Next June -- about the time hurricane season begins to ramp up -- the city of New Orleans will take over control of one of the most sophisticated flood-control systems in the world. That, and pick up the estimated $38-million annual tab.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will have spent about $13 billion to upgrade and rebuild the system of earthen walls and levees that protects New Orleans -- about half of which is below sea level. Federal engineers compare the new safeguards to systems that protect low-lying cites such as Venice and Amsterdam.
The costly protection was put in place after widespread devastation caused by the back-to-back hurricanes Katrina and Rita, in 2005. Katrina’s storm surge caused the levees to fail. The new walls have yet to be tested by powerful storms.
The resolve of New Orleanians to pay for their safety was demonstrated earlier this month when voters approved a levee tax that should, in part, pay for annual levee maintenance.