THAT SINKING FEELING
September 14, 2005
The loss of coastal wetlands in Louisiana left New Orleans vulnerable to Hurricane Katrina, says the Dallas Morning News. In 2003, the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) declared that the impacts on human populations and the oil and gas infrastructure will be considerable if coastal wetlands continue to disappear.
- Coastal Louisiana lost nearly 2,000 square miles of swamps, marshes and barrier islands in the last century and could lose 700 more square miles by 2050, according to the USGS.
- Each linear mile of unbroken wetland can soak up as much as eight inches of storm surge; wetlands also bleed off up to 25 percent of a hurricane's wind speed.
By 1999, Louisiana and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had devised a 40-year, $14 billion effort to restore the state's wetlands. One key feature is a system of channels and floodgates designed to create controlled floods, similar in strategy to forestry officials using controlled burns.
- Periodic floods are essential because wetlands die without fresh sediment; today, the levee-lined Mississippi functions as a chute, spewing vital soil far into the Gulf of Mexico, where it disappears beyond the Continental Shelf.
- Meanwhile, the dense mud of the wetlands slowly sinks beneath its own weight and is hastened by the weight of human structures; this is one reason New Orleans is six feet below sea level.
In March 2002, the federal-state task force produced a 30-year plan of specific restoration projects. At the direction of the Bush administration, it was pared down to a 10-year, $1.9 billion agenda of urgent first steps.
According to the News, as recently as two weeks ago, the White House and the state were arguing over whether the federal share of coastal restoration should be 50 percent (the White House view) or 75 percent. In Katrina's wake, we can no longer doubt the cost of inaction.
Source: Editorial, "That Sinking Feeling: Wetland Loss Left New Orleans Vulnerable," Dallas Morning News, September 9, 2005.
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