When most Americans think of levees, they think of the Mississippi, or maybe Ragtime songs. But New Orleans isn't the only city threatened by rising seas.
Some of our nation's most cherished monuments are actually in some danger of inundation, according to a recent Associated Press story.
Katrina made clear that America's aging flood-control systems are hardly bulletproof -- probably not surprising given the enormous stretches of vulnerable land, and the forceful, unpredictable nature of natural waterways. In Washington, D.C., officials say the nearly 70-year-old levee is at risk of failing during a major storm. This could swamp portions of downtown in up to 10 feet of water and cause $200 million in damages. That means the big memorials, the National Archives, museums and key office buildings.
Much of the city's icons are built on reclaimed swamps, and now sea level has risen about 2 feet since the city was founded more than 200 years ago. Over time, increased runoff from urban development and global warming have increased the threats, while the levees have remained unchanged for decades.
FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers are currently surveying the status of the levees, in addition to many across the country. The result will be updated flood maps and better awareness of risk. The district is also committing $2.5 million for interim fixes, although the true cost of securing the city is probably much more.
The assessments may also affect the Smithsonian's planned National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is to be located in what is most likely a flood zone.
D.C. certainly isn't the only place around the world that is facing a very uncertain future, as sea level continues its march upwards. From Venice to Holland, Southeast China, Bangladesh, Tuvalu and many other regions, there are often no easy answers -- which is why it is so prudent to get a better handle on global warming and global change itself.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.