This is the first in our “Voices of the Delta” blog series, where we’ll be interviewing coastal Louisiana restoration advocates from across the country. From Louisiana to Florida to Minnesota, these spokesmen and women have come to Washington to tell Congress that the Mississippi River Delta is a vital natural resource and that we need to pass the RESTORE Act now and send oil spill fines back to the Gulf States that deserve them. Check back over the coming days to read more of their stories!
Name: Chris Macaluso
Occupation: Coastal Outreach Coordinator, Louisiana Wildlife Federation
What does coastal Louisiana mean to you?
I have spent my life fishing and hunting in the rich marshes, barrier islands and swamps along Louisiana’s coast. My earliest memories of fishing with my dad are filled with images of vast areas of marsh grasses, scattered coastal ponds and bayous teeming with fish and waterfowl. Endless meadows of golden marsh grass stretched through the wetlands in some of our favorite fishing destinations, like Buras, Grand Isle, Cocodrie and Dulac.
Yet in the 30 years since those first memories were made, most of that habitat has washed away, leaving behind vast areas of open water. Mississippi River levees built to protect communities from river flooding have separated the marshes from their essential sediment and freshwater source. These levees have also made those same communities fatally vulnerable to storm surges from the Gulf of Mexico. Jetties and dredging meant to keep the river open for navigation have directed the land-building sediment into the gulf’s deep waters, and manmade navigation channels have carved up swamps and marshes, allowing saltwater to penetrate as much as 40 miles inland.
Why is it important that we move quickly to restore the Mississippi River Delta?
Simply put, my coast is dying. Louisiana’s coast is losing land at the fastest rate in the world, with more than 1,900 square miles washing away in the last 80 years. There is the possibility of almost that much more vanishing in the next 50 years unless projects are soon built to curb and hopefully reverse that loss.
Many of those projects have already been approved by Congress. A host of freshwater and sediment diversions as well as marsh and barrier island restoration projects meant to fix Louisiana have been listed in federal Water Resources Development Acts over the last 40 years. The state of Louisiana recently released a draft of a comprehensive coastal restoration and hurricane protection plan that optimistically demonstrates coastal land loss can turn into land gains if those projects are implemented.
Sadly though, most of the approved projects languish in wait for funding while tied up in lengthy federal bureaucracies.
Where does the RESTORE Act fit in this process?
The RESTORE Act is an absolutely essential piece of legislation for my home state of Louisiana. If we are to have any hope of making significant headway in reversing the devastating coastal land loss that has plagued the state for nearly a century, Congress must pass this bill.
Passage of the RESTORE Act can provide the money needed to move some projects to construction while helping Louisiana address the environmental damage caused by the devastating oil spill of 2010. More than that, it can give hope that the wetland loss threatening to completely wipe out one of the world’s great hunting and fishing destinations — and the communities and culture that go with it — can be reversed and that Louisiana’s coastal habitats can be sustained for generations to come.