Flood protection needs to be top priority to keep New Orleans a top destination
New Orleanians won’t admit that their anxiety levels are skyrocketing – we’re cool like that – but the truth is growing concern is apparent.
Mother Nature is loaded for bear. Southeast Louisiana is facing a double-barreled weather situation this weekend with a flood-swollen Mississippi River that could overtop its levees on one side and a strengthening, western-moving tropical storm off the coast of Florida shoving a storm surge toward the region on the other.
On Wednesday morning, more than seven inches of rain deluged the south shore over the span of six hours, according to the National Weather Service (NWS), flooding many areas of Orleans and Jefferson parishes, bringing government and commerce to a near halt.
At the same time that city officials promised the populace that the drainage pumps were on and operational – pumping out an inch of water an hour, many had what is now Tropical Storm Barry – developing south of Pensacola, Florida – on their minds.
Warm Gulf of Mexico waters are expected to feed the storm and possibly power it to hurricane strength when in makes landfall somewhere in south Louisiana on Saturday. As the storm moves east, parallel to the Gulf Coast, it is strengthening and pushing more and more water through the Mississippi Sound into southeast Louisiana and slowing the flow of the Mississippi River into the gulf.
While this is typical of a summer cyclone, the region is also facing a Mississippi swollen with waters that have funneled south after flooding many interior areas of the country in June and earlier this month.
The NWS is predicting the storm could drop between six to 18 inches of rain on southeast Louisiana this weekend.That could lift the river – currently at 16 feet at the Carrolton Gauge – by three to five feet, possibly overtopping the 20-foot levees Uptown, in the Lower 9th Ward, Algiers, and St. Bernard Parish.
While storms like Wednesday’s can and do pop up and government officials cannot always prepare for them, the region needs to make a greater effort toward improving and modernizing its flood protection and management strategies for when they do arise.
It’s becoming an existential issue.
I realize this is a heady topic for a sports column, but bear with me.
New Orleans is a city with an economy that more and more seemingly lives and dies on tourism, conventions and special events. Biz has covered the multi-million dollar economic impact that major sporting events like the Super Bowl, College Football Playoff National Championship title and playoff games and NCAA Final Fours bring to the city, but the region also does a great job of attracting minor sporting events that bring money to the region’s coffers.
When event planners look at New Orleans now, they have to question whether or not the city will provide an environment for their event to flourish and participants not be put in harm’s way or whether risk management would recommend they book elsewhere, in a place without so many potential question marks.
While scores of officials blame the city’s aged, crumbling sewerage – where some piping is a century old – nothing ever seems to be done about fixing it.
Locals are growing frustrated with dealing with floods, repairing their homes and businesses, repairing or replacing vehicles and dealing with rising insurance coverage – if it is attainable at all.
While many were empathetic, whether we like it or not, the city got a black eye post-Katrina. The nation sent millions of dollars, yet, to outsiders’ eyes the same problems persist. Enough!
If we want our city to survive, it is time for our local elected officials to come together in a bi-partisan effort to fight for a fix to our drainage issues. We need help. Yes, the city has mismanaged its responsibility over several decades, but the current populace shouldn’t be punished for their previous transgressions.
Asking businesses and individuals to demo and rebuild over and over due to flooding is a non-starter. They’ll see the grass in other areas is much greener than the dead lawns and flora left behind after a flood.
If special events, conventions and meetings start choosing other destinations because New Orleans is seen as inept, our economy will crumble. That will force people to move away and cause the city to recede.
The city does not need to be the focus of disaster recovery so soon after Katrina.
Hopefully New Orleans gets a reprieve this weekend, and our leaders can get to work on securing the funding needed to fix the city’s drainage issues before it is too late.