By Matthew Phillips, Outreach Assistant, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition, National Wildlife Federation
Last Thursday, the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition team traveled south to Plaquemines Parish to tour some of Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands. Andy Buchsbaum, National Wildlife Federation’s Vice President of Conservation Action, was in town to see our work firsthand. We packed the cars and drove to Buras, La to meet Ryan Lambert, owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures. We piled into two bay boats and set off through the marshes of Fort St. Philip. He explained how this natural opening on the east side of the Mississippi River was loading sediment into the marshes, building ground for plants to grow on. He has seen how rich and diverse the vegetation has become, and how wildlife has returned in droves in the last few years.
At the end of the day the team gathered at Woodland Plantation for happy hour and an amazing meal. Everyone agreed that seeing the coast we are fighting to restore is a crucial part of our work. Our supporters in Plaquemines Parish, ground zero for Louisiana Coastal Restoration, are some of the most fervent advocates of restoration. Having passionate people explaining what the coast means to them while immersed in the environment they love was invigorating. We returned to New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Washington, D.C., with a renewed sense of commitment to the Louisiana coast.
By Ezra Boyd, PhD, Disastermap.net, LLC
The Hurricane Surge Risk Reduction System
As we approach the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the associated levee failures, the people of the Greater New Orleans (GNO) region face constant reminders that our safety and viability depend on a complex system made of numerous elements that together mitigate risks from hurricane induced tidal floods. The near constant construction of levees, pumps and floodgates over the last decade provides the most visible evidence of this system. Together, these components are termed the structural lines of defense. In addition, work on other important, but less visible, components have also reduced our flood risk. Broadly speaking, the other two major components are the coastal lines of defense and the community lines of defense. Together, these three components comprise the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy for Sustaining Coastal Louisiana (MLODS).
Beyond a list of 12 separate lines of defense (see figure below), MLODS represents a system that allows us to use the professional tools and standards of systems engineering to assess the current status of storm surge risk reduction. Within the field of systems engineering, a system is defined as: “an integrated set of elements, segments and/or subsystems that accomplish a defined objective.” The 12 lines of defense make up the elements of the system, and systems engineering helps us figure out if they function in an integrated fashion to accomplish the objective of managing storm surge risk.
A recent report from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, called “A Systems Engineering Based Assessment of The Greater New Orleans Hurricane Surge Defense System Using the Multiple Lines-of-Defense Framework,” provides a detailed assessment of the current system of levees, pumps, gates, coastal landscape features and community resilience steps that the region depends upon to manage storm surge flooding risk.
System Interactions and Factors of Concern
Once the Hurricane Surge Defense System (HSDS) has been specified as a system, the tools of systems engineering then allow us to identify system interactions that create major factors of concern. A system interaction refers to when the performance of one system element is impacted by the other elements, while a factor of concern is an element or interaction between elements that could potentially reduce the system performance. The report identified and described a number of system interactions and factors of concern. Two of the major concerns are with the Foot of the Twin Spans bridge and the IHNC/GIWW navigation canal (shown here). Both result from interactions between systems elements that affect evacuation effectiveness.
I-10 East Evacuation Route & Chandeleur Islands
Interstate 10 is a major evacuation route. During peak evacuation, an estimated 2,000 vehicles per hour utilize its eastbound lanes to escape GNO. These eastbound lanes cross Lake Pontchartrain on the edge of New Orleans. Since Hurricane Katrina, the bridge, locally known as the “Twin Spans”, has been rebuilt in an $800 million project that raised the bridge to 30 feet above sea level. Not far from the bridge is the rebuilt levee system that provides perimeter protection for GNO. Between the levee and foot of the bridge is an approximately 1 mile section of interstate that is at ground level and outside the levee system. Most of this section of highway is 7 – 8 feet above sea level. However, just before the foot of the bridge, atop of narrow peninsula that has experienced landloss on all three sides, the highway dips to around 6.7 feet above sea level. This low, unprotected section of a major evacuation route is prone to flooding early during storm surge events, thus blocking any further evacuation.
