Archive for 2012 Coastal Master Plan
This was originally posted by Environmental Defense Fund on EDF Voices: People on the Planet.
By David Festa, Vice President, West Coast & Land, Water & Wildlife, Environmental Defense Fund
I was struck by a line in an article in the new issue of Scientific American. It called the loss of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands “the greatest environmental, economic and cultural tragedy on the North American continent.”
It’s easy to see why they would say that. Since the 1930s, efforts to control the Mississippi River and widespread energy development in the delta have resulted in the sacrifice of 1,900 square miles of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands to the sea. If that had happened on the east coast, an area twice the size of Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. put together would be under water. Of course, the engineering projects on the Mississippi spurred over a century of economic development and navigation. But the cost has been the loss of the original delta ecosystem, leaving coastal communities more exposed to storm surges and a rising sea level.
As dramatic as that is, the thing that caught my eye even more was another line in the Scientific American article: “Many wetland recovery programs have failed by trying to re-create the original ecosystems.”
The article goes on to make a point that we don’t have to re-create the past to make things better for people and the planet. In fact, when you think clearly and specifically about the need we as a society are trying to meet, and then ask how nature can help meet that need, surprisingly positive things can happen.
Consider Scientific American’s example of the Delaware Bay, an ecosystem that was teeming with aquatic life before settlers built dikes and drained thousands of acres to grow crops.
“Looming on the New Jersey shore of the bay is the Salem nuclear power plant, owned by utility giant PSEG. The plant sucks in billions of gallons of water a day for cooling and kills millions of tiny fish and other creatures as they get drawn through the intake valves. In the early 1990s state regulators asked PSEG to build cooling towers to end the carnage. Reluctant to spend $1 billion to $2 billion, the utility proposed an alternative: restore enough salt marsh to compensate for the loss of fish — more than 10,000 acres.”
The restoration team decided to take a less-is-more approach — cut gaps in the dikes that would let just the right amount of water into the marsh to create an initial maze of tidal creeks, and then let the rest of the creeks develop on their own. “If you engineer a drainage system in great detail, the system is forced to go the way you think it ought to be,” a restoration expert told the publication. “But if you allow it to develop itself, it’s more likely to be stable.”
Today, reports Scientific American, the increase in fish populations more than makes up for the losses from the power plant’s water intake, and the restoration looks like the natural marshes next door. Plus, it saved consumers money because letting nature meet the need cost hundreds of millions of dollars less than the concrete cooling towers.
You see this principle at work in the efforts of EDF and our allies in the Gulf of Mexico. Last year, as part of ongoing efforts to reverse losses in the Mississippi River Delta, Louisiana passed the Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. This landmark plan serves as the blueprint for restoring Louisiana’s wetlands, and it follows two tenets that proved so successful in the Delaware Bay. First, it focuses on a single goal: rebuilding and sustaining hundreds of square miles of land. Secondly, it relies on nature to do the bulk of the reconstruction. Sediment-laden water from the Mississippi River will be diverted into marshes and shores. Over time, the sediment will create new land and a more resilient coastline.
In the face of extreme weather and global sea-level rise, this new approach takes on great meaning. Superstorm Sandy provided powerful illustrations of how wetlands can serve as a first line of defense against extreme weather events. Salt marsh remnants along Long Island’s Jamaica Bay, for example, helped to protect residents there, while the lack of wetlands around Manhattan left it exposed to crashing waves.
More than 3 billion souls — 40 percent of the world's population — live as close to the sea as New Orleans. By letting nature back into the game, we can help rebuild coastal Louisiana and turn “a North American tragedy” into a model of success for protecting nearly half the planet’s population.
By Amanda Moore (National Wildlife Federation) and Elizabeth Skree (Environmental Defense Fund)
Excitement filled the air last Friday as community members, government officials, students and staff from local and national conservation organizations gathered on the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle viewing platform in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward to celebrate the unveiling of new educational, interactive signs. These signs help interpret an important story for visitors as they look out over the open water and ghostly remains of a former healthy cypress swamp. At this powerful site, in the backyard of a community less than five miles from the French Quarter that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, visitors will learn about efforts to restore the Bayou Bienvenue ecosystem as well as the broader, critical need for coastal restoration. The signs were a project of The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development and the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign.
