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Flood levees eroded natural protections, raised risk

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Monday August 21, 2006

Washington (dpa)- New Orleans residents may have been shocked by the failure of a series of levees designed to hold back the waters that surround the low-lying city, but it came as little surprise to scientists who had seen the city's environmental protections erode in the face of development. Man-made changes that aimed to protect the city and allow development along the banks of the Mississippi River eroded environmental protections that could have born some of the hurricane's damage.

Levees built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers kept the Mississippi River from flooding its banks each year, allowing farming and development along its banks. But they also disrupted a natural cycle that replenished wetlands and barrier islands.

The wetlands could have helped to absorb some of the hurricane's water. Instead, water remained concentrated in the Mississippi and in Lake Pontchartrain that border the city, which lies below sea level. Pressure built on the man-made barriers causing the levees to fail and flood 80 per cent of the city.

Conservation groups have pointed to the devestation of New Orleans as an example of the results of ill-informed environmental policy.

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur