The huge barge has to be moved into place and sunk in order to seal the system from storm surge sweeping into Lake Borgne from the Gulf of Mexico, a process that takes more than nine hours and must begin four days before a hurricane strike is expected. In repeated tests, the barrier has yet to function reliably.
The agency responsible for maintaining the multibillion-dollar flood protection system can't afford the $34 million annual bill, and possible solutions are blocked by state and congressional politics. “We’ll soon be facing a $600 million question," says John Barry, vice president of the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.
The reason some critical water gauges in outfall canals failed during Hurricane Isaac is simple: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers didn’t follow the installation instructions for the sensors. After the 2011 hurricane season, the corps replaced the gauge sensors in the three outfall canals with ones that work by radar.
With Tropical Storm Isaac bearing down on New Orleans, one of three key Army Corps of Engineers pumping stations that help drain the city during a storm is only at partial capacity – far less than what is needed to keep the Orleans Avenue Canal from filling. The city’s Sewerage & Water Board pumping station serving Mid-City and the City Park area can put significantly more water in that canal than the Corps could empty if the flood gates at Lake Pontchartrain have to be closed.