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Ten years after Katrina, delta picks competing 100-year visions

Ten years after Katrina, delta picks
competing 100-year visions

by ROB McMANAMY, with news services | Aug 29, 2015

When the levees broke: On August 29, 2005. Nature began re-drawing the map of the City of New Orleans.

When the levees broke: On August 29, 2005. Nature began re-drawing the map of the City of New Orleans.

Even a decade after Hurricane Katrina's prolonged nightmare began engulfing New Orleans and television news channels around the world, the haunting images of floating bodies and a drowned American city remain burned in our national psyche. 

But today, a public-private determination to avert a repeat of that disaster and to re-balance the region's failed urban eco-system is gaining momentum. Three years ago, the State of Louisiana unveiled a 2012 Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, a 50-year, $50-billion plan to reimagine the collapsing coast. This month, the Master Plan was joined by a menu of 100-year strategies for reducing risks and building a sustainable ecosystem that is resilient over time. 

On Aug. 20, the nonprofit Changing Course announced the three winners of its international design competition and those teams’ 100-year visions for restoring and sustaining the Mississippi River Delta for the people and industries that call it home. The winning teams – comprised of some of the world’s top engineers, coastal scientists, planners and designers – are Baird & AssociatesMoffatt & Nichol, and Studio Misi-Ziibi. (Click on the individual teams to see their respective proposals.)

“We challenged the world’s top experts to find the most innovative ways to make sure that New Orleans and southeast Louisiana aren’t held hostage to worsening storms, rising seas and a disappearing delta,” said Steve Cochran, Associate Vice President of Ecosystems at Environmental Defense Fund and a member of the Changing Course Leadership Team. “We hope the winning ideas will help citizens, communities, industries and governments engage in real conversations about what it’s going to take to make this important region more resilient and prosperous.”

Here is the opportunity to take great scientists, engineers and landscape architects and bring them together... to solve one of the biggest problems our nation has ever faced.
— Stacy Methvin, former VP, Shell Oil

The winning teams’ designs are based on a 100-year planning horizon and focus on maximizing the Mississippi River’s natural and sustainable land-building potential while taking into account the needs of navigation and other industries, flood control and sustainable community development – a challenge raised by the state’s ongoing master planning.

“Because of the quality of the work, the State has committed to bringing the technical work from Changing Course into its process of analyzing the management scheme for the Lower Mississippi River,” said Kyle Graham, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Executive Director.  “We look forward to working with the teams.”

Over the last century, nearly 1,900 square miles of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands have vanished. Every hour, a football field-sized swath of land drowns in the Gulf’s advancing tides. At this rate, by 2100, Louisiana’s protective coast will be gone. The solutions proposed by the winning teams focus primarily on the Mississippi River south of New Orleans.

While each of the winning teams offered a different vision, all three identified three major themes as critical to sustaining the Mississippi River Delta today and into the future:

  • A clear focus on a sustainable delta through using the natural forces of the Mississippi River;
  • Maximum integration of navigation, flood control and restoration, including consideration of ideas for a better and more sustainable navigation channel;
  •  Consideration of a gradual transition of industry and communities into more protected and resilient communities, over time.

“As sea levels rise, communities around the world, particularly in major river deltas, need novel approaches to find sustainable solutions. Changing Course is a great example of how world class expertise can be combined with local wisdom to produce ideas that work.”  said Dr. Don Boesch Changing Course leadership team member and Professor of Marine Science and President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

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