It Might Not Be Climate Change, but We Have to Prepare for Whatever It Is

By Jeff Thomas

What if a rain machine storm that just devasted parts of Houston and eastern Texas had stalled over New Orleans?  Our current pumping system struggles now to prevent flooding with regular thunderstorms.  Recently Mayor LaToya Cantrell said, “We are seeing more rain and seeing it more frequently,” when she spoke to senior citizens at a voters’ caucus hosted by the New Orleans Council on Aging.  She is trying to convince voters to rededicate a millage to help provide more infrastructure maintenance. 

Future columns will analyze the merits of that ask.  But the focus today is the current capacity of our system and its ability to handle what the mayor predicts – more rain that will come more frequently.  Cause, neither crime nor education nor healthcare or any other measure of the habitability of a place matter if it floods constantly. 

New Orleans and Louisiana should be the world’s knowledge epicenter on rainwater pumping.  Some young Elijah “The Real McCoy” McCoy or Ellen Eglin should design some new flood protection devices that prevent up to 4 feet of flood water from entering people’s homes, while civil engineers develop the system to pump higher capacities from our streets in shorter time spans while the state legislators and the governor create barriers to pumped water reentering our neighborhoods while the city cleans all underground sewer pipes and canals.

In this photo provided by the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office, floodwaters surround a home, Thursday, Sept 19, 2019, in Winnie, Texas. The area has experienced heavy flooding due to Tropical Depression Imelda. (Brian Hawthorne/Chambers County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

Because if 10 – 20 inches of rain, which is what actually fell in parts of Texas last week, is going to start falling five or six times a year across the country, then it’s only a matter of time before one or two of those events occur in New Orleans.  And our 2 inches the first hour and ½ an inch every subsequent hour pumping capacity is woefully incapable of handling the “new normal” that former Sewerage and Water Board head Cedric Grant warned us about.

Ok, Grant was really trying to prepare us to live with water in our houses. In that case the sacred few who had their homes elevated after Hurricane Katrina might be best prepared to continue to reside in our city.  Many new homes are being built on three to four foot elevations, but the constant sinking seen across the metro might bring these homeowners back to earth.  And we can not elevate every house in New Orleans.

The seriously critical effects of this new reality means our current Sewerage and Water Board must not merely be good financial stewards.  Instead they must be aggressive creative forward-thinking people who not only maintain our pumps and canals, but utilize cutting edge technology to insure that New Orleans does not go the way of Atlantis.

Otherwise, we should all pack up and move.

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