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Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina: Someone Saw The Problem 6 Weeks Ago

Don Luskin links to this article by Linda Seebach from the Rocky Mountain News on July 16. It is a primer on the problem that New Orleans faced and a proposed solution (now by the board). She wrote:

Louisiana is washing away into the Gulf of Mexico. From 1932 to 2000, the state lost 1,900 square miles, mostly wetlands, to open water. Without intervention, it could lose another 900 square miles by 2050...

The chief danger to New Orleans is a storm surge. Wetlands attenuate the height of a surge, at a rate of about one foot for three miles. But in the Barataria Basin south of the city, 15 miles of marsh have deteriorated, according to the United States Geological Service. A slow-moving Category 5 hurricane could produce a 19- to 21-foot storm surge in Lake Pontchartrain, higher than the levees that protect the city. New Orleans could find itself under 20-25 feet of water. And because much of the city is below Mississippi River level, you can't just drain the water out, either...

Basically, the Mississippi River was separated from the land along its banks. After the Great Flood of 1927, levees were built along the river so it wouldn't overflow its banks during high water. The river basin drains 41 percent of the continental United States, as well as bits of Canada, and from time immemorial, the river has been carrying bits of Montana and Pennsylvania downstream and dropping them on its delta to make more Louisiana. From time to time, the river would change course and start a new delta while the old one began to erode away.

The cure would "work with nature":

One technique is to create a small back channel from the river to nearby wetland areas, providing both freshwater and sediment to help them recover. As a bonus, the material dredged from the channel can be used to build land elsewhere. Material dredged from navigational channels is also a resource rather than a nuisance. Small enclosed platforms filled with dirt quickly revegetate with marsh grasses.

How much will it cost? The smaller demonstration projects being done or considered now will come to about $2 billion, in a mixture of federal and state funds. By 2050, the goal is to restore about 500,000 acres.


As Luskin advises the cause of deterioration was (it's flood abatement, not over-development).

And we always get to the economist's statement that in a world of scarcity, what costs are expended in what areas. The choices of politicians are usually made to placate some special interest. Clearly per Seebach, $2 billion over a long period of time amounts to a pittance compared to the current roughly $30 billion of estimated loss.

2 Comments:

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