Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Red-Headed Step-Levee

When it comes to flood protection, levees are the red-headed stepsons of the Corps of Engineers when compared to dams.

Representatives of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the National Science Foundation said Monday that some of the problems they think played key roles in the disaster -- low engineering safety standards, lack of rigorous peer review and shoddy maintenance -- are simply not tolerated by the corps when building dams, but are commonplace in levee projects.
I can understand the importance of the due diligence in designing and building dams. Failure of a dam is usualy catastrophic and sudden because they are always under duress. That is, they're always holding back the water.

Levees on the other hand, typically hold back the water only during times of high-water, not all the time. Unfortunately, if a levee fails at a time when the water level is high, the results are the same as a dam break.

Why the Corps of Engineers didn't understand this is beyond me.


Polimom said...


I spent a lot of time puzzling this issue, too. Ended up talking to a very senior, well-respected Civil Engineer who specializes in soil mechanics on the Gulf Coast.

Ultimately, he referred me to the Engineering Code of Ethics, and I share his conclusions. This was irresponsible and unprofessional. If an engineering project's failure would endanger life/property, there are a number of ethical canons that are spelled out and must be followed.

Nobody did so. It's more than the ACoE, though. I think the entire profession needs to take a look at themselves.

Dan said...

No contact information, so I'm forced to post a comment.

A month or so ago, we added Urban Commons to the list of feeds on
"Buzz," a new feature on Cyburbia (http://www.cyburbia.org) which
republishes planning and urban-related blog feeds. The feed can be see
under the "Cities and Places" category.

I noticed that you don't have a link Cyburbia, even though you have links to other planning-related web sites. We've been online since 1994 (not a typo), and far longer than almost every other planning-related Web sites. What can I do to have you consider adding a link from your blog?


Dan / cyburbia.org