Otis Redding will have to change the title of his signature tune to the “House of the Rising Flood.” New Orleans Faces New Threat from Breaches in Levees. After hurricane Katrina, 80% of New Orleans is under water, some by as much as 20 feet. Basically, the entire city is flooded, and until the dikes are rebuilt the work of pumping the water out cannot even start.
This is a disaster of the first order. The scope is just unbelievable. But the sad part, really, is that it is a man-made disaster. That’s because for 300 years New Orleans — like most of Holland — lies below sea level, and has been protected by an intricate series of levees holding the ocean and Lake Ponchetrain away. That, in turn, means that the Mississippi River can no longer flood into the delta and deposit sediments and nutrients. So over the years, New Orleans is also sinking further down as the old alluivial sedimentation compacts.
As Mike Tidwell explained Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast —
A variety of ecological factors have contributed to the subsidence of the Mississippi Delta. With good intentions to stop deadly floods, the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a vast network of levees and dams along the river, preventing the annual devastating floods of the past. Unfortunately, this also ended the yearly buildup of silt, necessary for the reinforcement and continued existence of the fragile marshlands in the low country. The nutrient-rich, but light, sandy soil cannot withstand the ceaseless eroding forces of ocean tide and winds. The author’s descriptive powers, especially of people, provide the reader with enduring snapshots of a water-bound way of life that is sinking into history.
Civilzation did not make the hurricane. But it is the urbanization and engineered river flow that allowed New Orleans to exist in the first place that has produced its current devastation.