A Flood of Questions

Categories: Schutze

In the August 13 edition of Time, a story by Michael Grunwald tells how the Corps of Engineers is in the process of repeating all the same mistakes that created the Katrina disaster. Only 10 times worse.

This story is a must-read for anybody who really cares about Dallas’ own Trinity River project. It explains why putting an additional structure in a floodway -- like, say, a big toll road -- is such a terrible idea. It’s an idea that flies in the face of everything learned over the last century -- from science to street wisdom -- about protecting human habitation from devastating flood.

Grunwald sticks with the thesis that the Corps continues to build bad flood-control structures because the corps is stupid. He lists a number of “egregious engineering errors” made before Katrina struck New Orleans two years ago. Further down in the story, however, he provides what I happen to think is the real key to the puzzle: “The Corps is funded almost exclusively by earmarks, individual slices of pork requested by individual Congressmen.”

For some reason -- maybe because it’s simple, declarative, an easy point to get across -- journalists and the public to whom they preach all prefer the “Corps is stupid” thesis to explain what happened. But it’s the earmarks that tell the tale.

The Corps is a creature of the Congress. It does what congress tells it to do, because it has to. Look at us: The entire Dallas congressional delegation and Dallas' Only Daily are beating the drums and firing the guns every day for an earmark program that will expose the city to greater flood risk -- not less -- at a taxpayer cost of billions of dollars.

Grunwald explains why: “It's a classic example of Washington's iron triangle: commercial interests lobby the Corps and their Congressmen for projects that supply the Corps with work and political cover and help the Congressmen steer jobs and money to constituents and contributors.”

The Corps of Engineers has conceded in the past that building the Dallas floodway extension will increase flood risks in downtown Dallas. A national study of flood control strategy in 1994, the Galloway Report, concluded that putting new structure in the way of floodwaters -- a toll road, for example -- is exactly the wrong thing to do.

But The Dallas Morning News and the local pols continue to whore for just that. And I would be willing to bet good money that not a single writer at The News or at D or a single member of the city council even knows what the Galloway Report is. Or cares. --Jim Schutze



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