The Chandeleur Islands, a rapidly eroding barrier island chain, are located some 60 miles from the foot of the Twin Spans bridge. Yet, how they perform as a coastal line of defense affects the performance of the I-10 East evacuation route. Hydrological studies have determined that the elevation and integrity of the Chandeleurs influences the timing and height of the peak surge, with the surge peaking 1.5 feet higher and 1 hour sooner if the islands continue to erode. Exemplifying the concept of system interactions, the Chandeleur’s ability to mitigate storm surge impacts the available window of time to evacuate people using the eastbound I-10.
IHNC/GIWW Closure Operations, Vessel Evacuation, and Vehicular Evacuation
The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC) and Gulf Intracoastal Watery (GIWW) are two manmade navigation canals within the eastern half of GNO. During Hurricane Katrina, they were major conveyance pathways for storm surge and also the location of numerous levee breeches. Since Hurricane Katrina, the area has been subject to major levee upgrades along with newly constructed floodwalls and floodgates. While these structural improvements provide a potentially much improved level of protection, the gates in particular create a new set of concerns related to system behavior. They also provide another example of asystem interaction that also affects evacuation effectiveness.
Simply put, closing the gates in anticipation of a tropical system is a complicated procedure that must be coordinated with navigational interests, railroads, and the Port of New Orleans. Most navigational vessels are required to evacuate the IHNC/GIWW before a hurricane. This in-turn requires that the vessels pass under a number of drawbridges. Since the drawbridges must be opened to let vessels pass, they then hinder vehicular evacuation of the general population. Here the operations of these structural components (the flood gates along these two canals) impact the performance of the evacuation component, another example of a system interaction that creates a major factor of concern.
These are just two of many factors of concern with the current HSDS. Our report documents others, some small and others major. Maintenance, long term funding, coordination, and public risk communication were the major themes uncovered in our study. Because it is important for the public and policymakers to understand the true level of protection, LPBF continues to build on the momentum create by this report. As step toward addressing some of the issues identified in the report, we have recently launched the Pontchartrain-Maurepas Surge Consortium to facilitate regional collaboration between levees boards, floodplains managers, coastal scientists, and others engaged in storm surge management and risk reduction.
The report, along with LPBF’s continuing efforts at implementing MLODS for coastal flood protection, has been funded by the Kresge Foundation.
By Jacques P. Hebert, Communications Director, National Audubon Society, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition
This Tuesday a group of nearly 200 people gathered at the Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market for a day of talks from a variety of community and business leaders, artists, academics and others as part of the first-ever TedxNewOrleans. While the perspective of each talk varied, resilience and recovery of Greater New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina served as a unifying theme. The talks were spirited, inspirational and truly painted a picture that New Orleans “didn’t just come back, we got crunk” as colorfully stated by Michael Hecht of GNO Inc. in closing the day. Videos of the events are forthcoming, but in the meantime, here are some of the highlights:
- Rod West, Entergy’s Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, painted a visceral picture of the days following Katrina, from thinking we had dodged a bullet to being told there were white caps on Canal Street to then having to inform his employees that their homes were underwater and ask that they get to work literally repowering New Orleans.
- The Executive Director of 504ward, “New Orleans’ home base for young talent,” Jessica Shahien explored the city’s transition and her organization’s role in turning the notorious brain drain into a brain gain and how young professionals are flocking to live in New Orleans.
- Troy Simon detailed his journey from being twelve, illiterate and living in the Lower 9th Ward at the time of Katrina to being a senior at Bard College, a nationally-recognized speaker on education reform and meeting President and Mrs. Obama at the White House.
- SMG Executive Vice President Doug Thornton discussed the recovery of the Superdome – particularly his team’s frantic struggle to get it functional in time for the 2006 Saints vs. Falcons opener – and its status as an economic engine for New Orleans and symbol of resiliency.
- Through a series of conceptual drawings, Aron Chang of Waggoner and Ball Architects provided an overview of how the Mississippi River built its delta over time and encouraged all of us to “draw” our visions for what the future of our region might look like.
- A former marketing executive at Mignon Faget and Sucré and creative director of the Muses parade, Virginia Saussy colorfully recounted the months following Katrina when laughing through tears was critical and how she responded to a CNN story suggesting New Orleans cancel its first post-Katrina Mardi Gras.
- From education to healthcare to public housing, Chief Administrative Officer of the City of New Orleans Andy Kopplin discussed how government has been a force of disruptive change since Katrina.
