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Urban Risk: Will New Orleans be Submerged by 2040?

Louisiana Cypress Swamp

For people of South Louisiana fishing, shrimping, eating oysters and alligator are not just a livelihood but also a way of living. Nearly two million people, about half of Louisiana's population, have lived and worked in coastal Louisiana for generations. As the largest fishery in the lower forty-eight states, it alone makes up nearly 50,000 jobs. These types of jobs often require modification of the land to benefit humans rather than the environment. Even without knowing it, this culture is ruining the very land that provides homes, industry, and economy for Louisiana and much of the US.

Sediment deposits from the Mississippi River developed a large delta, with vast marshes and wetlands creating Louisiana's coastal region. Due to human activities such as channelization, canal dredging, flood control levees, filling and drilling of land, and withdraw of oil and gas, the sediment can no longer reach the delta to replenish the land. Too much salt water is reaching freshwater, eroding what little land is left. Without a sustainable solution soon this fragile landscape will be completely wiped away.  

The rate at which the coastline is diminishing is about thirty-four square miles per year, and if it continues another 700 square miles will be lost within the next forty years. This in turn means thirty-three miles of land will be underwater by 2040, including several towns and Louisiana's largest city, New Orleans.

Open Water at Edge of Marsh South Louisisana

Sadly, this has been a known issue for some time. While local efforts, such as swamp tours and environmental non-profit organizations, attempt to educate and replant their efforts, these aren't enough. Alongside short-term efforts a long-term sustainable plan is needed. Fortunately, research by the Land Change Study Group and University Specialists say a solution can be reached. The issue: State and Federal officials estimate the cost of restoration to be around fourteen billion dollars.

South Louisiana owes credit to its landscape for creating such a unique culture. Making the necessary changes and learning to live with the land is only the beginning of giving back.

Many cultures live in sensitive landscapes, how do they coexist with the land sustainably?

Credits: Images by Josh Reppel. Data linked to sources.