In addition to the four National Park Service-grade signs, a new website, www.restorethebayou.org, was also created to accompany the signs. On the site, visitors can learn more about the history of Bayou Bienvenue; read about the vision for restoration of the wetland triangle as well as broader Louisiana coastal restoration; learn about community and environmental organizations working to restore the wetlands; watch videos in the multimedia gallery; sign the virtual guestbook by taking a photo using Instagram and adding the hashtag #restorethebayou; and take action by signing a petition to decision-makers, asking them to prioritize MRGO-area restoration projects – like the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle.
The dozens of people in attendance heard from Garret Graves, Chair of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, who proclaimed the importance of the platform and signs when he said, “This is such an important teaching tool for us…it’s a microcosm of what is happening on a huge scale in coastal Louisiana.”
Other speakers included Charles Allen, Director of the City of New Orleans’ Office of Coastal and Environmental Affairs; Arthur Johnson, Executive Director of the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development; and Amanda Moore, Greater New Orleans Program Manager for the National Wildlife Federation, speaking on behalf of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition.
Get involved! Check out Restore the Mississippi River Delta’s Facebook album of photos from the unveiling event, and visit www.restorethebayou.org to learn more about the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle and coastal restoration efforts.No Comments
Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition submits comments on proposed RESTORE Act Treasury regulationsNovember 19, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, BP Oil Disaster, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, RESTORE Act
By Whit Remer and Elizabeth Weiner, Environmental Defense Fund
Earlier this month, the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition submitted public comments to the U.S. Department of Treasury (Treasury) on a proposed rule governing disbursements from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund. The Trust Fund was established by the RESTORE Act, enacted in 2012, and is funded by 80 percent of the civil Clean Water Act penalties that have been, and will be, paid by the parties responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The Act mandates that the Trust Fund be housed within and managed by Treasury and requires that Treasury propose and finalize a rule, with input from the public, regarding its management protocols. This is common practice for federal trust fund management. It is important because funding cannot be disbursed from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund for urgently needed Gulf restoration until the rule promulgation process is complete.
Multiple federal rules, developed in similar manners, are necessary to implement the RESTORE Act. They may overlap with other implementation documents and reiterate statutory language. We believe that when overlap exists, the entities involved should ensure as much consistently and clarity as possible. For example, the RESTORE Act language and the Final Initial Comprehensive Plan direct the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council’s funding allocation exclusively to ecosystem restoration projects. Our comments suggested that the language and instruction in the final Treasury rule could more clearly reflect that specific direction from Congress and the Council.
As part of its management role, Treasury must also develop a compliance and auditing program – compliance on the front end to verify that grant applications comply with statutory requirements, and auditing on the back end to ensure that applicants did what they said they would do with the funds. Within Treasury, the Treasury RESTORE program will handle some aspects of this, and Treasury Inspector General will handle others. Because of the RESTORE Act’s unique structure with different funding components, the Council also has compliance and auditing authorities. Our comments urged Treasury to more clearly delineate the compliance and auditing roles of each of these federal entities so as to minimize delays and duplication and maximize the amount of funding that can be spent directly on restoration efforts.
Our comments also encouraged Treasury to consider adopting Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan as the RESTORE Act’s mandatory state expenditure plan. To receive funds from the Spill Impact Component, states must submit a multi-year expenditure plan that describes each program, project and activity for which the state seeks funding. Due to Louisiana’s substantial land loss crisis, the state has already developed a science-based planning process. The most recent product of that process is the 2012 Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. The State of Louisiana has dedicated, by state law, all funds from the RESTORE Act to its constitutionally protected Coastal Restoration and Protection Fund to be spent solely on projects in this plan. Recognizing that projects in the master plan still have to be sequenced for the purpose of serving as a RESTORE multi-year plan, we have advocated that the Plan meets, and often exceeds, the requirements of the State Expenditure Plan. If Treasury accepts the master plan process as compliant with the process set forth in the rule, the State of Louisiana will be ready to apply for RESTORE funds and utilize grant dollars more quickly.
