2005 November 20 Sunday
Tim Kusky Says Move Or Abandon New Orleans

He's taking his argument on US national TV.

Kusky speaks to 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley this Sunday, Nov. 20, 2005, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

“New Orleans is going to be 15 to 18 feet below sea level, sitting off the coast of North America surrounded by a 50 to 100-foot-tall levee system to protect the city,” says Kusky, a professor in the Earth Sciences Department at St. Louis University. He estimates this will happen in 90 years. “That’s the projection, because we are losing land on the Mississippi Delta at a rate of 25 to 30 square miles per year. That’s two acres per hour that are sinking below sea level,” he tells Pelley.

As the city assesses damage and plans to rebuild, Kusky believes there’s a better plan.

“We should be thinking about a gradual pullout of New Orleans and starting to rebuild people’s homes, businesses and industry in places that can last more than 80 years,” says Kusky. Instead, the law will allow residents to rebuild if their homes lie at the 100-year flood level, much of which was inundated by Katrina’s waters and would be put underwater again should levees fail.

While 60 Minutes will give Kusky's idea a lot of publicity this is not a new position for him. On September 25, 2005 in a Boston Globe op/ed Kusky called for moving or abandoning New Orleans due to inevitable submergence.

The city has other problems of location. To protect communities along the Mississippi River, the Army Corps of Engineers built a 2,000 mile long system of levees that help prevent river flood waters surging from the channel and inundating low lying areas. However, the levees also channel sediments that normally get deposited on the flood plain and delta far out into the Gulf of Mexico, causing the land surface of the delta south of New Orleans to sink below sea level at an alarming rate. A total land area the size of Manhattan is disappearing every year, meaning that New Orleans will be right on the Gulf Coast by the end of the century.

The projected setting of the city in 2100 is in a hole up to 18 feet below sea level directly on the hurricane-prone coast. The city will look like a fish tank battered by coastal waves, surrounded by 50- to 100-foot-high seawalls that are barely able to protect it from hurricanes that are only as strong as Katrina. Such a city is untenable, and we as a nation need to face this reality.

As my regular readers know, I take the same position. I think that fixing the channel sediment problem should take precedence over building flood walls and the lower lying areas should not be rebuilt. We should try to stop the erosion of the delta which human engineering projects caused (or at least greatly accelerated) in the first place. But humans should not live in flood deltas unless they want to sign pieces of paper saying they do not expect any government disaster help when hurricanes hit.

Also see my post "Should New Orleans Get Rebuilt And Who Should Pay For It?" Also, read an excellent Scientific American article about the Mississippi river delta (same article here and here). What is happening has been obvious for a long time. Why not have public policy align with the scientific reality?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 November 20 03:39 PM  Politics Money

gcochran said at November 20, 2005 4:53 PM:

" Why not have public policy align with the scientific reality? "

Well, there's a first time for everything.

Ivan Kirigin said at November 21, 2005 11:32 AM:

I heard that 80% of the population hasn't even returned yet. My guess is that other than some enterprising contractors, those 80% are the people most likly to make an area vibrant.

That, more than any construction project, will guide where people move live. If there are no good people in LA, reconstruction will fail.

Charm City Carl said at November 21, 2005 9:31 PM:

The vast majority of the population of Metro New Orleans has been back in the city for more than two months. From what friends tell me, you can hardly move in the suburbs it is so packed with people and cars. The "city" does not stop at city limits and even the areas that were not affected by this hurricane are still susceptible to similar damage if adequate protection is not provided. Jefferson Parish, to the west of Orleans Parish, has a population of nearly an identical size of Orleans. We had the ability to protect Orleans Parish in the past and failed to do so. Now, we are actually going to sit around and argue over whether the rest is worth saving? Wake up! We are not going to forgo spending 20 billion dollars to save 250 billion in investment.

This is also an area that CANNOT be abandoned. Hello, the river runs through there and will continue to run through there for our lifetimes. Moving the third largest port in the world is not exactly a less costly option. Neither is moving the billions of dollars invested in refineries along the Mississippi River in that area. That infrastructure needs to be protected and if in addition to saving the port that supports every farmer in 2/3 of the continental U.S., 1/3 of the oil refined in the country, and 1/2 of the country's seafood industry we can save one hell of a city, then I'd say that was money well spent.

Plus, don't believe anything that comes out of the guy Tim Klusky's mouth. It's pretty funny reading what real Louisiana coastal experts are saying about him. Apparently, his only research on the area was conducted by bringing students on field trips there. Hope he didn't gain his vast knowledge of hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's. For more on this typical 60 Minutes "expert":



Rob Sperry said at November 23, 2005 1:02 AM:

90 years? Isn't that about the time when the earth gets disassembled to help make the Matrioshka brain?

Jorge D.C. said at November 27, 2005 12:06 AM:

Charm City Carl:

The vast majority of the population of Metro New Orleans has been back in the city for more than two months.

