Thursday, August 26, 2010

Katrina's lessons yet to be learned

An editorial in the Merced Sun-Star (California): Five years after Hurricane Katrina, Congress has committed nearly $15 billion toward protecting a major American metropolis -- the New Orleans region -- from another devastating flood. Those investments are resulting in a flood control system far more protective than the one that existed prior to Aug. 29, 2005. Will it be enough? Hardly.

More than any other floodplain city, New Orleans is living on borrowed time. Much of this metropolitan area sits below sea level, upon old marshland that is subsiding. It faces possible inundation from both hurricanes and Mississippi River floods. With sea levels rising and the potential for climate change to generate ever-more powerful storms, the ability of engineers to design a foolproof fortification of New Orleans is fanciful, at best.

…Ricardo Pineda, floodplain management chief of the California Department of Water Resources, has served on this new regional flood control authority since 2007 and has made 37 trips to southeast Louisiana during that time. He reports there is now an integrated approach to preventing flood damages on a regional scale, including elevation of homes and better coastal protection.

Even with that progress, many experts, including Robert G. Bea of the University of California, Berkeley, fear complacency. Bea told the Times that the current effort at 100-year flood protection in New Orleans "is not even close to what is needed."

…Also lacking in New Orleans is a commitment to strategic land planning. If the city and suburbs were to minimize their urban footprint, there would be much less land requiring fortification, and more space available for marshes and natural floodways….

A collapsed building in New Orleans a few months after Katrina, shot by Daniel Lobo, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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