This 2006 photo shows levee work the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversaw following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
U.S. senators on Wednesday promoted a federal hurricane system’s performance in New Orleans during Hurricane Ida, but noted that other regions experienced devastation that is likely to worsen as climate change produces more intense and frequent storms.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers installed the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and Ida was the $14.5 billion system’s “first big test,” Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Thomas E. Carper, (D-Del.), said.
Carper and ranking Republican Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said the system of levees and flood walls passed the test with flying colors — at least in the New Orleans area.
Col. Stephen Murphy, the commander of the Corps’ New Orleans District, agreed with the senators’ assessment.
Before Katrina, the patchwork of hurricane prevention infrastructure was “a system in name only,” Murphy said. The federally funded system upgrades kept the damage from Ida from being much worse, he said.
“While we couldn’t be more proud of the performance of the greater New Orleans area’s Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System and how it validated the massive national investment of $14.5 billion, other parts of the state were not as fortunate,” Murphy said.
“Where there was federal investment in levees and flood walls, though, the system performed as designed.”
Congress has recently appropriated increased funding to the Corps for disaster response, Capito said, highlighting the $5.7 billion Congress provided to the Corps in a funding stopgap measure signed into law last week.
Carper called for greater Corps funding to reimburse states and local governments that undertake resilience projects. States and localities depend on the Corps’ reimbursements for such projects, but the Corps can be “constrained by politics and budget shortfalls,” leaving states and cities on their own.
More areas may require disaster systems as climate change makes disasters worse, Carper said.
North Atlantic hurricanes have increased in intensity and frequency since 1980, a trend that is expected to continue, he said.
Corps leaders agreed.
“We continue to see record-setting severe weather events across the nation,” Major General William H. “Butch” Graham, the deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations, said. The Corps responded to 28 disasters last year, including 10 hurricanes, he said.
In response, the Corps has started incorporating climate resiliency into its construction plans, Graham said.
The worsening storm trend is likely to hit south Louisiana particularly hard, Murphy said.
“Coastal Louisiana sits at the epicenter of climate change,” he said.
Climate change is also presenting new challenges elsewhere in the country, including in Maryland, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat from the state, said.
Ellicott City, about 13 miles west of Baltimore, recently experienced two 100-year floods in less than two years, he said. Though the city’s flood system maintained its integrity, it wasn’t designed to handle the amount of rain that fell in a short time, he said.
Cardin asked for an upcoming report from President Joe Biden’s administration to help create a plan for such events.
“It’s hard to plan for every part of our community getting an extreme weather event,” Cardin said. “But we have to have a game plan for our communities because it is occurring.”
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