Over the next few weeks, Treasury will read and consider comments submitted by the public as they prepare the final rule for the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Fund. The Council will also have to promulgate a rule regarding the RESTORE Act Spill Impact Component.No Comments
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Announces Nearly $68 Million for Louisiana Restoration ProjectsNovember 14, 2013 | Posted by Ryan Rastegar in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Media Resources, Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, Restoration Projects
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Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, email@example.com
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, email@example.com
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Announces Nearly $68 Million for Louisiana Restoration Projects
$40.4 million dedicated to Mid-Barataria Diversion, a critical project to comprehensive coastal restoration
(New Orleans, LA – November 14, 2013) Today, leading national and local conservation and restoration organizations – Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following joint statement:
“We applaud the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), in partnership with Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, for dedicating $67.9 million to seven key barrier island and river diversion projects, including $40.4 million for the Mid-Barataria Diversion project. The Barataria Basin has one of the highest rates of land loss in the world, and this large-scale wetland restoration project is crucial to reversing that trend.
“The mid-sized Mid-Barataria sediment diversion is a key component of Louisiana’s 2012 Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. The master plan is a blueprint for restoring the Mississippi River Delta and Louisiana’s coast and contains a suite of coastal restoration and protection projects. Our organizations support the full suite of restoration projects in that plan, of which the Mid-Barataria Diversion is a critical piece.
“Restoration of Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands is important not only to Louisiana but to the entire nation. Louisiana’s wetlands and waters provide one-third of the nation’s seafood, are a stopover point for migratory birds traveling the Mississippi Flyway and provide critical wildlife habitat. Projects like the Mid-Barataria Diversion can help revive Louisiana’s coastal wetlands – part of America’s largest delta – to a productive, functioning state, which provides important ecological and economic opportunities for people and wildlife. We look forward to continued work with both the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the State of Louisiana to implement the Mid-Barataria sediment diversion on its current timeline of being ready for construction in 2015.”
By Theryn Henkel, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation
Since 2009, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) has been actively documenting the development of an emergent delta in the receiving basin, Big Mar, of the Caernarvon Diversion outfall canal on the east side of the Mississippi River south of New Orleans. Since October 2010, in partnership with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL), LPBF has conducted tree plantings within Big Mar as part of a Restore the Earth Foundation grant-funded reforestation effort, called 10,000 Trees for Louisiana.
The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana conducted a 7th tree planting in Big Mar on October 28, 2013. This planting was conducted as a restoration event opportunity for members of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign. All of the volunteers were people who work on various parts of the campaign and included staff from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Foundation, LPBF and CRCL.
Twenty-five people, including 18 volunteers and 7 staff, planted a total of 250 trees at five different sites. Two of the sites, with 25 trees planted at each, are demonstration sites. If trees grow successfully at these locations, then future plantings will occur there with many more trees. 125 bald cypress trees (Taxodium distichum) and 125 water tupelo trees (Nyssa aquatica) were planted. Photos from the event can be seen on the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Facebook page and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana Facebook page.
The focus of these volunteer events is to plant trees that will abate and reduce storm surge. Big Mar is located directly in front of the newly built Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System Levees, and a thriving cypress forest will provide some protection to this levee system by buffering storm surge. Big Mar is also located in front of the Braithwaite community, which is outside the federal levee system but has local levees that were overtopped and breached during Hurricane Isaac. A swamp forest in front of that community would provide some storm surge attenuation benefit. Additionally, monitoring the growth of these trees under the influence of the Caernarvon Diversion, at different distances from the diversion, will provide valuable information for future restoration projects. The work being done around the Caernarvon Delta Complex provides a unique opportunity to test the effectiveness of many proposed 2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan restoration initiatives, which rely heavily on river diversions.
