Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on Keeping watch over the Corps of Engineers:

June 30

Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on Keeping watch over the Corps of Engineers:

Flood victims' best hope for holding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responsible for the agency's disastrous mismanagement of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet died quietly Monday (June 24) when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up the case. With no explanation, the court declined to review a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that overturned U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval's 2009 finding that the corps was to blame for flooding in St. Bernard and parts of the Lower 9th Ward during Hurricane Katrina.

That is disappointing, if unsurprising. Judge Duval was right, and the 5th Circuit initially agreed with him. But on a second look, the appellate court said that the corps was immune from the lawsuit.

It is important to remember, though, that the corps' victory came on a technicality.

Judge Duval has laid out the corps' culpability for MR-GO's damage in scathing terms. The corps knew that the navigational canal posed a threat to human life, he wrote in 2009, and had admitted so as early as 1988 yet did nothing to prevent the devastation "that ensued with the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina." ...

Now that the case before him has played out, it is imperative for Congress to continue to reform the way the corps operates.

The Water Resources Development Act, which passed the Senate and is pending in the House, includes some needed changes. For one thing, it acknowledges the importance of making sure the corps deals with subsidence and rising sea levels.

As Judge Duval noted, when Katrina hit many levees were lower than they were supposed to be because of erosion.

Post-Katrina, the corps designed levees to be able to withstand a big storm 50 years later, including the effects of subsidence and sea level rise. But scientific analysis in the aftermath of Katrina already has outpaced the assumptions used by the corps in those designs.

The water bill, which was authored by Sens. Barbara Boxer and David Vitter, authorizes the corps to raise levees in the New Orleans area hurricane protection system in the future to keep them at the proper height. That is crucial. Residents need to be able to trust that levees won't erode and leave them vulnerable, as they had done when Katrina struck.

The primary purpose of the water resources bill is to authorize billions of dollars in water projects, some of which should benefit South Louisiana. It has been six years since Congress passed a new version of the water act. The House shouldn't let the legislation languish.

And the final version should do everything possible to ensure that the corps doesn't repeat its old mistakes.

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