Washington, D.C., September 13, 2005—Amid the slow recovery of the Gulf Coast from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, a great deal of criticism has fallen on the shoulders of the Bush administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an allegedly insufficient commitment to fortifying anti-flood levees. Mostly unremarked upon, however, has been the opposition of environmental activist groups to building levees in the first place.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
“The groups argued that the ‘natural’ way would lead to better river management, but it was clear they had other agendas in mind besides flood control,” writes Competitive Enterprise Institute Journalism Fellow John Berlau. “They were concerned because levees were allegedly threatening their beloved exotic animals and plants. In his congressional testimony, American Rivers’s [Jeffrey] Stein noted that the Mississippi River was home to ‘double-crested cormorant, rare orchids, and many other species,’ which he implied were put at risk by man-made levees.”
Groups including <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />American Rivers and the Sierra Club sued in federal court in 1996 to prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from proceeding with a planned upgrade to 303 miles of levees in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas. An Army Corps spokesman observed at the time that a failure of the levees in question “could wreak catastrophic consequences on Louisiana and Mississippi which the states would be decades in overcoming.” The lawsuit succeeded in delaying the project for two years while further environmental impact studies were completed.
Environmental opposition to federal dam and levee projects in recent years has championed a state of “natural” river flows, even when it appears that that goal will conflict with protecting the safety of people from potential flooding. Hopefully in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, flood management policy will always favor the “safe” policy over the “natural” one.