New Orleans, a city rich in culture and history, is grappling with a grave environmental challenge—its land is sinking. This phenomenon, which has been occurring for over a century, is exacerbating each year. Today, the city sinks at a rate of about two inches annually, with alarming predictions suggesting that much of New Orleans could be underwater by 2050. Understanding the root causes and exploring potential solutions is crucial to safeguarding the city’s future.

Historical Background

The story of New Orleans’ subsidence is deeply intertwined with the history of the Mississippi River Delta. Long before the city was founded in the 1700s, the natural flow and flooding of the Mississippi River carried sediment into surrounding wetlands, depositing it in the Delta. Over 6,000 years, this sediment built up, creating elevated land upon which New Orleans was eventually constructed.

In the 1700s, the first residents of the area, the Native Americans of the Chitimacha tribe, did not experience the sinking phenomenon because the river continued its natural cycle of flooding and sediment deposition. However, when French explorers arrived in 1718 and founded New Orleans, they chose a relatively high elevation area, about 10 feet above sea level, for the French Quarter. Despite initial concerns about the soil’s ability to support large buildings, the city began to grow.

The United States acquired New Orleans through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and throughout the 1800s, the city expanded. However, the marshes and swamps surrounding it limited this growth. To address this, city planners constructed a drainage system in 1896 to pump water out of these areas, making them available for development. While this enabled expansion, it also disrupted the natural cycle of sediment deposition, leading to long-term subsidence.

Modern Challenges

The problem of subsidence in New Orleans has been compounded by various factors over the years:

  1. Drainage and Anti-Flooding Systems: By preventing river water from flowing into the Delta, these systems stopped the natural replenishment of sediment. This led to the development of air pockets in the soil, causing it to compact and sink.
  2. Industrial Activities: Power plants and industrial centers in the area extract groundwater to generate energy. This extraction dries out the soil, accelerating the rate of sinking.
  3. Fault Lines and Geological Factors: The Michoud Fault, a fault line running through eastern New Orleans, contributes to the region’s subsidence. Onshore oil drilling and extraction have also been linked to geological slumping.
  4. Climate Change: Rising sea levels due to thermal expansion of warmer water exacerbate the issue. Sea levels along the Gulf Coast are expected to rise by 14 to 18 inches in the next 30 years, increasing the risk of flooding.
  5. Hurricane Damage: Hurricane Katrina in 2005 highlighted the city’s vulnerability. The storm surge and heavy rainfall overwhelmed the levee system, flooding 80% of the city. This disaster underscored the need for robust flood protection measures.

Potential Solutions

Several initiatives and projects aim to address New Orleans’ sinking problem. These solutions range from technological and engineering interventions to more natural and environmental approaches.

  1. Myrtle Grove Diversion Project: Approved by Congress in 2007, this project aims to rebuild the land by manually piping sediment into wetlands, recreating the natural cycle of sediment deposition. It also includes measures to slow shoreline erosion and improve storm protection. However, the project faces challenges, including the need for significant funding and coordination with property owners.
  2. Water Storage Canals: Another proposal involves building canals to store excess water during rainy seasons, reducing the risk of flooding. These canals would serve as recreational areas during dry seasons. While promising, this approach does not directly address the sinking of the land.
  3. Levee System Upgrades: Following Hurricane Katrina, the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a flood resistance system around New Orleans. This system, costing $14.6 billion, includes a 133-mile perimeter of levees and internal risk reduction structures. However, the system began to sink within a year and required additional funding for upgrades.
  4. Green Infrastructure Projects: Since 2018, New Orleans has focused on building green infrastructure to reduce strain on the stormwater drainage system. These projects aim to manage water influx rather than fighting it, diverting millions of liters of water to new storage spaces.
  5. Nonprofit Initiatives: Organizations like Sustaining Our Urban Landscape (SOUL) are working to replenish New Orleans’ tree population, which can absorb significant amounts of stormwater. The Urban Conservancy’s Front Yard Initiative transforms landscapes around homes to be more water-resistant, using gravel and native plants instead of pavement and clay.

