Who Hijacked Our Country

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Wetlands Would Have Reduced The Flooding

We’ve known for a long time now that wetlands are a crucial part of our eco-system. In addition to sustaining plant and animal life, they serve as protection against flooding.

When George Bush Sr. was running for president in 1988 he promised “no net loss of wetlands.” For every wetland that got drained or flooded, a new one would be created. Technically, he kept his word. He simply redefined the term “wetland” so that anything smaller than Lake Superior was no longer a wetland.

If the swamps and marshes of Southern Louisiana hadn’t been lost to overdevelopment, the recent flooding would have been much less severe in New Orleans and other Gulf communities. When torrential rains fall, wetlands absorb a lot of excess rain. When the wetlands have been replaced with concrete and asphalt — or when marshland has eroded and been washed out to sea — there’s nothing to absorb the water, and you get a flood.

Since the 1930s, erosion and decay have destroyed 1,900 square miles of wetlands in Southern Louisiana. Some of the wetlands have been lost to development in general. And the massive system of levees and canals has washed lots of sediment out to sea. Former marshes are now submerged under the Gulf of Mexico. These marshlands acted as a buffer to slow the force of an oncoming hurricane. New Orleans no longer has this buffer; it’s almost completely exposed to the Gulf of Mexico.

The effects have been noticeable on a day-to-day basis. Some of the coastal highways flood every time the tide comes in. This wasn’t always the case.

The levees prevent minor flooding by bringing the water of the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. But these minor floods are what the wetlands need. The flooding brings fresh water and sediment which sustains and replenishes the wetlands. Without periodic flooding, the wetland “compacts.” A consultant for the America’s Wetland group said “simply put, when the land does not have any nutrients and fresh water it dies.”

Obviously the levees and canals are necessary; nobody’s arguing with that. But their side effect — the disappearance of hundreds of square miles of wetlands — is a serious problem that needs to be solved.

This problem has been known for a long time. Local residents have tried to help in little ways, like placing their old Christmas trees in marsh areas to help retain sediment. Sidney Coffee, the executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities, said “the entire area has to be re-plumbed. You have to build on what you have. It’s a very complex solution.”

A massive effort to divert river water and deposit sediment will cost about $14 billion. Coffee said “this is a very intense effort that would go on to do this. But the costs of not doing it are far greater.”

Aye, there's the rub. In April 2004, some of America’s top engineers, plus millions of dollars, were diverted from Louisiana to Iraq. The marshes of Iraq became a higher priority than the marshes of Louisiana.

Bush requested $100 million for restoring the Iraqi marshlands (Congress hasn’t yet released the money). At the same time, the amount allotted for restoring the marshes of Louisiana was $8 million. (?!?!)

That’s right! The wetlands of Iraq are twelve times more important than restoring the lifesaving (as we’ve learned the hard way!) wetlands of Louisiana. How many lives could have been saved along the Gulf of Mexico if Iraq wasn’t considered a higher priority than Louisiana?

I don’t know whether this is shocking, or whether it’s just another jaded, numbed reaction of “that figures.”

In an administration already famous for its twisted, sick priorities, this takes the prize.

cross-posted at Bring It On!

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