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Argument: New Orleans seriously damages the Mississippi river ecosystem

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John Blair. "Not Where It Was. Should New Orleans be Rebuilt?". Counter Punch. 5 Sept. 2005 - I have flown over most of the Ohio River and much of the Mississippi and have observed the result of billions of dollars of investment in dams, dikes and weirs so the rivers can support year round transportation. It is almost endless in its scope.

19th and 20th Century American leaders have looked upon these marvels of nature as nothing more than commercial transportation rights of way and even worse, as nothing but open sewers for which industry and municipalities can freely dump their considerable waste. At one time, shortly after I had become involved in the environmental community in the 1970s, there were over 400 different chemicals that were measured in the Ohio River, a chemical soup of toxic chemicals that many communities use for their drinking water.

In the past quarter century, efforts driven by environmentalists and sympathetic politicians resulted in the Grand Rivers becoming much cleaner but they remain seriously degraded in many ways. Chemical pollution from point and areas sources continue and industry still uses them to dump waste while chemical run-off from farming causes nitrogen loading which, in turn, causes depletion of oxygen which continues through the river's ecosystem.

Policies of the past, both distant and recent, have resulted in ecological destruction of both the Grand Rivers and their tributaries. But maybe even more important, recent years have seen the morbid development of the "Dead Zone," extending hundreds of miles into the Gulf of Mexico from its source, the delta area of the Mississippi River, just south of New Orleans.

As its name implies, the Dead Zone is dead. It no longer supports anything but the most hardy of life forms and it is growing. Oxygen depletion forces sea creatures to leave the area or die. The Dead Zone may be one of the largest ecological problems we American face. That is due to the enormous area that is drained by the entire Mississippi watershed and all the chemicals that find their way into the Gulf.

But the problem is not merely with the Dead Zone. Much of the problem lies squarely with the US Army Corps of Engineers which has done everything Congress would fund to develop the Rivers for commerce, dismissing the needs of the natural world all along its path. Wetlands have been destroyed, rivers have been raised, channels have been altered and dams have been built. Together, these represent a complete assault on the natural systems that might have helped mitigate the disaster we experienced as a nation on the Gulf Coast.

That is why I come now to say, "do not rebuild New Orleans!" At least not where it sits today.

In my view, the Grand Rivers are like an arteries and veins in the organ, Earth. They provide us sustenance and take away our waste, but, just like veins in our own bodies, if they receive too much poison, they will collapse, resulting in death, possibly to the entire body.

We should not allow the opportunity that we have today to change the way we coexist with the natural world. Rebuilding a city under sea level is not only unnatural, it is also unwise.

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