New Plan Proposes Protecting New Orleans By Restoring the Delta

By Veronique Greenwood | January 28, 2012 8:29 am

In this graphic from the restoration authority, the land that will
be lost to erosion if the plan isn’t undertaken is shown in red.

Six years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Louisiana coast, the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has finally released a draft of a plan to try to keep it from happening again. How? By restoring the wetlands along the Mississippi River Delta, which we have more or less systematically destroyed but used to act as buffers between storm surge waves and inland cities.

Previous plans had relied on mainly on building levees and seawalls, so it’s striking that this plan, which would unroll over the course of 50 years at a cost of $50 billion, focuses on wetland restoration, writes Mark Fischetti, who has been covering this issue for Scientific American for years. Here’s how it would work:

Along the outer edge of the torn-up coast, furthest from New Orleans, former barrier islands that have been worn to thin wisps of land would be broadened with sandy sediment, mostly dredged from the ocean bottom and conveyed through pipelines. Natural ridges of land along the coast would be strengthened in similar fashion. Together, the islands and ridges would form a dotted line around southeastern Louisiana that can cut down storm surges. They would not all connect, so wind-driven water could still find its way through, but the many segments would break up the incoming wavefront into chaotic eddies flowing in conflicting directions that would at least partially cancel out one another.

The plan is already drawing ire from fishermen, who say that current restoration projects haven’t had much effect, and that all this shuttling of sand and water will interfere with their livelihoods.

Read more at Scientific American.

Images courtesy of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority

  • John Lerch

    How about not using “used to” in this fashion. It took me quite q while to figure out that you meant once upon a time rather than that we were using up the barrier islands.

  • jaykimball

    Though restoring the wetlands might make sense in a pre-climate change era, now, with the inexorable rise of sea level, is this a waste of $50 billion? Cities like NYC and Florida towns are planning for the inevitable rise in sea level. Perhaps New Orleans should do the same.

  • John Kwok

    I don’t think this would be a wasted effort, but the cost is substantial. One way of reducing the cost would be to ensure that more sediment is carried by the Mississippi itself into the delta, but that would mean removing dams and other barriers further upstream that have caused the substantial reduction of sediment flowing into the delta.

    Great article, Veronique and thanks for posting it.

  • Pippa

    It is good news that they are thinking about working with the natural environment rather than trying, yet again, to tame it. I too have concerns that the eventual effect of rising sea levels seems to have not been taken into account.
    Thank you for a thought provoking article!

  • Iain

    Dumb. Just dumb. $1 Billion/yr, year after year to stop storm surge, yet the oceans are guaranteed to rise year after year.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar

Login to your Account

E-mail address:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »