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Development of the New Orleans Flood Protection System Prior to Hurricane Katrina
Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering
  • J. David Rogers, Missouri University of Science and Technology

The system of flood protection surrounding New Orleans and its adjoining parishes prior to Hurricane Katrina evolved over a period of 280 years. The earliest drainage works sought to elevate the river's natural levees and excavate drainage canals leading towards Bayou St. John, the only natural break across the Metairie-Gentilly distributary ridge. An extensive zone of Cypress Swamps occupied the levee flank depression between the ridge and Lake Pontchartrain. 58 km of drainage canals were excavated across the natural levee backslope and through the swamp depressions bordering the lake between 1833 and 1878. These canals sought to drain the lower portions of the city, which suffered periodic outbreaks of yellow fever, which killed more than 100,000 people during the 19th century. The city has not suffered flooding from the Mississippi River since 1895, most damaging floods having emanated from hurricane surge off of Lake Pontchartrain. Since 1559, 177 hurricanes have struck the Louisiana coastline. A system of pump stations was constructed between 1895 and 1927, which pump water into the river, the lake, and adjacent bayous. The cypress swamps were replaced by the Lakeview and Gentilly residential districts, built after 1945. This old swamp zone has settled as much as 3+ m since 1895. After 1927 the Army Corps of Engineers assumed a leadership role in providing flood control infrastructure, supervising the Mississippi River & Tributaries Project in 1931-1972. In 1955 the Corps role was expanded to include the City of New Orleans, which included maintaining capacity and freeboard of the old drainage canals. After a series of lawsuits between 1961 and 1977, the Corps was forced to employ concrete flood walls along the subsiding drainage canals. These walls were constructed in the 1990s, though some transition elements remained incomplete when Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.

Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering

National Science Foundation (U.S.)

Keywords and Phrases
  • Canals,
  • Floods,
  • Hurricanes,
  • Louisiana,
  • Drainage,
  • Excavation,
  • Hurricane effects,
  • Flood control subrastructure,
  • Flood protection,
  • failure analysis,
  • Hurricane Katrina 2005,
  • levee,
  • nineteenth century,
  • Louisiana,
  • Mississippi River,
  • New Orleans,
  • North America,
  • United States,
  • Cupressus
Geographic Coverage
New Orleans, Louisiana
Document Type
Article - Journal
Document Version
File Type
© 2008 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), All rights reserved.
Publication Date
Publication Date
01 May 2008
Geolocate this work
(29.95106579999999, -90.0715323)
Citation Information
J. David Rogers. "Development of the New Orleans Flood Protection System Prior to Hurricane Katrina" Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering Vol. 134 Iss. 5 (2008) p. 602 - 617 ISSN: 1090-0241
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