06 March 2006

One last thought on New Orleans

Yes, I actually do watch the History Channel, and consider it 'popcorn' history and entertainment. Their Modern Marvels on the engineering disasters of New Orleans was interesting and, for once, even brought a few things to light. And as with all MSM entertainment it was interesting to see what the producers of the program had extensive commentary on and what they let slip by. But, for once, they did have actual *real* engineers, surveyors and such on and let them speak without commentary added.

The first nugget was the Barrier Island problem and their washing away during the Katrina storm and the impact that storm had on the actual delta. By impeding wave action these islands also protected the delta from the direct storm surge. It looks like those days are now over as a goodly number of them are now underwater and many nearly completely gone so as not to matter. They would also, I expect, divert some of the Gulf currents and add some protection that way. That is a painful loss for the delta as a whole.

On subsidance they had a wetlands specialist that pointed out they were losing the equivalent in square yardage of delta going under water to "a football field per day". That is an average, but it does not speak well to the human impact upon the delta.

But the most worrying was the surveyor and engineer who repeated surveys done in 1970. The result was an average of 3 inches of subsidence across the entire NOLA area. And he said, and I paraphrase, 'That this rate is about twice what was expected.' Flat, even tone of voice as any good surveyor and civil engineer should do! Thank you for that, History Channel!

The first speaks for itself, although it also speaks to the fragility of the overall delta system over time. The expectation that it will stay in one place and exist in one way is folly.

The delta loss is enormous as the delta grows smaller this loss, of necessity, pulls the coastline nearer inland and subjects more to the Gulf currents. Storms also can get closer and storm surges will go farther up the Mississippi than previously due to this and the Barrier Island losses. Very worrying.

Now the subsidence issue... where to place that? I will try cars as an inexact analogy... but we know much about how a car works and can go wrong, but we also suffer many minor ills that point to larger mechanical or physical problems. So long as the ill does not get much *worse* we do not mind. So let us say you take your car into one of the fast oil change and check everything deals, and every month they tell you what they did.

On the low end, lets say that you have always had tires that lose 2 lbs of pressure a month, but since you get the regular change, no problem. But now you are told they are losing 4 lbs a month and you notice this on your bill only after a few months and realize that you don't remember if that was on previous bills and you were not informed.

On the high end, a similar situation, lost bills and looking at one to make sure everything is *normal*. In this case your car has been losing a quart of oil a month, but that is no problem. Now you notice it is two quarts this month, and without the preceeding bills you don't know if it is just this month or has been going on for awhile.

You could do many things with a car and the place that checks it out. You could take it for a more thorough servicing. You could have the folks running the shop to pull up past bills. Many things, indeed. Neither of these is exactly, positively, immediately life threatening worrying. But, without having any records between two points from your last bill you kept months ago and to the current, you do not know if this is a problem that has been creeping up slowly or if it is a sudden change. The tires are not too worrying and you can easily get many things done to them. The oil, on the other hand, is a bit more worrying and could be pointing to a large upcoming bill due if you don't do something.

New Orleans has this same problem with subsidance, except it is known that at some point the current 'dry land' will all be below water level, be it ground water or mean sea level. Something long term needs to be done, but you can't guess what or when or how long until something really bad happens. What to do?

What Katrina did was to get past faulty rubber seals around the components of the vehicle that is New Orleans. You can *always* get better seals... but you enjoy driving the way you have and part of that route is always submerged and getting deeper. So you *can* replace all the seals in the car, but you also have a minor tire problem AND an oil leak problem somewhere in the system. Both of those are getting worse. Plus the air intake for your vehicle is just at water level where you drive. You *can* also buy a snorkel for your car... but at some point you will come to realize that you are going to need some other form of transportation. A hovercraft, perhaps. And either keep the car for pleasure trips in safe areas or sell it or put it up on chocks in a garage. You love your car. When do you realize that you will soon be putting good money into something else instead of hanging on to it?

We need a solution for New Orleans. The land it is on is subsiding. The engineering structures to keep the port open are not allowing the delta to refresh properly when the Mississippi floods. Normal sediment stays in the water column until out in the Gulf. The Barrier Islands are not much of a barrier after Katrina. And there may be 10 years or more of heavy hurricane seasons ahead. Katrina was a disaster. New Orleans is a catastrophe waiting to happen, no matter how much money you throw at it.

The Mississippi, the delta, the Gulf and the Atlantic will win if we keep on doing what we have done. We have given them the absolute advantage here by stubbornly staying in a sinking city.

As a gamer, that is usually a good time to change the goal of the game and do something else.

Before everything we care about is lost.

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