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Sinking New Orleans

Photo by Emmanuel Appiah @exappiah

By Carmen Roxanna (New Orleans, LA) – As the Mississippi River soil that formed New Orleans dries out and compacts, the earth has been sinking across the city. However, few areas are in as bad condition as a portion of New Orleans East known as Village de L’Est, a community that is predominately Black and Vietnamese. Interestingly enough, a 2016 study conducted by NASA identified groundwater use from a nearby, now-closed power plant as the primary cause for the sinking. The plant’s owner, Entergy New Orleans, disputes liability for the collapse. Recently, a new power plant was constructed that uses surface water instead of groundwater. Yet still, there is nowhere for the locals to turn for assistance as their homes continue to sink and their foundations to deteriorate.

According to US Geological Survey statistics, Entergy’s Michoud power station was the largest groundwater consumer in New Orleans before it closed in 2015. It was responsible for up to 11 million gallons of groundwater per day, which is equivalent to 90% of all groundwater extracted in Orleans parish. Over-pumping of groundwater from subsurface aquifers can produce a hole in the aquifer, which can occasionally cause the land above to collapse. According to the US Geological Survey, groundwater over-pumping accounts for more than 80% of countrywide subsidence. According to NASA research, the land at Village de L’Est has been subsiding at a pace of up to 1.5 inches each year, which is more than five times the average rate for New Orleans.

The groundwater consumption and subsidence were initially brought up by Village de L’Est residents in 2016, according to NASA. Because of its role in contributing to global warming, the climate-vulnerable community recently attempted to stop Entergy’s new gas-fired power station. Nevertheless, despite proof that professional actors were utilized to pretend that the facility had local support, the New Orleans city council approved it. In 1992, James Wright acquired a home in the New Orleans East district from his brother. Then a few years ago Wright’s boat, which was kept in his backyard, was almost completely engulfed by the earth. “I can tell the house is sinking. You see how the driveway is falling apart?” he said, pointing to cracked and slanted cement during an interview with The Guardian.

Since 1960, some sites close to the facility have sunk up to 1.5 feet. Local levees that were strengthened following Hurricane Katrina have also recently sunk. Cathleen Jones, a senior research scientist with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the primary author of a 2016 study that determined the reason for the sinking ground surrounding the Entergy facility, asserted that if the land is subsiding, then the levee must also be subsiding. Water and gas pipes can also rupture under extreme circumstances. Gas leaks brought on by subsidence were blamed for a number of home explosions in the neighborhood in the 1970s. Black people have historically been pushed into low-lying, prone-to-flooding parts of the city, such New Orleans East, by discriminatory policies at the federal, state, and municipal levels. The area has a lower elevation than Uptown and the French Quarter, which are dominated by white people and were constructed on the Mississippi River’s original banks. According to preliminary data, there was minimal sinking generally in the New Orleans region. According to Ann Chen, an assistant professor at the University of Texas in Austin who is working on the project, the map does not depict subsidence at the neighborhood level because it covers such a large area of land. Subsidence that results from groundwater pumping may be irreversible if the aquifers fall below previously recorded lows. “A lot of subsidence doesn’t recover even after the groundwater pumping stops,” she said. “Those are the types of things we hope to avoid through better monitoring.” The sinking in the New Orleans East region will be more closely examined by Chen’s team.

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