Water Rising Around New Orleans

Climate Change Water

            Marble Falls       New Orleanians aren’t too happy joining the rest of the country in talking about the heat, while recording record temperatures along with the others.  The standard line in the city has always been, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”   This summer it seems to be both, but it’s August and what that really means for both old timers and newcomers is that it’s not the temperature on our minds, but the possibility of hurricanes that brings our full attention.

Veterans of any of the big ones over the years, Betsy, Camille, Katrina, even Ida, know every year without a storm is a good one.  After Katrina there was a concerted effort to harden the levees, add pumping power, build barriers, and finally pay more attention to the wetlands that can slow the surges that might be coming our way.  They held up against the category-4 Ida, although the city was essentially without power for two weeks, since our utility companies didn’t make the same investments in citizen safety and protection and that the governments had done.  We never know what fresh hell might be coming next.

There’s a lot of left to be done, and some of it is out of New Orleans and Louisiana’s control, especially when it comes to the more rapidly rising seas caused by the collective catastrophe of climate change.  Reports of post-Katrina progress in building up the wetlands as barriers against the surge have now been revised as scientists and researchers find that the rising sea is “drowning” the wetlands faster than they can recover and rebuild.

A group of scientists at Tulane University have also been investigating the situation. They found that across more than 200 wetland monitoring stations…[they have] tracked changes between 2009 and 2021…. “About 90 percent of these sites are unable to keep up with this recent high rate of sea level rise.”

The Washington Post also reported that the US Geological Survey monitoring 400 sites have found an “uptick” in land loss since 2015.  In parts of the Barataria Basin and lower Breton Sound, both of which are critical to New Orleans protection, survey scientists have found the rate of loss as much as 75% higher than in other wetlands.

It’s not like, nothing is being done.  Most of the planned prevention is centered on diversions of the mighty Mississippi River so that more silt from the river will accelerate wetland buildup.

Louisiana is planning two far more massive diversions, one channeling the Mississippi west into the struggling marshes of Barataria and another pouring fresh water east into the equally imperiled wetlands of Breton Sound…The mid-Barataria diversion will cost $2.9 billion and channel enormous volumes of water, up to 75,000 cubic feet per second. Together, the two diversions are one of the core components of the state’s Coastal Master Plan.

All that sounds good, but it may not be enough, and it may not be in time.  The oceans are rising now, and work on some of these diversions is are also just happening now.  What that really means, for the future, is wishing and hoping.  What it means right now for New Orleans and south Louisiana is worrying and wondering daily with the weather maps whenever any storm begins in the Atlantic whether we will be high and dry for another year or not.