Ultimately, if the data bears out and the hypothesis is true that the sediment delivered by river diversions builds land – and that the fresh water flowing into a receiving basin lowers soil salinity and the nutrients associated with river water increase growth rates – then this information could be used to manage river diversions more effectively in the future in an effort to do what they are supposed to do, which is to build wetlands that will help sustain coastal Louisiana and protect its people and communities from devastating storm surges.No Comments
By Estelle Robichaux, Environmental Defense Fund
Last week, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council held a public meeting in New Orleans to vote on its Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy. The RESTORE Act, signed into law in July 2012, established the Council and tasked it with, among other duties, creating a long-term ecosystem restoration plan for the Gulf Coast region in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
In his opening remarks, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (Council member and host of the meeting) spoke of the many natural and human-caused disasters that have afflicted Louisiana in recent years: Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike and Isaac; and, of course, the BP oil disaster.
Jindal highlighted the need to move restoration projects forward and not let the bureaucratic process delay implementation of projects that have already been sufficiently vetted. Jindal stated he had “directed state officials to commit 100 percent of Louisiana’s RESTORE Act funding to ecosystem restoration and community resilience projects associated with our Master Plan.” While the governor acknowledged Transocean for stepping up by paying their Clean Water Act fines, he called on BP to stop spending millions of dollars in public relations, claiming that they have spent more money on television commercials than on actual restoration, while there are still 200 miles of oiled shoreline along the Gulf Coast.
The chair of the Council, newly appointed Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, spoke following Jindal and stated, “the Gulf Region is part of who we are as Americans” and the Council wants “the world to see the Gulf Coast as a wonderful place to visit, work, play, and live.” Although the Comprehensive Plan in its current iteration is still very general, the Secretary took this opportunity to affirm that science will be integral in the decision-making process. She emphasized that the Council was committed to moving forward with the planning and restoration process, despite uncertainties about the ultimate amount or timing of available funds. The desire for momentum was underscored by the Council’s stated goal to begin selecting and funding projects within the next 12 months.
Justin Ehrenwerth, Executive Director of the Council, presented an overview of the Plan and discussed next steps before the Council unanimously voted to pass the Initial Comprehensive Plan and accompanying documents, including the Programmatic Environmental Assessment, Finding of No Significant Impact and Response to Public Comments. Mimi Drew (Chair of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council), Thomas Kelsch (Vice President of National Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund) and Russ Beard (Acting Director of the RESTORE Act Science Program) gave overviews of their respective programs and how they anticipate coordinating with the Council and the Comprehensive Plan as it moves forward.
More than 50 people spoke during the meeting’s public comment portion, which was notably held after the Council had already voted to accept the plan. Many residents of Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states traveled to New Orleans to have their voices heard. Most of them, having watched the natural areas around their lifelong homes degrade in recent years, encouraged, supported and even pleaded with the Council to move forward urgently with Gulf Coast restoration. In the words of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign’s own David Muth: “Delay is the enemy.”
Some individuals tried to further impress upon the Council the damage that had been done to the Gulf ecosystem, pointing to evidence of the continued presence of oil slicks and suspicious absence of wildlife around Mississippi Canyon block 252, where the Deepwater Horizon oil platform was located. Several staff members and experts from our Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign gave statements to the Council, reminding them that Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan is “not a perfect plan, but it is absolutely the best approach to coastal restoration that has been done.”
Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan was developed using a science-based process and examines both present-day and likely-future conditions of the coast. The Master Plan provides a model for how restoration should be addressed Gulf-wide, and the Council should work with Louisiana to prioritize restoration projects set forth in the state’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan.
One of the most passionate speakers, who created the most poignant moment during the almost four-hour-long meeting, was 10-year-old Sean Turner. Sean, the youngest Conservation Pro Staff member of Vanishing Paradise, spoke with conviction about saving coastal Louisiana. “I want to save the coast,” said Sean. “I go fishing. I go hunting. That’s why I care. I want to stay here because Louisiana is Sportsman’s Paradise.” You can watch a video of Sean giving his comments here.
The next crucial step for the Council will be selecting projects that are consistent with the restoration priorities criteria defined in the RESTORE Act and will benefit and restore Gulf Coast ecosystems. The RESTORE Act requires that these projects be designed, selected, prioritized, and implemented using the best available science.No Comments
By Alisha Renfro, Coastal Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
Coastal communities throughout the U.S. are increasingly threatened by rising sea levels and extreme weather events. The conventional approach for protecting people and property along the coast has relied on engineering solutions such as levees, seawalls and bulkheads, which “harden” shorelines. However, not only can these structures be expensive to build and difficult to maintain, but in some cases, they can also increase erosion, impair the recreational uses of the area and reduce water quality.
