In the last Eco-Logical, we talked about how most of the Louisiana coast is in danger of submerging and becoming a huge water park. Watch for the signs that say "You must be this tall to avoid riding the Underwater Glug-Glug." But the problems in that area are really no laughing matter—they have serious economic, social, and environmental consequences for the region.
Louisiana is not the only state with water/land problems, as evidenced by Florida's troubled Everglades. Draining of Everglades swampland and construction of canals and levees began in the early 1900s. In the last 100 years, as agricultural and residential development in the region have expanded—and, in turn, demands for irrigation and flood control have risen—the Everglades have shrunk to less than half their original size.
Sometimes dredging, levee building, and other activities designed to control or adapt nature have been carried out by private corporations, such as when oil companies created canals in the Louisiana wetlands to support their oil and gas operations. Sometimes the actions have been governmental, as when the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has been tasked to "reclaim" Florida swampland or solve Everglades flooding problems.
In both the Everglades and the Louisiana wetlands cases, plans are working to
try to restore some of the natural water flow patterns and reverse the problems that have resulted from manmade structures. Both plans have their supporters and detractors, and neither is guaranteed to work.
Attempts to control US waterways have been largely successful in terms of flood prevention but a disaster in terms of environmental problems and, in the Louisiana case, also in terms of economic and social impacts. Over time, nature often responds to man's actions in unforeseen ways that end up causing problems as big as the ones that the original actions were intended to solve. Even worse, the Army Corps of Engineers has sometimes used bogus economic analyses to justify projects that would otherwise be disapproved. And in some cases, cost-effective alternative measures, such as directing development away from a flood plain, have simply been ignored.
Based on past performance, anytime you hear the government talking about how they have a plan to "improve nature," you would be well within your rights to think, "Grab your wallet—here we go again for a ride on the Water-Go-Round." But there is great expertise within the USACE,