Argument: The higher the New Orleans levees, the worse the flooding

Issue Report: Rebuilding New Orleans


Joan Hough. “The Case Against Rebuilding New Orleans”. Georgia Heritage Council. – New Orleans, we are told by some, can be stopped from sliding into all of that salt water surrounding it, if only we pile the levees higher and make them stronger. Should we ignore the fact that the higher the levees the deeper the floods that will follow?

Klaus Jacob. “Time for a Tough Question: Why Rebuild?”. Washington Post. 6 Sept. 2005 – Some say we can raise and strengthen the levees to fully protect the city. Here is some unpleasant truth: The higher the defenses, the deeper the floods that will inevitably follow. The current political climate is not conducive to having scientific arguments heard before political decisions are made. But not doing so leads to the kind of chaos we are seeing now.

Joel K. Bourne, Jr. “New Orleans: A Perilous Future”. National Geographic. August 2007 – The great tragedy of Katrina is that the hard lessons learned in those earlier storms were blithely forgotten by all. After the great Mississippi River flood of 1927 wreaked havoc all along its course and came within a few feet of spilling over the river levees and inundating New Orleans, the growing city clamored for additional protection. Over the coming decades, the federal government erected a vast network of levees and spillways along the river and around the city, while giant new dams along the Missouri—the Mississippi’s longest tributary—ponded water all the way to South Dakota. The system was billed as a triumph of engineering over nature.

Yet Gilbert F. White, considered the “father of floodplain management,” came to a far different conclusion, one that Katrina drove home with a vengeance. As a young University of Chicago geographer, White had studied the delta after the 1927 disaster and realized that much of the suffering could have been avoided. “Floods are ‘acts of God,’ ” he wrote in 1942, “but flood losses are largely acts of man.” White and his colleagues argued that dams, levees, and other flood protections may actually increase flood losses because they spur new development in the floodplain, which incurs catastrophic losses when man-made flood protections fail. The phenomenon came to be known as the “levee effect.”