In recent years, efforts to protect coastal communities have been expanded to recognize restoration and conservation of coastal habitats as ways to help buffer coastlines from waves and storm surge. In a study recently published in Nature, “Coastal habitats shield people and property from sea-level rise and storms,” researchers assessed the risk reduction that natural habitats provide to vulnerable people and property and found that loss of the ecosystems that currently exist will result in greater damage to people and property.
Different types of coastal habitat and shoreline offer varying levels of protection to coastal communities depending on their morphology and previously observed ability to offer protection from erosion and flooding. For example, in this study, coastal forests and high cliff shorelines were classified as providing a higher level of protection when compared to marsh and oyster reef habitat, with barrier beach shorelines and areas with no habitat offering the lowest level of protection.
To provide a nationwide view of the risk reduction that could be provided by natural coastal habitat, the researchers in this study compiled a coastal habitat map for the U.S. and compared model runs with and without the habitats under present-day and future sea level scenarios. Their modeling results indicated that, today, 16 percent of the U.S. coastline is classified as a “high hazard” area. When the same conditions were modeled without the presence of protective coastal habitats, the results suggested the extent of U.S. coastline that would be considered vulnerable to storms and sea level rise would double.
Compared to the West Coast, the low-relief Gulf and eastern coasts of the U.S. are more vulnerable to both sea level rise and storms. In order to better protect these vulnerable regions, the authors of this study suggested that large expanses of coastal forests and wetlands, oyster and coral reefs, dunes and sea grass beds are critical.
Recently, some coastal protection plans have begun incorporating conservation and restoration of coastal habitat alongside traditional physical structures. Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan is an excellent example of a plan that acknowledges not only the value that coastal habitats have for the fish and wildlife of the area, but it also examines how to combine conservation and restoration of these habitats with traditional engineering strategies to enhance protection for the millions of people that call coastal Louisiana home.1 Comment
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CONTACTS: Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, firstname.lastname@example.org
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RESTORE Council Releases Initial Gulf Coast Restoration Plan
Groups urge Council to prioritize ecosystem restoration, Louisiana Coastal Master Plan in final plan
(New Orleans, LA – August 21, 2013) Today, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released its Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy. Leading national and local conservation and restoration organizations – Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following statement:
“We thank the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council for its efforts toward a comprehensive plan to restore the invaluable Gulf ecosystem. As the Council takes its next crucial step of prioritizing ecosystem restoration projects, we urge them to embrace the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan as its guiding document for restoring the Mississippi River Delta, which was ground zero for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.
“Since the Mississippi River and its surrounding wetlands are a driving force behind ensuring a healthy Gulf Coast ecosystem, thriving local economies and protected communities, these Mississippi River Delta restoration projects will create an important cornerstone for Gulf-wide ecosystem restoration. Truly restoring the delta will be a critical component to successfully restoring the entire Gulf region – both ecologically and economically.
“As the Council moves from planning to implementation, it should work with Louisiana to achieve the vision set forth in its Coastal Master Plan. A vibrant Gulf of Mexico starts with a strong Mississippi River Delta.
“We look forward to working with the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council as it moves its plan from conception to completion.”
By Will Lindsey, Environmental Defense Fund
As my first summer internship as a Tulane University Law School student comes to an end, I am grateful to have been so involved in work that directly relates to the place where I live and attend school. My work as a policy and partnerships intern with the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has ensured that I will never look at the Gulf Coast in quite the same fashion again.
Upon arriving at EDF, I knew I would be working on the RESTORE Act. Generally, I knew the RESTORE Act was significant because it would dedicate a large majority of the Clean Water Act penalties from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to the Gulf Coast states for restoration. What I didn't know was what this meant, practically speaking, for the Gulf Coast and for coastal Louisiana, specifically.
