Legend tells a story of a once mighty city which was devoured by the sea. According to myth, the city's tall buildings stand in the deepest oceans until today. While the tale of Atlantis may sound like fiction, the possibility of New Orleans being swept undersea city is very real.
Before Hurricane Katrina, residents of New Orleans believed the Cresent city had been architecturally secured from watery environmental threats. Reports of the sinking urban footprint, shrinking coastal buffer, and rising sea levels were aggressively combatted with durable stormwater infrastructures – a massive, federally built levee system encircling the city that gave people peace of mind.
The storm's aftermath were partly blamed on the US Army Corps of Engineers, which had designed the levees, and then the region's flood defences were completely evaluated.
Questions arose. Was the safety of New Orleans purely an architectural matter? From a scientific perspective, New Orleans was geographically vulnerable long before Katrina' devestating arrival. Tulane University geographer Richard Campanella, for one, has consistenyl asserted the need for New Orleans to go beyond architectural protections and take a look at geography and history.
"There are some people who only put the focus on engineering factors," Campanella says. "Frankly, all of us were either indirectly or directly culpable."
Architects have done their job satisfactorily. Man-made levees and drainage system successfully protected the city from the seasonal flooding of the Great Mississippi River. Undisturbed by natural phenomena, the metropolis expanded and prospered. The economy grew and more buildings sprung put upthat may have altered the city's environment, making it vulnerable to storms.
After the 1930s, the city's residents became obsessed with building trusting the leveees and water pumping stations that made up the city's baseline of protection.
"We've been able to create a metropolis, but we've interrupted those processes at the same time," Campanella said.
After Katrina, the Army Corps rebuilt the metropolitan area's 133-mile flood protection system. New earthen levees, floodwalls, gates, pumps were built with a $14.5 Billion budget from the US Congress. Levees have been reinforced to limit the chance of being washed away by an especially high storm surge, MSN reported.
"The baseline now is much higher than it was in the past," says Cedric Grant, executive director of the city's Sewerage and Water Board.
But all of these developments hold the potential for unintended consequences. The drainage and the development of backswamps have contributed to the sinking below sea level of roughly one half of New Orleans's land mass. Between 1932 and 2010, approximately 1,900 square miles of land in southeast Louisiana was devoured by water, according to the US Geological Survey.
"If nothing is done over the next 15 years, another 300 to 500 square miles of Louisiana will disappear," John M. Barry, a historian and former member of one of greater New Orleans's levee boards has stated. "And loss will continue after that, turning New Orleans into a potential Atlantis with walls of levees holding back the sea."