Unnatural Disasters, Natural Solutions: Lessons from the Flooding of New Orleans

Executive Summary

The images are seared into our memories. As Hurricane Katrina roared ashore, the long-ignored warnings about the inadequacy of New Orleans’ defenses came shockingly, vividly alive. The flooding of New Orleans that followed was a tragic and appalling disaster. But it was not a natural disaster. Poor project planning, flawed project design, misplaced priorities, and the destruction of the city’s natural flood protection – Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, were the root causes of the city’s ruin. Each of these causes lies firmly within the hands of man.

Piecemeal – and at times, wholesale – destruction of healthy rivers and wetlands, development in floodplains and other high risk areas, and an overreliance on structural flood prevention reach far beyond New Orleans to communities across the country. These problems are exacerbated when the federal government insists on constructing low priority and poorly planned water projects that impair natural flood protection systems, promotes large scale structural projects as a panacea for flooding, and ignores scientific and local concerns. To prevent future unnatural flood disasters across the country, we must address these problems where they begin. Fortunately, the means for doing so are well within our grasp. We must:

  • Modernize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Adopt Natural Flood Protection
  • Abandon Over-Reliance On Structural Protection

We can – and must – change the nation’s approach to flood protection. Until we do, lives, homes, businesses, and entire communities will continue to be at risk from unnatural flood disasters.
 
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