Last time I wrote: After we care for the people, what is the most practical and beneficial way to help rebuild the great city of New Orleans? ... What should be done with a below-sea-level isthmus of soggy, termite-ridden ground that lies between a Gulf bay called Lake Pontchartrain and a river that’s become its worst enemy? How can we not rebuild a city that was so grand and wonderful and fun...
Of course, first we must care for our fellow citizens. All displaced residents must get generous help from their countrymen, to rebuild lives and livelihoods, enter decent homes, find jobs and so on. Moreover, the cultural gift that was New Orleans should be saved for us all. But how? The discussion continues.
Suggestion #2: Listen to Nature and accept her adamant plan.
In EARTH, I describe how desperately the Mississippi wants to change its course. Every year, it strains harder against the Army Corps of Engineers’ magnificent - but someday doomed - Achafalaya Control Dam. Look at a map and ponder.
Is it possible that NOW may be the right time to let the river go?
There have always been benefits and drawbacks to this idea, with political balance choosing to leave things as they were... spending hundreds of millions to keep forcing Ol’ Miss down its old channel, which continues silting and rising. (Today, the river’s BOTTOM now lies above the second floor of some NoLa buildings. Shall we keep fighting nature till a syrup-sluggish flow passes the THIRD floor? Fourth? Any higher and the river will flow backwards!)
Obstinacy has had huge, expensive and destructive effects - artificially lengthening the official channel, hampering shipping, robbing the barrier islands and swamps of silt, until Louisiana’s delta is almost gone... the old natural hurricane barrier that might have saved the city from Katrina.
Benefits of opening the gates: a new, straight and fast channel to the Gulf - especially if it were prepared and then water scoured - would require little in the way of ongoing dredging or levees. Carried swiftly to the Gulf, silt would spread wide, rebuilding wetlands and islands, recreating the natural storm barriers.
After an adjustment period, river commerce should be more efficient. And the endeavor may partly be paid off by nongovernmental money, attracted to an entirely new rivermouth economic zone. (Providing jobs preferentially for the displaced?)
An added bonus. For the first time we will see before us a proposed mega-engineering project that environmentalists will probably not block. While some may resist out of a reflex to oppose any ambitious alteration of nature, others will see it as restoring a long-lost balance and offer enthusiastic backing. Might this even set a new tone for the years that follow? One of cooperation between those with a keen eye for spotting problems... and those with bold proposals to solve them?
Drawbacks: This plan would require finally buying out a chain of Achafalaya farms - and some villages - that have long known the river would someday come a-calling. Some will kick and scream while others welcome getting the waiting over with, calmly, deliberately. Some may even relish new riverfront views.
But let’s face it, the real opposition to releasing the Imprisoned Mississippi always came from NoLa itself, which took pride and identity from being America’s greatest River City. Only now the Big Easy may be ready, at last, to accept a different role.
Please, I am not offering this suggestion in order to kick New Orleans while it’s down. Indeed, this may be the best and only way to rebuild all of this great town... and more. For example, if the Mississippi moves away, NoLa will remain a GULF city, with Pontchartrain right next door. Its port could stay valuable, though much traffic would be diverted to trans-shipment facilities at the new Achafalaya outlet. In any event, this would cut in half the number of dikes that New New Orleans has to maintain. That savings, alone, might pay for the diversion.
(Actually, it may cut the number by more than 2/3.)
And picture this. Today’s riverbed would then become an amazing raised plateau, winding through town. Envision it supporting a rail corridor, to replace some essential portion of traffic from the transplaced river. Or, better yet, imagine a sinuous path of view-rich housing for many of the displaced, so high that even a future break in the Ponchartrain dikes would never touch them. And the sogginess that rots every beam and timber of New Orleans today? Presumably that would decline, as well.
(Certainly on the west and south sides of the old riverbed, this solution would be permanent. A drier life, free of mildew. Only then the suburbs will be physically linked to Old NoLa... perhaps something they won’t like, given the unneighborly behavior that some displayed during this crisis.)
Indeed, this may be the one way to ensure that even old neighborhoods can be rebuilt, without the nation worrying that it’s all for nothing.
With a year's warning, a new Achafalaya path for the Mississippi could be prepared (the one it wants to take and will take, sooner or later). If done carefully, the new river will be healthier, better for commerce, and the whole region ecologically improved. What’s more, it’s probably much cheaper than any other plan, as well. Heck, the river itself should do most of the work.
The alternative? Spend billions restoring and then maintaining an impossible situation... keep chaining up an adamant river that pushes harder every year against the artificial bonds that enslave it to our shortsighted will... until the Dam eventually gives way anyway, releasing the Father of Waters to come sweeping down upon unprepared farms and villages... leaving NoLa just as high and dry.
Well, it’s a thought. I hope that was at least entertaining. Again here’s my standard warning. Especially for any angry riverfolk.
I am paid to be interesting. I am not paid to be right.
Feel free to weigh in with your own alternatives, now. I’ll be too busy hiding.
Finally, a few misc items:
1 - some complain that it’s hard to check my website from Asia. This problem must be solved, since I believe Asia is the future home of optimistic science fiction. But for now, all my host suggests is - “If you know the IP address range that someone is trying to reach us through - something in the subnet Class C level - I'd be happy to unblock specific areas.” So, send me this info and I’ll see what I can do.
2 - check this example of self-organized networking to post what’s needed and where.(http://gracedavis.typepad.com/katrinablog/)
3 - I am still trying to decide which place to send three boxes of Childrens books and a box of EARTH hardcovers. I had them addressed to the Astrodome. But now I hear it’s emptying fast.