Swamped city: New Orleans and nature

"miasmas," that caused disease. Thus, they believed that they needed to somehow remove excess water from the city, and this task proved to be a difficult one.

"Draining or removing wetlands from the city was a great challenge one that is still a problem today," he said.

Early on, Colten said, city leaders attempted to control the excess water by imposing laws to control the dumping of sewage. He said they initially attempted to force individuals and business to find ways to send their sewage out of the city by routing it into the river. These efforts led to the creation of a "metropolitan style" system of drainage and sewage.

Organizations were also created to help tackle drainage and sewage problems. One such organization was the New Orleans Flushing Committee, whose members would go out in the evenings to hook up hoses to hydrants and "flush" the streets to get rid of muck and sewage.

Colten said that state and local public health organizations were also charged with developing plans for city drainage, in an effort to reduce the incidence of outbreaks of environmental diseases such as yellow fever. In the 19th century, he said, experts believed that swarms of mosquitos were a harbinger of yellow fever outbreaks, because, while they recognized a connection between the two, they were unaware that mosquitos actually carried the disease.

Colten also writes about how, through the years, attitudes about New Orleans' physical environment have changed. He cites efforts in the modern era to accept and even celebrate New Orleans' unusual natural surroundings.

"Now there are all kinds of efforts to bring the wetlands back into the city," said Colten, pointing out the example of the Audubon Zoo's large Louisiana swamp exhibit. "This is, in part, because people realize that wetlands serve functions that weren't recognized in the 19th century, such as helping to protect the city and coastline and serving as a wildlife habitat. They can al

Contact: Rob Anderson
Louisiana State University

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