Archive for Community Resiliency
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
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
This week marks the anniversaries of Hurricanes Katrina and Isaac. As we take time to remember and commemorate, we must also look to the future and commit to preparing for the next storm and protecting our communities.
Even eight years after Katrina, it’s hard to forget the storms. Recovery and rebuilding remain an everyday reality in coastal Louisiana. Levees and home elevation are some of the more immediate ways to protect ourselves, but these measures work best when part of a multiple lines of defense strategy that includes restoration of our natural storm protection along the coast.
For example, wetlands serve as a buffer for levees, reducing wave energy and the chance of over-topping, thereby reducing the chance that levees will fail. But the marshes, ridges and barrier islands that reduce waves and storm surge are disappearing at an alarming rate – we lose one football field of wetlands every hour in Louisiana.
That statistic stings the most when storms are brewing in the Gulf. Our communities need the protection of a healthy and resilient coast, and getting there will take the support of all who care about the future of our region.
Yesterday, coincidentally on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Isaac, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council approved its Initial Comprehensive Plan for restoring the Gulf Coast’s ecosystem and economy after the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. The next crucial step will be for the Council to select and implement sustainable restoration projects that will protect our communities and restore our ecosystems. The Council should work with Louisiana to prioritize restoration projects set forth in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.
Find out how you can get involved and help restore our coast!No Comments
By Rachel Schott, Environmental Defense Fund
In June, the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, a bipartisan 16-member council representing diverse ocean interests, released a new report, “Charting the Course: Securing the Future of America’s Oceans.” The report outlines important ocean reform and coastal restoration recommendations for Congress and the Obama Administration. Being an “ocean nation,” the health of the U.S. economy is closely tied to health of its oceans. For Gulf Coast residents, this specifically means the Gulf of Mexico. The report has implications for both the health the Gulf Coast environment and the economies that rely on it.
“Our oceans and coasts are vital to our nation’s economy and security, as well as to the health and quality of life of its citizens,” states the Joint Initiative in the report. No one understands this better than Louisiana and Gulf Coast residents. After the 2010 oil disaster, in 2012, Congress took an important step toward securing the future health and vitality of the region when it passed the RESTORE Act – legislation that dedicates fines from the Gulf oil disaster to the Gulf Coast states for restoration. However, project selection and final authorization of funds has yet to be determined.
The report makes recommendations that advocate for restoring the coast’s natural coastline, strengthening its ability to protect communities from storms and rebuilding natural habitats and ecosystems. These recommendations offer a valid perspective for allocating available RESTORE Act funding and BP oil spill penalties to coastal restoration projects.
In its report, the council – consisting of national, state, and local leaders from diverse government agencies, academic institutions and industries – provided a set of science-based policy recommendations that enhance the long-term security and economic priorities of the nation’s coast. Two actions that would directly affect the Mississippi River Delta and coastal Louisiana are as follows:
- “Enhance the resiliency of coastal communities and ocean ecosystems to dramatic changes underway in our oceans and on our coasts.”
- “Support state and regional ocean and coastal priorities.”
As hurricanes and super storms become more common, it will become vital that policymakers implement programs that increase coastal resiliency. National decision makers must understand the underlying issues and local community priorities to effectively select and implement coastal restoration projects.
As the report underlines, building stronger and more resilient coastlines benefits not just those living near the coast, but the entire nation that depends on healthy coasts and oceans. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council has an unprecedented opportunity to allocate RESTORE Act funds to implementing coastal restoration projects and becoming an integral part of rebuilding the Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast and the economies that depend on a healthy Gulf Coast.
By Rachel Schott, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign
Preparation for hurricane season is second nature to most Louisianans. From gathering supplies to boarding up windows to mapping out evacuation routes, coastal residents acknowledge their tenuous positioning on the Gulf and the uncertain weather conditions that come from June to November. Yet with all this preparation, a question remains: Is the Louisiana coast as prepared as its residents? With the beginning of another hurricane season, the need for restoring the Mississippi River Delta and building coastal resiliency is more important than ever.
Louisiana’s location on the Gulf makes it vulnerable to hurricane storm surge, winds and flooding, as evidenced by the destruction caused by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Isaac. The Louisiana coast consists of wetlands and marshes that provide buffer zones for the southern part of the state. Unfortunately, drastic land loss has reduced this natural protection, leaving Louisiana and its residents in an increasingly dangerous position.
