Five years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. In the months afterward, plenty of second-guessing took place—of the local and federal government response, the construction of the levees, and the wisdom of having settled in such a location as New Orleans in the first place. Today the Gulf Coast is dealing with other problems—the oil spill still topping the list—but a new system of flood protection for the city is within a year of being completed.
This New York Times article, among others, reports on the $15 billion system of floodwalls, pumps, and other measures intended to prevent another storm from causing the same kind of damage. Part of the defense system’s strength is simply its tremendous size: A wall two miles long and 26 feet high girds part of Lake Borgne where water poured into the city in 2005, and the entire system links about 350 miles of various structures. And part of its strength comes from better construction, such as more adequately braced floodwalls and sturdier levee materials.
But, as the article points out, the first line of protection should come from outside the walls, from the coastal marshes and wetlands that could slow a storm surge but that are being lost to erosion, deprived of silt from the much-constrained Mississippi River, and possibly harmed by oil.
Several articles in Stormwater in the months following Katrina looked at the aftereffects: Carol Brzozowski wrote about the immediate response, and David Richardson interviewed some of the people who were working in New Orleans’ pumping stations when the storm hit. A year later, Richardson went back to see how New Orleans and towns like Biloxi, Mississippi, were recovering.