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As the Mississippi River Rises, So Does the Threat to New Orleans

Climate change and channelization have made high water levels the norm along the river. But low-lying New Orleans lies in its path, and the consequences could be monumental.
June 23, 2019, 5am PDT | Camille Fink
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Henry Grabar writes about the rising of the Mississippi River and the threats it poses in southern Louisiana, and particularly to New Orleans. "America’s wettest 12-month period in recorded history, all those devastating floods in Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Arkansas … it is all coming down through New Orleans now, putting the world’s most ambitious infrastructure of river control to the test."

The river is setting high water records—it is eight feet higher now than it was at this time last year—and the result has been large amounts of very fast-moving water, making navigation of vessels dangerous and travel upstream slow and difficult.

The combination of weather and channelization to keep the river under control has experts worried, says Grabar. The constant stress on the aging levee system could weaken it. And the approach of hurricane season when the river is so high is a concern.

"A storm would have to hit the river mouth just so to cause a major river surge. But as the years go by, it is looking more likely that high water and a hurricane could coincide—and in turn, it becomes more important to rethink the logic of the system that sends so much water through New Orleans into the hot summer months," notes Grabar.

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Published on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 in Slate
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