In New Orleans, living with water is the foundation of our existence. With climate change impacting our daily lives, we are experiencing record-breaking Mississippi River flooding, increasingly intense and frequent rainfall events, and unprecedented hurricane seasons. We are also facing some of the highest rates of sea level rise in the world. Now is the time to innovate and adapt. We can continue to see water as our biggest threat, or we can use it as a major asset. Here in New Orleans, we are leading the way, finding innovative ways to live with water. We are proud of the progress made since Hurricane Katrina.
Our delta city was built by the sand and mud of the Mississippi River. Though we’ve walled it off, the river is intricately linked to our geography, culture, and economy. The river will continue to be critical, especially to the sustainability of the coast that protects our city. In part, because we’ve walled off the river and its natural land-building process, we are losing our coast at a rate of one football field of wetlands every 100 minutes. This is not just an issue for our neighboring parishes; this is a dire issue for every parish in the region — from fishing camps on Grand Isle to bedroom communities of Baton Rouge.
The good news is that our state has recognized the seriousness of our coastal land loss and prioritized restoration and protection. We’ve empowered the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to advance coastal solutions at a rate that other coastal states can only dream of.
We should also all be thankful for the Mississippi River. We’ve leveed it off, but it’s still there. It’s still the Mighty Mississippi. Our best shot at maintaining and even rebuilding a coastal buffer to help sustain the future of New Orleans and our neighbors is to utilize the very tool that built the delta in the first place.
New Orleans and Louisiana are truly leading the way in coastal climate adaptation. CPRA has put forward a world-class Coastal Master Plan to provide a science-based blueprint for coastal restoration.
One of the most innovative projects in the Coastal Master Plan is the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, located south of New Orleans in Plaquemines Parish. Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion is the single largest ecosystem restoration project in U.S. history. It will build more land than any other restoration project in the world. This is the type of innovation and ingenuity we need to address the challenges that we face. Mid-Barataria will reconnect the river to its delta in a tightly controlled way restoring the natural wetland-building process and sustaining existing wetlands that are otherwise going to wash away.
This project will help protect our communities by restoring our coastal buffer and could bring thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic impact to our region.
Right now, we are in the midst of one of the most important public comment periods in the history of our coast. Comments are being accepted on the $2 billion Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project. This is the time to support innovation, ingenuity, and climate adaptation. This is the time to embrace living with water and to make it our great asset. It’s time to get involved and protect our coast and the future of our delta city.
LaToya Cantrell is mayor of New Orleans.