Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans because one million acres of coastal wetlands and barrier islands have vanished in Louisiana in the last century due to human interference. These landforms served as natural "speed bumps." They reduced the lethal surge tide of past hurricanes and made New Orleans inhabitable in the first place.
A $14 billion plan to fix this problem--widely viewed as technically sound and supported by environmentalists, oil companies and fishermen alike--has been on the table for years and was pushed forward with greater urgency after Katrina hit. But this Administration has turned its back on the plan. Instead of investing the equivalent of six weeks of spending in Iraq, the federal government is leaving Louisiana to fend for itself--again--when the next Big One comes.
In the weeks after Katrina, the American media portrayed the catastrophe as a matter of failed levees and flawed evacuation plans alone. But these were just symptoms of a much larger disease. Since World War II, an area of land the size of Rhode Island has turned to water between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, most of it marshland. And every 2.7 miles of marshland reduces a hurricane surge tide by a foot, dispersing the storm's power. Simply put, had Katrina struck in 1945 instead of 2005, the surge that reached New Orleans would have been as much as 10 feet less than it was.
These marshes, as well as the barrier islands, were created by the sediment-rich flood waters of the Mississippi River deposited over thousands of years. But modern levees have stopped this natural flooding from occurring. Thus, the existing wetlands, starved for new sediments and nutrients, have eroded and "subsided" and washed away in the meantime. Every ten months, even without hurricanes, an area of Louisiana land equal to Manhattan turns to water. That's 50 acres a day. A football field every 30 minutes!
The grand plan to change all this...