Saturday, June 20, 2009

When The Levee Breaks (On Purpose)

The New York Times has a feature article by Cornelia Dean about the destruction of levees on the Ouachita river in order to restore floodplain habitats and ecosystems, and to reduce flooding down river, while also helping restore coastal wetlands. From the article:

The idea goes against the grain in Louisiana, where people have battled river flooding since colonial days. European settlers were often required to build levees to establish homesteading claims; in recent decades, landowners built levees to create farmland by the hundreds of thousands of acres. Hurricane Katrina brought a clamor for more and stronger levees to protect people and buildings farther south.

Yet at the same time, there is a growing awareness that Louisiana’s levees have exacted a huge environmental cost. Inland, cypress forests and wetlands crucial for migrating waterfowl have vanished; in southern Louisiana, coastal marshes deprived of regular infusions of sediment-rich river water have yielded by the mile to an encroaching Gulf of Mexico. Some scientists have suggested opening levees south of New Orleans so the Mississippi River can flow normally into the swamps.
More here.

Photo by Don McDowel/Nature Conservancy

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