In 2005, the levees of New Orleans famously buckled during Hurricane Katrina, contributing to the devastation of that city and surrounding communities. Officials were warned that the levees were a problem before the storm, yet did nothing to ensure that they could hold through the strongest of storms.
New Orleans’ levees may have been improved (and mostly held through Hurricane Isaac). But according to an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, hundreds of levees around the country are in need of “urgent repair“:
Inspectors taking the first-ever inventory of flood control systems overseen by the federal government have found hundreds of structures at risk of failing and endangering people and property in 37 states.
Levees deemed in unacceptable condition span the breadth of America. They are in every region, in cities and towns big and small: Washington, D.C., and Sacramento Calif., Cleveland and Dallas, Augusta, Ga., and Brookport, Ill.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue ratings for a little more than 40 percent of the 2,487 structures, which protect about 10 million people. Of those it has rated, however, 326 levees covering more than 2,000 miles were found in urgent need of repair.
By some estimates, more than half of Americans reside in counties “that contain levees or other kinds of flood control and protection systems.” Even leaving out the billions of dollars in damage cause by Katrina, levee failures have cost the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars in the last few decades.
The American Society of Civil Engineers said in a report this week that America faces an infrastructure deficit of $1.6 trillion, which will grow to $2.75 trillion over the next decade, costing the country 3.5 million jobs. But public investment in infrastructure, which was already too low, has plunged since the Great Recession.