The 1878 map of New Orleans that Times Picayune columnist Angus Lind wrote about the other day indicates that people back in the old days were pretty smart after all.
The map shows residential and business development mainly along the Mississippi River. And that is the area that remained mostly dry during Hurricane Katrina.
The area near the lake where million dollar homes were built in recent years by “smart” people of today was labelled “Cypress Swamp.” Not a single residence was shown there. And that is the area that suffered most of the water damage after the hurricane.
One mistake they made back then, however, was to build continuous levees along both sides of the river. They were built to hold back river waters that overflowed every spring when the ice melted up north and flowed through the Mighty Mississippi.
That annual river water overflow is what built up south Louisiana. Since the continuous levees were built, coastal Louisiana has been receding into open water at the rate of a football field every 15 minutes.
How long can we last at this rate?
Not long. And that is why we are trying to get some of that offshore oil revenue to provide the billions of dollars it will take to correct it.
Back then, they should have allowed space for some overflow to go through channels into those cypress swamps. This would have continued the river’s mission to build up the wetlands.
Without the overflow from the river leaving its sediment, the wetlands have been receding into open waters, such as exists in St. Charles Parish and other areas of the Barataria Basin today.
Now, our big problem is to get that river water around the residential buildup in low lands through river diversion projects such as Davis Pond. It’s an expensive project but one that must be accomplished if we are to restore Louisiana’s - - and America’s - - wetland, such as where that “Cypress Swamp” existed.