Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, most people are well aware that New Orleans is located below sea level. Due to the low elevation and proximity to both the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, the city is surrounded by levees to keep it from sitting underwater. Up until the early 20th century, construction in the city was limited to the slightly higher ground along old natural river levees and bayous; this resulted in the city’s original crescent shape, hence the moniker Crescent City. The rest of the present day city was in those days merely wetlands and commonly referred to as the back swamp.
As the city grew, it became clear that more land was needed. Additionally, the lack of drainage in the city made it clear that a system needed to be put in place to get rainwater out and keep the city dry. Although the 19th century steam pumps helped to push water out during heavy rains, a stronger system was clearly needed and the Drainage Advisory Board was set up to help tackle the issue. What followed was the brainchild of engineer and inventor A Baldwin Wood, who enacted his ambitious plan in the early 20th century to install large pumps and a new drainage system that is still in use today to help push rainwater out of the city. Of course, since the storm, much of this system has been revamped, updated, and improved, but the original infrastructure is still in place! You can learn more about the city’s efforts to stay dry on our New Orleans City and Katrina Tour. Give us a call at 1-888-223-2093 for more information or to make reservations!