Category Archives: levees

Photo Post

The new header image is part of a much larger picture I took this spring, during the annual Mississippi River flooding.

Mississippi River, Lower Ninth Ward, levees

Mississippi River in annual spring flood

The river is currently much lower, and in fact just yesterday I was walking down amongst the roots of those trees without even getting my sneakers muddy.

The Great Wall of St. Bernard

IHNC-Lake Borgne Surge Barrier, Great Wall of St. Bernard, The Wall, South Louisiana

IHNC-Lake Borgne Surge Barrier

In the world of Game of Thrones, there is a huge wall to the north. This wall protects the realm from a terrifying force of nature that unpredictably visits at time intervals so great that people often laughingly disregard the very real danger it presents.

In our world, the IHNC-Lake Borgne Surge Barrier to the south of New Orleans serves the same purpose.

Severe hurricanes strike New Orleans with rare enough frequency that a generation can go by between serious floods. In 30-40 years, people forget. They downplay the severity of the danger. They begin to believe the money put into flood protection is a waste of money. They give way to magical thinking – “Hurricanes always turn at the last minute; voodoo priestesses will keep hurricanes from hitting New Orleans; it will never happen, just because it won’t.” Systems and structures meant to prevent loss of life and property damage become neglected and eventually break down as the horror of the last storm is gradually forgotten. The old ones who weathered the last storm die, or move away, and a new generation who has never seen the horrific impact of a hurricane first hand fails to understand the danger. Not enough voices are present to enforce the wise axiom, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

In the aftermath, the traumatized survivors and the horrified onlookers overreact. Abandon the area entirely! Abandon all hope, all solutions, abandon your home. Ignore the fact that the damage was preventable from the start – call the situation hopeless and a waste of time, and move away. Give up. Declare that “no one” should ever have lived there (ignoring the vast resources of the land and the corresponding historical military and economic significance of the region).

Thankfully, wiser heads have prevailed, and real flood protection has finally been built in the form of the IHNC-Lake Borgne Surge Barrier, locally dubbed “The Great Wall of St. Bernard”. Two miles long and two hundred feet high, it is a front line defense against the sort of massive storm surges that devastated New Orleans and the surrounding metro area during Hurricanes Katrina, Betsey, and so many others.

For those who think it is expensive, consider how much more expensive it is to rebuild a vital port city every few decades than it is to build a circle of protection around it once and then maintain it.

Work smarter, not harder.