Well, thanks for the fog. You claim facts about "Metro" New Orleans - meaning metropolitan area. And yet we all know that metropolitan areas in the USA frequently have nothing to do with the actual city they surround. But you, The Obscurantist, sloppily connect the dots and announce that these same denizens of the metropolitan area have "been back in the city" for two plus months.

But they're not really "back in the city" are they? The actual city is cratered. A shadow of itself at about 60,000 people or 1/8 of pre-Katrina population.

Keep shaking your pom-poms.

karl chauff said at November 27, 2005 2:30 PM:

Dr. Kusky and I are faculty in the same department at St. Louis University. Although 60 Minutes presented Dr. Kusky as "a flood control expert", I would dispute that claim. Kusky is an expert in PreCambrian (older than 600 million years) geology and plate tectonics, the movement of large portions of the Earth's crust. Expertise in those fields does not translate into a "flood control expert". He has authored an introductory textbook on natural hazards, but little of that is his own research and the book is at an elementary scientific level. To designate him on a widely watched national television program as an expert in flood control gives his views weight they do not deserve. 60 Minutes should have obtained the views of several experts in flood control and deltaic processes. They are not hard to find. Contact the Corps of Engineers or faculty from the Louisiana State Universities.

Kusky is quoted as stating that by 2095, the coastline will pass the city and New Orleans will be sitting off the coast of North America in the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently, he has forgotten that the Mississippi River dumps between 200,000 to 400,000 tons of sediment into the Gulf each day, according to an on-line publication. Currently, the channel of the river is artificially held in place at the edge of the continental shelf and most of this sediment is deposited in the deep basin of the Gulf. This is one of the reasons why Louisiana's coast is eroding. The coast is being denied river sediment which historically was deposited in the shallower near shore waters. At some point in the future as the coastline recedes, the river will break through the artificial levees and, if left alone, again deposit sediment in the shallow waters. This will rebuild the lost wetlands that surround and protect New Orleans. Thus, it is unlikely that New Orleans will be an island off shore from North America. Indeed, much of these wetlands could be restored today if the river was allowed to deposit its sediments closer to the current shoreline.

Please note, I am only a geologist. I am not now, nor have I ever been an expert on flood control, nor do I play one on national television.

Charm City Carl said at November 29, 2005 8:36 PM:

Jorge DC,

When was the last time you were in New Orleans? If you had any clue about the city, you would not be spewing such ignorance. Saying Jefferson Parish is not New Orleans is like stating Brookline isn't part of Boston or Baltimore County isn't part of Baltimore. But for "welcome to..." signs you'd never know you crossed from one to the other. By the way, next time you fly out of New Orleans International Airport look under your feet, you are on the edge of Jefferson Parish that's 10 miles away from its New Orleans border and 13 miles from downtown. In the future, when you accuse someone of "sloppily connecting the dots", maybe you should figure out exactly where the dots are.

Regardless of whether the suburbs are considered part of the city, for every one home destroyed there are nine that are susceptible to that exact same tidal surge but which were spared only by the direction of the wind. An outer levee system which need only delay the flow of water from a tidal surge would protect the people living on the Westbank and surrounding Lake Pontchartrain.

If what I was providing was "fog", then the past week I spent in the city with my friends sure was foggy. All of my clients in New Orleans must be fog too. The restaurants and businesses in New Orleans, fog. My only regret is that I sure dropped a hell of a lot of money on fog.

As far as me having to "shake my pom-poms" goes, I feel absolutely no need. A friend and I were discussing the other night how being in the city "feels like a big New Orleans pep rally". Only one person I spoke to saw the city collapsing into some Mad Max state and she was that way before Katrina. The people who drove that city are still positive and the depressing souls out there are still true to their nature, both in the city and on the Internet.

"Well, thanks for the fog. You claim facts about "Metro" New Orleans - meaning metropolitan area. And yet we all know that metropolitan areas in the USA frequently have nothing to do with the actual city they surround. But you, The Obscurantist, sloppily connect the dots and announce that these same denizens of the metropolitan area have "been back in the city" for two plus months."

Karl Chauff said at December 9, 2005 10:54 AM:

This is an update to my previous posting suggesting that 60-Minutes had mistated Dr. Kusky's credentials regarding his being a flood control expert.

60-Minutes has changed the posted transcript of the segment "New Orleans is Sinking" http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/11/18/60minutes/main1056304.shtml. In paragraph 12, Dr. Tim Kusky is no longer described as "an expert in flood control", but simply as "a professor of earth sciences at St. Louis University."

Dr. Kusky has up-dated his home page http://mnw.eas.slu.edu/People/TMKusky/id44.htm to more accurately reflect his experience and areas of interest. Anyone wishing to evaluate his credentials regarding his comments on the abandonment of New Orleans are encouraged to visit this web site.

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