60 Minutes to Do Another "Fake But True" Story – On New Orleans

As if the drama of still finding dead bodies 3 months after the hurricane were not enough, 60 Minutes is getting an “expert” to spew absolute nonsense about New Orleans.

“New Orleans is going to be 15 to 18 feet below sea level, sitting off the coast of North America surrounded by a 50- to 100-foot-tall levee system to protect the city,” says Kusky, a professor in the earth sciences department at St. Louis University. He estimates this will happen in 90 years.

Now it might surprise most of you to learn that the most devastated part of the city is above sea-level. And it might surprise you even more that the lowest part of the city was dry the whole time. – Now you see why I council against people 1000 miles away pontificating about New Orleans hurricane protection problems.

New Orleans is indeed sinking. Most cities, especially coastal cities, do, we just do it a bit faster. It has been that way for the near 300 years New Orleans has been in existence. Depending on the numbers you go with, most people put it at about 1 inch per decade. So New Orleanians do what any reasonable person would do, we fill.

When New Orleans was a flood plain, mother nature did it for us. Now that we’ve tamed the river, we do it manually. If the backyard is getting low we order a load of spillway sand. A 12 yard dump truck cost about 60 bucks and one of those every 5 years or so does the trick. (I live in a better area, when I lived in an area that sank more we did about load per year- and it was basically the worst part of town for sinking.) The Mississippi River gives us all the sand we need, we just have to put it where we want it.. No big deal. Certainly a better deal than snow plowing.

So how do we then become “sitting off the coast of North America 18 feet below sea-level” in just 9 decades? That would be an acceleration from about 1 inch per decade to 2 feet per decade. Did the hurricane make a giant sink hole we don’t know about?

This whacky scenario is based on the fact that we are losing coastland in Louisiana. Another true fact that doesn’t mean as much as they say it does. Coastal erosion was greatly accelerated by the MRGO shipping channel. It’s all but etched in stone after Katrina that the MRGO is going to be closed. – That will stop much of the bleeding but not grow any coast any time soon.

The answer is simple – sorta. New Orleans sits at the top of the Mississippi River DELTA. The river keeps bringing more and more sand down and making more land. Hence the delta part. In the last century or so as we’ve sought other goals, we’ve managed to reverse this process. The delta is being washed away. We simply need to allow the river to build more land to our south acting as a barrier to the storms.

Mother nature wants to do this by default, we’ve just managed to muck it up. If you’ll allow me an analogy, it is not unlike medical technology. I have a liberal sister who remains offended that we used to X-Ray pregnant women. I’ve tried to explain to her that X-rays were all we had at that snapshot in time and one day people will be shocked our generation used ultrasound. BUT -radiation not withstanding- the X-Rays saved babies lives and we can’t overlook that.

Same can be said of the Mississippi River Delta. We derived benefit from moving mother nature for a few decades. Now we’ve learned there is a cost to that benefit. It costs us land that would be growing on its own. So in simple terms we need to use the river to build up more coast again. But that is easier to type than it is to do… Or more accurately, easier to type than it is to fund. We’ve spent money for a century to do what we thought was the right thing with the river. Now that we realized we screwed up, we can’t fix it in a single appropriation.

Further, changing the flow of the river will undoubtedly harm some peoples’ lives and livelihoods. Adding to the mess, the Army Corps of Engineers would be doing it and we’ve seen how qualified they are.

But the bottom line is that I’m pretty certain that sometime in the next century or so, we’ll manage to stop coastal erosion. It took us a century to get here, so it won’t happen over night but I’m sure mankind can muddle thru it.

In the mean time, having a chicken-little on 60 Minutes is just stupid. Even if we did nothing to address coastal erosion, it is highly doubtful that New Orleans would start sinking at the rate of 2.5 inches per year. AND that is assuming the accelerated sinking started today. If it remained static for a few years -which it will- we’d have to sink at an inch month to make his prediction. It’s just stupid.

But 60 Minutes, as we’ve all learned, really doesn’t care about getting the story right. I guess some things never change.

Bonfire of the Vanities #125 - Reminder
Massachusetts: Punishing success and independence is our policy


  1. leelu November 20, 2005
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