- Actress and musician Kimberly Rivers Roberts recounted how Katrina empowered her to change her attitude from “I can’t” to “I can,” opening up a world of opportunities, including a documentary she filmed “Trouble the Water” receiving an Academy Award nomination.
What struck me in hearing these people speak about resilience, recovery, of “I can” attitudes and disruptive innovations, is that these principles can and have been applied in the fight to save Louisiana’s coast. In addition to the undeniable economic and infrastructural progress made around the Greater New Orleans region that these talks highlighted, over the last 10 years, we have also made significant gains in restoring our coast including:
- Passing game-changing legislation that has provided us with a science-based blueprint (Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast) and funding (the RESTORE Act) for addressing our coastal land loss crisis.
- Closing storm surge super highway MRGO and developing a plan to restore this ecosystem.
- Implementing early restoration projects, such as the Mid-Barataria Land Bridge and Marsh Creation Project, Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation, and other early restoration projects that have already made headway in building land and preventing further loss.
The progress made over the last decade is proof that working together we can address the most significant crisis currently facing our state. Louisiana continues to lose a football field of land every hour. Our best offense to protect New Orleans and Southern Louisiana from future storms is a strong defense, and with all due respect to our Saints, New Orleans has no better defensive line than a restored coast. For that reason, our coalition advocates for a Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy – anchored by a restored coast working in concert with the $14.5 billion dollar improved levee system and water management innovations like the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan. These pieces of the pie fit together to protect our communities, industries and culture and serve as a model for similar communities around the world.
As we look ahead, in order to ensure the long-term protection and resiliency of our region, we need to continue to fund and implement the Coastal Master Plan, particularly the 19 priority projects in it identified by our coalition as having the greatest potential to restore our coast. Ten years later, it’s clear that New Orleans has bounced back (and even gotten a little crunk). Let’s recognize, learn from and celebrate these successes, but let’s also acknowledge the work that remains and get to it.
By Ashley Peters, Communications Associate, National Audubon Society
In May, a group of more than 30 volunteers gathered at the Grand Isle Community Center to learn about issues facing Louisiana’s beach-nesting birds and how people can help. Cute, fuzzy chicks of birds such as Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers need our help during each spring and summer to protect them from human disturbance and other threats.
“There are many ways birds and people can share the beach, it’s just a matter of awareness,” says Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana’s Director of Bird Conservation. “We need help informing beach-goers about what beach-nesting birds need to successfully raise their little ones. These threatened birds need safe, open, sandy areas and we hope folks will respect the birds by keeping their distance.”
The volunteer training included information on how to identify shorebirds, how to interpret bird behavior, and ways to help beach-nesting birds succeed. The training was followed by a crawfish boil celebration to show appreciation for new and current volunteers, as well as program partners.
Least Tern and Wilson’s Plover chicks are camouflaged to avoid predation and nests are also hard to see because the birds lay their eggs in shallow depressions, or “scrapes,” in the sand. Audubon Louisiana marks sensitive beach areas with signs and symbolic fencing to prevent people from accidentally entering nesting sites. This reduces the chances of eggs and chicks being inadvertently trampled, run over, or harmed in other ways if parent birds are flushed (or chased away) from nests.
In addition to ensuring there is suitable habitat for birds through the implementation of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan and other initiatives, Audubon organizes the Coastal Bird Stewardship Program as well as the Coastal Bird Survey to monitor and encourage birds to successfully live and breed on beaches.
Next time you’re on the beach, remember the following:
- Keep your distance: Sensitive nesting areas are posted with signs. When an adult bird is flushed or chased away, chicks and eggs are vulnerable to predators and overheating.
- Keep pets leashed: Nesting birds are very sensitive – even good pets are perceived as predators and will disturb nesting activities.
- Take your trash with you and dispose of fishing line properly: Birds can become easily entangled in loose line, plastic bags, and other unsightly garbage.
- Please do not feed the wildlife: This will attract predators, like gulls, crows, and other animals that will eat bird eggs and chicks.
- Get involved: Volunteer stewards help teach beachgoers how to help protect these vulnerable birds. Join our mailing list to receive updates, news, and notifications about volunteer opportunities.
To learn more about how you can help birds, visit La.Audubon.org/coastalstewardship or email Louisiana@Audubon.org. To learn more about Audubon’s Coastal Stewardship Programs, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-7O2vfEIG8