In additional to providing storm protection, the Mississippi River Delta and wetlands are home to a diverse scope of wildlife habitats, vegetation and animals; factors that have shaped Louisiana’s culture and continue to drive tourism. As the wetlands diminish, not only will a number of ecosystems be lost, but also the unique and vibrant lifestyle of Louisiana residents. Since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost about 1,900 square miles of land and continues to lose land equivalent to the size of Manhattan every year. Couple this land loss with rising sea levels and predictions of an “above-normal” 2013 hurricane season, and Louisiana is reminded even more of the value and necessity of timely wetlands restoration.
Prepare yourself this hurricane season by sharing coastal restoration issues with others and help work toward rebuilding the Mississippi River Delta.
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
By Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund
If anyone can sympathize with the Northeast as it recovers from Hurricane Sandy, it’s the residents of New Orleans. I found this out firsthand on recent trip to Louisiana.
While Hurricane Sandy battered the Northeast, I was in South Louisiana with Environmental Defense Fund’s Creative Director, Nicole Possin, working on a video about wetlands restoration in the Mississippi River Delta. We’d planned the trip long before we knew about Sandy, and the irony of being in Louisiana while a hurricane hit the Northeast was not lost on us. I live in Washington, and Nicole lives in Brooklyn and owns a house in Asbury Park, NJ — an area severely hit by the storm. In Louisiana, it was in the 70s and sunny, making it hard to believe a tropical storm was hitting the East Coast. Needless to say, we were glued to the news.
As we talked with people throughout the state, we were met with greetings of sympathy, understanding and encouragement for us and our neighbors back home. “We’ve been through this before, and you’re going to get through it, too” was a common sentiment. “Rebuilding is going to take time, but as long as you have the people you love nearby, it will be OK” was another. It was comforting and touching to hear such kind words from strangers, especially from people who have been through numerous natural disasters.
Louisianans have experienced more than their fair share of hurricanes, including Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, Lee and most recently, Isaac. We met with people who’d lost their homes in those storms — sometimes not once, but twice. In many parts of New Orleans and south Louisiana, people are still rebuilding their houses, businesses and communities — years later.
Yet despite all this, there is a strong sense of hope and resiliency among the people of South Louisiana.
We took to the streets with our camera and helped local residents send messages of empathy and encouragement to the people of the Northeast. The result was this video, “Postcards from New Orleans: Hope for the Northeast.” Please share it with others and feel free to leave your own message in the comments section below. This video is the first in a series, so please check back for future installments.
- Postcards from New Orleans: A video for the Northeast (Environmental Defense Fund)
By Happy Johnson, Amanda Moore and Elizabeth Skree
Our Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign works to reconnect the Mississippi River to its delta to protect people, wildlife and jobs. At our core, we are the “Power of We”: a coalition of five national and local non-governmental organizations — the National Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – working together to save a national treasure: the Mississippi River Delta.
The Mississippi River Delta is losing an area of land the size of one football field every hour. Yes, you read that right. Turning the tide on wetland loss, which totals over 1,900 square miles since the 1930s, is no small feat. To take on this task, we turn to the Power of We.
Whether it’s by supporting our nation’s fisheries, vital wildlife habitat, trade routes or energy production, the Mississippi River Delta is important to the entire country. Here in the delta and across the nation, citizens are learning more and more about the crisis in the delta and taking action to help restore the area. Locally, our campaign works to engage area residents throughout their neighborhoods. Together, we rally. Together, we hold press conferences. We release reports. We host public forums that empower citizens to speak directly to their legislators, state officials and federal agencies about moving restoration forward. We harness the Power of We to make change.
Community Conversations on Coastal Restoration
This year we organized a series of community conversations to enhance and increase coastal competency in Louisiana urban areas. Those gatherings provided an informal outlet to openly discuss the comprehensive challenges and opportunities as a result of staggering wetland loss. In particular, people were interested in how they can become advocates and participate in the emerging job market created by coastal restoration investment.
MRGO must go
The Power of We shines in one major delta project: restoring tens of thousands of acres of protective wetlands just southeast of New Orleans destroyed by a federal shipping channel, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (also known as the “MRGO” or “Mister Go”). Since Hurricane Katrina, we’ve worked hand-in-hand with local landowners, local government, academia, local neighborhood associations and national environmental organizations to advocate for closure of the shipping channel (which happened in 2009) and for a strong restoration plan for the area. We worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in planning, and in the last few years alone, we’ve generated over 75,000 comments to the agency calling for urgent and careful ecosystem restoration along the MRGO. These comments poured in from across the nation, and we now have a $2.9 billion recommended plan for restoration by the Army Corps’ Chief of Engineers.
