The Aftermath

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it. What has happened in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama is heartbreaking. All of it. The fate New Orleans dreaded has become reality.

As I walk around in sunny, dry California, I’m a bit dazed when I think that massive destruction has torn lives apart a few states away. Life requires I go about my business, but part of my mind meditates on what has happened, and my heart is extended toward everyone in that stricken region.

In an effort to understand more about why New Orleans is so vulnerable, and to learn what its long-term fate may be, I found an article in the New York Times.

The Gulf Coast has always been vulnerable to coastal storms, but over the years people have made things worse, particularly in Louisiana, where Hurricane Katrina struck yesterday. Since the 18th century, when French colonial administrators required land claimants to establish ownership by building levees along bayous, streams and rivers, people have been trying to dominate the region’s landscape and the forces of its nature.

As long as people could control floods, they could do business. But, as people learned too late, the landscape of South Louisiana depends on floods: it is made of loose Mississippi River silt, and the ground subsides as this silt consolidates. Only regular floods of muddy water can replenish the sediment and keep the landscape above water. But flood control projects channel the river’s nourishing sediment to the end of the birdfoot delta and out into the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico.

Although early travelers realized the irrationality of building a port on shifting mud in an area regularly ravaged by storms and disease, the opportunities to make money overrode all objections.

When most transport was by water, people would of course settle along the Mississippi River, and of course they would build a port city near its mouth. In the 20th century, when oil and gas fields were developed in the gulf, of course people added petrochemical refineries and factories to the river mix, convenient to both drillers and shippers. To protect it all, they built an elaborate system of levees, dams, spillways and other installations.

After Centuries of ‘Controlling’ Land, Gulf Learns Who’s the Boss

The article continues by mentioning that the islands and marshes are the defensive barrier against hurricanes. Without regularly deposited sediment, they’ve shrunk. This causes the entire delta region to sink; one expert said it sinks as much as a third of an inch each year, which is ten times the global average rate. Yet allowing nature to run its course would mean losing the economic and cultural civilization that’s populated the region for centuries. So much money has been invested there, and so much future income is at stake, that people will likely rebuild and continue to engineer systems to keep the ocean at bay. I just wonder, though, how far New Orleans will have to sink before people will admit the insanity of it. Or perhaps it will become our Venice.

Explore posts in the same categories: Nature, Social Science, Technology

Comments are closed.