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In New Orleans, Entergy Prepares for the Next Big One

A New Orleans utility has a strategy for the changing climate
Entergy’s Leeville substation has an elevated control house
Entergy’s Leeville substation has an elevated control housePhotograph by Brady Fontenot for Bloomberg Businessweek

At the end of a long dirt road, past bayous and housing developments west of New Orleans, sits a tranquil swamp of cypress and tupelo trees that could prove key to this region’s future. In September, the power utility Entergy, which serves 2.8 million customers along the Gulf Coast and in Arkansas, announced that it had developed a new framework to compensate landowners for preserving swamps like this one.

At first glance, Entergy’s interest in wetlands could be dismissed as a public-relations exercise—the kind that falls under the rubric of corporate sustainability. Yet it ties into one of the more aggressive climate risk management plans in the country. The Gulf Coast faces a double threat from global warming. At the same time that seas are rising, the land here is sinking because silt once replenished by the Mississippi River is channeled out to sea by decades-old levees and canals. As a result of these forces, Louisiana’s coast loses some 16 square miles of wetlands every year. Without the buffer of extensive marshes, which serve as natural levees, even routine tropical storms cause widespread flooding.