To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina later this month, a coalition of area community and conservation advocacy groups working to restore wetlands around the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) released a report yesterday, Aug. 11.
The MRGO Must Go Coalition’s report, entitled “10th Anniversary of Katrina: Making New Orleans a Sustainable Delta City for the Next Century,” discusses both the problems that led to such massive human and ecological devastation following both Katrina and Rita, which hit less than a month later, as well as offering suggestions and solutions. The aim is to see long-term resiliency of the Greater New Orleans communities by implementing a “Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy” to protect them as well as wetland habitat.
Members of the MRGO Must Go Coalition released the following statement:
Hurricane Katrina brought to the forefront the dire need to improve the resilience of New Orleans and its coastal neighbors. Katrina barreled onshore, churned through MRGO, and wreaked havoc in the Greater New Orleans area – showing us that levees alone are not enough to protect our people, natural resources and economy.
They continued by stating, “Today, our coastline continues to disappear at the alarming rate of a football field every hour. As coastal wetlands wash away, with them go our natural defenses. Healthy wetlands and barrier islands serve as natural buffers, defending us against storms. Without slowing down this land loss crisis, we will continue to be vulnerable to storms, sea level rise and the growing risks of climate change.”
In the 24-page report issued by MRGO, authors cover popularly discussed topics — home elevation, storm water management, leveee protection and evacuation preparedness — and the less discussed, like the need for the Army Corps of Engineers to integrate multiple lines of defense. After all, as this report so clearly shows, over a thousand people died not because Katrina was the world’s biggest hurricane — it slammed into Southern Louisiana as a Cat. 3 on Aug. 29, 2005 — but because of the perfect storm (to use a bad idiom) of failures. These were, the authors of the report point out:
- The loss of thousands of acres of coastal wetlands, our natural line of defense that had historically provided a buffer from storm surge;
- The design and construction flaws in the levees, floodwalls, and floodgates intended to protect the area; and
- The lack of storm preparedness in coastal communities.
Ten years after Katrina, the report authors point out that great strides have been made, both in terms of restoration and protection. “The closure of MRGO, the passing of the 2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, the adoption of an Urban Water Plan and major upgrades to structural protections like levees and storm surge barriers are all true marks of progress for our region,” they write. Yet even so, “critical work” remains.
This means that multiple lines of defense strategy planning against storms must be put in place: community level planning and preparedness, urban storm water management, and protecting and restoring coastal wetlands.
Levees, floodwalls and pump stations have been strengthened and a surge barrier built in the years since 2005, the report points out; but work remains. After Hurricane Isaac in Sept. 2012, this reporter noted a disparity between what was not occurring in NOLA (significant flooding and distress) versus the blight on the residents of Braithwaite.
Since 1932, the Bayou State has lost 1,900 square miles of coastal wetlands due to both man-made causes (such as the dredging of oil) and natural causes like coastal erosion, according to the report.
Recommendations to curb the environmental assault on the state are detailed in the report, including implementing the 2012 Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan For a Sustainable Coast and a long list of restoration projects. Everything from the New Orleans East Land Bridge marsh creation project to the West Maurepas freshwater diversion project are illuminated in the report.