The Path Forward

The efforts to combat New Orleans’ subsidence require a multifaceted approach. While no single solution can resolve the issue entirely, combining various strategies offers hope. The key to success lies in changing the city’s long-standing mindset of fighting nature. Instead, New Orleans must learn to live with water, incorporating it into the urban landscape in ways that minimize damage.


Q: Why is New Orleans sinking? A: New Orleans is sinking due to a combination of disrupted natural sediment deposition cycles, groundwater extraction, geological factors, and the impact of climate change.

Q: What role does climate change play in New Orleans’ sinking? A: Climate change contributes to rising sea levels and more intense hurricanes, both of which increase the risk of flooding in New Orleans.

Q: Can the sinking of New Orleans be reversed? A: While the initial causes of sinking cannot be reversed, various measures can slow the subsidence and mitigate its effects.

Q: What are some proposed solutions to address the sinking? A: Proposed solutions include the Myrtle Grove Diversion Project, water storage canals, levee system upgrades, green infrastructure projects, and nonprofit initiatives focused on replenishing the tree population and transforming landscapes.

Q: How has Hurricane Katrina impacted New Orleans’ approach to subsidence? A: Hurricane Katrina highlighted the city’s vulnerability to flooding and prompted significant investments in flood protection systems. It also underscored the need for comprehensive and sustainable solutions to address subsidence.

Q: What is the current state of New Orleans’ levee system? A: The levee system, upgraded after Hurricane Katrina, is designed to protect against 100-year storms. However, it has required additional funding for maintenance and upgrades due to ongoing subsidence.

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By Ryan Hite

Ryan Hite is an American author, content creator, podcaster, and media personality. He was born on February 3, 1993, in Colorado and spent his childhood in Conifer, Colorado. He moved to Littleton in 2000 and spent the remainder of his schooling years in the city. Upon graduation from Chatfield Senior High School in 2011, he attended the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated from the university in 2015 after studying Urban Planning, Business Administration, and Religious Studies. He spent more time in Colorado in the insurance, real estate, and healthcare industries. In 2019, he moved to Las Vegas, NV, where he continued to work in healthcare, insurance, and took his foray into media full time in 2021. His first exposure to the media industry came as a result of the experiences he had in his mid to late teens and early twenties. In 2013, he was compelled to collect a set of stories from his personal experiences and various other writings that he has had. His first book, a 365,000-word epic, Through Minds Eyes, was published in collaboration with Balboa Press. That initial book launched a media explosion. He learned all that he could about creating websites, marketing his published works, and would even contemplate the publication of other works as well. This book also inspired him to create his philosophy, his life work, that still influences the values that he holds in his life. Upon graduating college, he had many books published, blogs and other informative websites uploaded, and would embark on his continued exploration of the world of marketing, sales, and becoming an influencer. Of course, that did not come without challenges that would come his way. His trial-and-error approach of marketing himself and making himself known guided him through his years as a real estate agent, an insurance agent, and would eventually create a marketing plan from scratch with a healthcare startup. The pandemic did not initially create too many challenges to the status quo. Working from home did not affect the quality of his life. However, a series of circumstances such as continued website problems, social media shutdowns, and unemployment, caused him to pause everything between late 2020 and mid-2021. It was another period of loss of momentum and purpose for his life as he tried to navigate the world, as many people may have felt at that time. He attempted to find purpose in insurance again, resulting in failure. There was one thing that sparked his curiosity and would propel him to rediscover the thing that was gone from his life for so long. In 2021, he started his journey by taking on a full-time job in the digital media industry, an industry that he is still a part of today. It was at this point that he would also shut down the rest of the media that he had going at the time. In 2023, he announced that he would be embarking on what has become known as PROJECT30. This initiative will result in the reformation of websites, the reinvigoration of social media accounts, the creation of a Youtube channel and associated podcast, the creation of music, and the continued rediscovery of his creative potential. Unlike past projects, the purpose of this would not expound on the musings of a philosophy, the dissemination of useless news and articles, or the numerous attempts to be someone that he was not. This project is going to be about his authentic self. There are many ways to follow him as he embarks on this journey. Most of all, he wants everyone to be entertained, informed, and, in some ways, maybe a little inspired about the flourishing of the creativity that lies within the mind and soul of Ryan.

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