BP oil disaster
We harnessed the Power of We to pass landmark legislation after the BP oil disaster. The Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign has been working since the spill to ensure that the Clean Water Act fines BP and other responsible parties will pay as a result of the spill are returned to the Gulf Coast to be used for restoration. For this to happen, Congress needed to pass legislation ensuring the money was sent to the gulf states — that bill was the RESTORE Act. A little over two years after the spill had started, Congress passed the RESTORE Act and the President signed it into law. This historic bipartisan legislation came to be in part because of the many letters sent to Congress by people all across the country. Our campaign helped generate over 160,000 letters to Congress asking them to make the RESTORE Act a priority.
Holding BP accountable
But even though the RESTORE Act is now law, our work is not done. It’s been over two years since the gulf oil disaster started, and BP has still not paid a penny in Clean Water Act fines. BP has been stalling the process and is actively trying to walk away from its obligations to clean up the gulf. We can't let that happen. The Power of We can help make things right for the environment and communities of the gulf. Please sign our petition to BP and tell them to stop stalling, stop litigating and make the gulf whole. It’s the right thing to do.
What else can you do?
Like the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign on Facebook! By liking our page, you can be the first to receive updates and action opportunities for the delta.
Follow us on Twitter! @RestoreDelta is Twitter's best resource for Mississippi River Delta news, action items and project updates.
Subscribe to Delta Dispatches! Delta Dispatches is the Web's foremost blog on the policies and science behind Mississippi River Delta restoration.No Comments
By Happy Johnson, National Wildlife Federation
Louisiana is facing a coastal crisis. We lose one football field of wetlands every hour. 1,900 square miles of land has been lost already since the 1930s, and another 1,800 square miles are expected to be lost within the next 50 years unless we implement significant coastal restoration projects. Coastal land loss has strong, direct impacts on all communities, especially Black and Vietnamese fishing populations in the Mississippi River Delta. Without urgent restoration of Louisiana’s dying wetlands, we stand to lose these vital groups, cultures and economies.
Many fishermen who saw their families, homes and boats dismantled by Hurricane Katrina experienced compounded economic damage during the BP oil disaster. As a result, communities of color making a living in the fishing industry are dramatically shrinking.
The before-mentioned disasters also present a remarkable opportunity to implement policy and project solutions that mitigate land loss, reduce carbon emissions and tackle relative sea level rise. Examples of those solutions include Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan and the RESTORE Act, both of which harness science and community capacity to engineer a more resilient Gulf Coast.
On the third Tuesdays of June, July and August, the New Orleans branch of the National Wildlife Federation hosted a three-part series of informal residential gatherings titled “Community Conversations on Coastal Restoration” at the New Orleans Healing Center.
Representatives from neighborhood associations, community development organizations, curious residents, students and vocal coastal leaders attended these events to discuss the BP oil spill impacts, the RESTORE Act, the Coastal Master Plan and the Louisiana First Hiring Act. The overarching mission of this series was to help enhance coastal competency in urban communities.
State and federal investments in southeast Louisiana provide opportunities to build community strength against future catastrophes. How do we diversity grassroots and local residential interest and then turn that interest into advocacy? I think it begins with building trust, expanding opportunities and having in-depth conversations.
The emerging coastal restoration economy provides significant avenues for job growth, educational training and workforce development. Now is the time for New Orleans as a whole to prepare for the future.No Comments
By Maura Wood (National Wildlife Federation) and Brian Jackson (Environmental Defense Fund)
For decades, the people of southern Louisiana have gradually struggled with the collapse of the Mississippi River Delta. Land that once provided shelter from hurricanes, space for agriculture, a basis for livelihoods and a source for recreation has — sometimes in one generation — disappeared. This slow-motion crisis has forced communities and economies along Louisiana’s coast to adapt to collapse.
Large-scale restoration of the delta provides new hope that the system can again become sustainable. But turning coastal Louisiana around from a system losing land to one rebuilding it will require transition and adaptation for coastal residents and communities. Change is inevitable, but the direction of that change will shift dramatically from the loss that communities have been adapting to for generations to a more dynamic and sustainable system that is gaining land.
Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan sets out bold action for restoration and importantly highlights the need for “providing for transitions,” i.e. addressing potential changes that stakeholders may face as projects are implemented and acknowledging the grief and adjustment imposed by existing land loss.
