Swamped city: New Orleans and nature

nded far beyond the city of New Orleans," he said. "How do you orchestrate that?"

Colten said that, in the early years, the construction costs were put off on to the local farmers and those who owned property, as all were responsible for building their own levees. Later, the state took over, creating "levee districts" to supervise and control the process, and, ultimately, the responsibility was passed on to the federal government.

"Exporting the costs of flood protection to the larger social unit provided the means to afford the huge costs of dealing with floods," Colten said.

Nevertheless, controlling the river didn't put an end to the city's flooding problems. After 1865 or so, Colten pointed out, the worst flooding in New Orleans came not from the river, but from Lake Pontchartrain.

"Before they built levees along the lakefront, they would sometimes have cold fronts blow in during the winter months, pushing water up Bayou St. John and flooding the low areas of the city," he explained. "These happened frequently up through the 1890s."

Colten's book also makes note of the social impacts or implications of the city's flooding problems.

"Oftentimes, the flooding tended to impact the poorest neighborhoods the most not because floods are selective, but because people with the fewest resources tend to live in the most flood-prone areas where no one else wanted to live," he said. "Meanwhile, the wealthy would live uptown or up on the natural levee."

In addition to the various flooding issues, Colten said that the problem of what to do about the city's wet, swampy land was a key concern among city residents and officials.

"After the city was ringed in levees, people began asking: How do we pump the water out?" Colten said. "Massive amounts of federal money have gone into simply draining the city."

In the 19th century, Colten explained, public health officials believed that swamp lands were a source of fumes, or

Contact: Rob Anderson
Louisiana State University

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