St. Charles Herald-Guide

Levee upgrade is not enough

By Staff Report - August 30, 2006

Hurricane season is well underway and, understandably, the overwhelming concern is that if another “big one” hits southeast Louisiana, the levees will break again.

That, of course, is of importance to those who witnessed what happened last year.

But we should not lose sight of the fact that the most important protection we can get is to rebuild the wetlands that would significantly reduce the surge that any hurricane can produce. Most of the populated areas destroyed by Katrina were many miles from the coast where the hurricane hit. Had our coast been as it was some 50 years ago with many trees and solid soil in the wetlands, chances are the surge would not have been great enough to break the levees.

Now, after Katrina, we have less wetlands than ever. The wetlands near where the hurricane hit shore are now really wet. In fact, they are almost open water, unable to stop any kind of hurricane surge.

And yet, some $6.7 billion has been alloted to levee repairs compared to $115 million for wetland repair. That is a 60 to 1 ratio, far too much for any continued safety from hurricanes in our region.

Unless the federal and state governments can provide more investment in shoring up our coast, the levee repairs we make will always be subject to surges that could destroy them. It gives us a false sense of security to be told our levees are being repaired when our wetlands are not.