwhelmed by a huge amount of water. Some,
along open lands, were always expected to overflow at such high water levels.
Still, Dr. Galloway said that a broad, comprehensive flood management
plan the one presented 14 years ago would have helped. "Some
agricultural levees would still have overflowed," he said. "But you
would substantially have reduced the damage."
More information about the Marxism