Is New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta a microcosm of environmental catastrophe? If you are paid per word, it may be more remunerative to try to describe why it isn’t:
Extensive studies done after Katrina verified what lifelong residents of southeastern Louisiana already knew: Unless the rapidly disappearing wetlands are made healthy again, restoring the natural defense, New Orleans will soon lay naked against the sea (see satellite image, below).
So, how does one reengineer the entire Mississippi River delta—one of the largest in the world—on which New Orleans lies?
Three international engineering and design teams have reached a startling answer: leave the mouth of the Mississippi River to die. Let the badly failing wetlands there completely wither away, becoming open water, so that the upper parts of the delta closer to the city can be saved. The teams, winners of the Changing Course Design Competition, revealed their detailed plans on August 20. Graphics from each plan are below.
Scientists worldwide agree that the delta’s wetlands disintegrated because we humans built long levees—high, continuous ridges of earth covered by grass or rocks—along the entire length of the lower Mississippi River. The leveed river rims the southern boundary of New Orleans and continues another 40 serpentine miles until it reaches the gulf. The levees, erected almost exclusively by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, prevented regular floods from harming farms, industries and towns along the river’s course. However those floods also would have supplied the brackish marshes with massive quantities of silt and freshwater, which are necessary for their survival.
Good grief. Emphasis mine because they mean that so literally, when we throw around all kind of colorful euphemisms to describe and debate I guess after a while we return to original meanings again. What the miles of levees have wrought, let now engineering decisions and new diversion structures put asunder. Or let the delta die. May 1,000 new songs be written, though immaculate recordings and an army of busking crooners still won’t dull the pain of the [algal] bloom.