‘Dwarfing’ the Everglades’ Reclamation Efforts

[Image courtesy of TED]

This week’s presidential speech on the gulf oil spill included the announcement of the administration’s Gulf Coast Restoration Plan.  Exactly what that plan will be in unknown and sparks a variety of provocative questions and surprising design possibilities.  As discussed in the New York Times and the Washington Post, the current administration is comparing the yet-to-be-drafted plan to the Florida Everglades Reclamation efforts….only the gulf plan would be much larger than the largest restoration effort ever attempted.

As most reporting on the BP spill has demonstrated, the nature, extent and long-term effects of the event are largely unknown, and likely to remain so for some time; thus presenting another large scale experiment in corporate territorialization and its resultant ecology.  As the oil spillage continues without any known way to control it (which is likely to continue, as BLDG Blog’s digging around indicates) it remains to be seen what scientists, politicians, BP and the rest of us can expect in terms of what can be fixed and what is beyond our current remedial design capabilities.

But what is most interesting about the plan is that it aspires to do more than give the gulf coast a thorough, superficial scrubbing.  Rather, the plan would “seek to reverse a century’s worth of damage caused by oil and gas production, the straitjacketing of the Mississippi River with levee walls, and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.” Wow.  No small feat and we’re amazed and heartened that such ambitions were even mentioned given the magnitude of the spill.

As wonderfully documented by Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha’s work, Mississippi Floods, the lower Mississippi Delta is a complex assemblage of interwoven human-engineered and natural processes.   Quite similar to the Florida Everglades, the hydrology of the system has layer upon layer of human agency and design, rendering it so altered that its likely it could never be put back to what it was, both in terms of the way we currently use the system and what we are actually capable of remaking.  The challenge, both for the Gulf coast and the Mississippi Delta would be to reclaim their natural relationships and functions.  Given the magnitude of challenges facing both, we wonder what that could look like.

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