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Former Shell Oil civil engineer and Berkeley Professor Emeritus Robert Bea speaks on Hurricane Harvey

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A very interesting interview:

Robert Bea is a retired civil engineer and professor emeritus at the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, University of California at Berkeley. He has had a long career in the fields of flood control and risk assessment and management, beginning in 1954 when he joined in the Army Corps of Engineers.

He was appointed chief offshore civil engineer at Shell Oil in 1965 and stationed in New Orleans. Four years later he was moved by Shell to Houston. After helping to develop the international consulting engineering contractor that became PMB-Bechtel, he joined the faculty at UC Berkeley. There he worked on the analysis of major failures and disasters involving engineered systems, such as the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, the NASA Columbia Shuttle explosion, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the PG&E San Bruno pipeline explosion, and, most recently, the 2017 failures at the Oroville and Anderson dams in California.

Professor Bea spoke with the World Socialist Web Site on Wednesday from his home in California.

Robert Bea: The upset at the Oroville Dam and Anderson Dam in California this past winter is connected to Hurricane Harvey in Houston. In California, we’re coming out of a very dramatic five-year drought. So this year we were blessed with a lot of fresh water, but the systems we had in place to help us benefit from this crucial resource were not prepared.

Worse yet, no one really understood the system as a system. It was a collection of disjointed pieces and parts. Well, that’s just what we’ve seen unfold in Houston, Texas. The storm is much more intense than was expected—that’s to be expected, actually. Global climate change is not a debate. The climate’s been changing since there was a climate to change.

The system in Houston for “flood protection”—it’s really not flood protection at all. It isn’t a system. It’s a bunch of disjointed pieces and parts.

Barry Grey: When you say it’s not really a flood control system, could you elaborate on what you mean by that?

RB: Sure. The Corps of Engineers built nice piles of dirt we call the Barker and Addicks dams. We used to live a few miles from those dams. Our home was located in Memorial Estates, next to a wonderful area called Buffalo Bayou. As our sons grew up, it changed from a bayou to a swamp. The spillway for the Barker and Addicks dams turned into a clogged sewer pipe.

Surrounding it, the open country we saw when we first got there turned into strip malls and highways and research facilities and refineries. So the environment changed. There was no system to confront that set of environmental changes.

At the end of that picture, you open up the newspaper to see the news and say, “Oh, my God! We’ve got flooding in Houston.” It looks like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. It looks like it because it’s about the same damn thing.

BG: You know that just the other day the administrator of FEMA made a statement saying there’s no way we could have anticipated this.

RB: That’s total bullshit! I’m normally not that blunt. Absolutely total bullshit! You couldn’t anticipate it because you weren’t looking for it. To anticipate something you have to be looking carefully at it, analyzing what you see and what you detect. Who’s looking carefully and analyzing carefully how in the hell water gets from north of Houston to south of Houston? Nobody.

Some of the pictures of levees that were breaking and will continue to break are just like the levees I found in New Orleans after Katrina. You had trees growing on them or around them. Trees undermine levees, so levee breaks should be no surprise.

BG: There have been numerous studies, reports, recommendations by the American Society of Civil Engineers and others, certainly since Katrina. What has been the response from the political establishment to those reports? . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2017 at 7:09 pm

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