The master plan uses many methods of restoration, asserting that “The action we need requires changing the landscape, not just tweaking what we already have.” Projects such as marsh creation, sediment diversions, ridge restoration, oyster barrier reefs and hydrologic restoration have been chosen for their ability to build land and sustain the coast over the long term. At the same time, they may also be accompanied by short or long-term changes in water elevation and salinity regimes as diversions are operated; changes in access as land is built and hydrology is restored; shifts in habitats in response to land building; and other social, cultural, and economic changes as a result of physical changes to the landscape. The plan stresses that “If we don’t take large-scale action, land loss and flooding will grow so severe that ours will be the last generation that benefits from Louisiana’s working coast.”
The master plan commits to helping communities and user groups adapt to these changes three ways: by developing a planning framework for adapting to change; by involving stakeholders in project design to minimize impacts; and by identifying tools that may assist communities, businesses, and individuals in transitioning to a sustainable — but likely different — new coastal regime.
The challenge is to flesh out these commitments into a creative discussion that moves beyond despair and dislocation. Ideally, transition from the collapsing coast of today to a dynamic but sustainable coast of the future will continue and renew the connection between land, livelihoods, communities and culture. Perhaps through the “planning framework,” stakeholders themselves will be able to propose how transition can result in building a better future for individuals, communities and businesses.
Because the environmental challenges we face are unprecedented, bold actions must be taken. The ultimate benefits and impacts of such actions lie in the future and cannot be completely known. But we know that without action, our coast will continue collapsing. Increasing our ability to work together — marked by increased collaboration, communication, networking and interaction, as well as the establishment of common goals and mutual trust — increases our ability to make decisions, correct mistakes and create a coastal future together. Therefore, the Coastal Master Plan’s commitment to engaging stakeholders and addressing transition is a linchpin for successful forward progress toward a sustainable coast for everyone.No Comments
By David Muth, Louisiana State Director, National Wildlife Federation
Now that Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan is law, it is critical that the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) moves the process forward as quickly as possible. While the plan lays out a series of projects for over its fifty-year timeframe, the actual sequence of projects has not yet been completely planned. The sooner CPRA can finalize this project list and timeline, the sooner vital construction and restoration can begin.
Several things are necessary for creating that list of projects. First is to carry out continued modeling to measure how projects and suites of projects will interact with one another. One example is looking at how a mid-Barataria 50,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) sediment diversion will interact with marsh creation projects in the middle Barataria Basin and with a ring levee and community resiliency measures for the nearby town of Lafitte.
Second is to work out how funding streams can be most effectively sequenced to begin building out the projects identified in the list. This is especially critical with Clean Water Act penalty funding to be distributed under the RESTORE Act and the separate Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. These funding sources, resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, could become available at almost any time over the next few years.
Third is to move quickly to implement nonstructural hurricane risk reduction measures. Nonstructural storm protection measures are those that build community resiliency by means other than “structural” methods such as levees, floodwalls and floodgates. They include raising structures and homes up out of danger, hardening infrastructure and assisting with voluntary relocation. Unfortunately, the suite of existing nonstructural programs is reactive: invoked after, but not before, a disaster. That has to be changed moving forward.
Another challenge concerns the Chenier Plain in southwest Louisiana. The key to long-term restoration in that area is to find ways to modify the hydrology of the area’s navigation system to prevent the continued influx of sea water into formerly freshwater marshes. Simple on paper, tricky in practice.
At an implementation level, two important capabilities need to be developed for the master plan to move forward. One is to demonstrate the feasibility of long-distance pipeline sediment delivery. Much of the Coastal Master Plan depends upon finding a viable way to move vast volumes of sediment many tens of miles through dredge pipes. We have a great deal of experience with relatively smaller scale projects for both marsh creation and barrier island restoration, but the master plan proposes projects that will be carried out on a much larger scale — moving material over much greater distances than ever before. While there seems to be no technical reason this cannot be done, actually doing it will be important for fine tuning the plan.
Similarly, we need to test and demonstrate a sediment diversion somewhere other than at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The very existence of southeast Louisiana proves that such diversions build land. We have extensive experience cutting artificial distributaries near the mouth of the river and letting them build land – from Cubit’s Gap and a dozen other cuts on the Mississippi below Venice to the Wax Lake Outlet on the lower Atchafalaya River. We also know that crevasses through the man-made levee system prior to 1928 moved vast quantities of sediment into the upper estuaries. But we have never deliberately designed and constructed a controlled sediment diversion, and we will learn a great deal more than modeling can tell us by actually doing it.
All told, the to-do list for Coastal Master Plan implementation seems long, but with RESTORE Act and NRDA fines on the way, we will have the funding to jumpstart restoration. Combine this funding with the proper planning and prioritization, and coastal Louisiana will take several steps closer to a more sustainable future.1 Comment