I quickly realized that the RESTORE Act has the potential to fund significant restoration projects that the Gulf Coast has desperately needed for a long time. It also became clear that if used wisely, this funding could vastly improve and protect the long-term ecological and economic stability of the Gulf Coast. It also became clear that if used unwisely, there was a possibility of wasting an unprecedented funding opportunity and the chance to make a real difference in the Gulf.
What this means on the ground is using funding from the RESTORE Act, as well other funding streams stemming from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, to implement projects that will both restore the natural environment as well as combat the loss of coastal wetlands that the Gulf Coast has been experiencing for several decades. These projects have long been recognized as needs in the Gulf Coast and have been outlined in many state plans, including Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan. These projects not only present the opportunity to protect and restore wildlife habitat, but many of these projects would create and/or restore coastal wetlands which ultimately serve as a natural storm surge buffers for populated areas.
Finally, I realized that the Gulf Coast economy was inescapably intertwined with the Gulf ecosystem. Wildlife tourism, including wildlife watching, recreational fishing and hunting, generates substantial revenue in the five Gulf Coast states and would not exist without a healthy ecosystem. Additionally, the Gulf Coast economy stands to grow as coastal restoration projects are initiated as new funding becomes available. Many businesses throughout the U.S. have recognized the economic opportunities that coastal restoration can provide and thus have begun to include coastal restoration-related services in their repertoires.
With good forethought and cooperation, it seems clear that these funding streams, which resulted from a terrible disaster, can ultimately serve to reverse much of the degradation that the Gulf Coast has seen in the past. In turn, this will strengthen the Gulf Coast economy, protect Louisianans and other Gulf Coast residents from natural disasters and improve, as well as safeguard, natural wildlife habitat.No Comments
By Alisha A. Renfro, Ph.D., Staff Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
Worldwide, rising global temperature is a threat to coastal communities in the form of rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes. Last week, the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans hosted a presentation by Virginia Burkett, Ph.D., Chief Scientist for Global Climate and Land Use Change at the United States Geological Survey. In Dr. Burkett’s presentation, “Climate Change and Sea Level Rise: Implications for New Orleans,” she discussed the science of climate change and the threats sea level rise present to the vulnerable low-lying landscape and communities of coastal Louisiana. Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan acknowledges these threats and outlines a 50-year plan for protection and restoration that takes into account subsidence, sea level rise and increased storm frequency and intensity.
Global sea level rise is a consequence of water influx from melting glaciers and ice sheets and the expansion of ocean water as it is heated. During the 20th century, global sea level rose approximately eight inches, but satellite data indicates that the annual rate of sea level rise has almost doubled over the last 20 years. As the different processes that affect melting of large ice sheets are still the subject of intense scientific study, the range of predicted sea level rise in this century ranges from 0.6 to 6.6 feet, but the most likely range of sea level rise is between one and four feet.
While the predicted rate of global sea level rise is enough to cause concern for many coastal regions, in Louisiana, the threat is intensified as not only is sea level rising, but the land is also sinking. Subsidence can occur due to natural geological processes, such as dewatering and compaction of deposited river sediments over time, but it can also be increased by human actions, such as groundwater withdrawal and oil and gas extraction. Subsidence rates across Louisiana’s coast vary, but in many areas, the rate of subsidence far exceeds the global rate of sea level rise. The combination of global sea level rise and local subsidence means that the local sea level will rise sooner and higher in Louisiana than in most other places in the world.
At the conclusion of her talk, Dr. Burkett had a few recommendations for actions we here in Louisiana can take to adapt to sea level rise and increase the resiliency of our coastal communities and coastline. For coastal communities, elevating and flood-proofing infrastructure are important steps for adapting to the increased threat of inundation from sea level rise and hurricanes, but in some cases, retreat from low-lying coastal areas may be necessary.
We can better manage our coast by factoring our understanding of the natural processes and trends and by getting sediment from the Mississippi River into the wetlands. As one of the most vulnerable areas to sea level rise in the United States, coastal Louisiana will serve as the testing ground for scientific innovation and policy that will likely shape the response of coastal communities throughout the country to the threats of climate change and sea level rise.No Comments