Archive for Hurricane Katrina


LPBF Assesses Upgraded Hurricane Protection System for Greater New Orleans Eastbank

June 18, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, K10, Reports, Science

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.

COASTAL MLOD GRAPHIC_modified_compressed

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) hasLocations Map Final 2 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

CHislandsInterstate 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 aIHNC-GIWW-SurgeBarrier 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.

Conclusion

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.

 Additional resources:

LPBF MLODS Reports

LPBF's Systems Engineering Report

Systems Engineering Presentation to Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East

International Council on System Engineering (INCOSE)

2012 State Master Plan

Hydrological Study of Chandeleur Islands Impact of Storm Surge

Interaction of Barrier Islands and Storms: Implications for Flood Risk Reduction in Louisiana and Mississippi

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TEDxNewOrleans: Examining Recovery and Resiliency in New Orleans 10 Years Post-Katrina

June 11, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 19 Priority Projects, Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, K10, Meetings/Events, Restoration Projects

By Jacques P. Hebert, Communications Director, National Audubon Society, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition

IMG_3015

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.
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Entergy’s Rod West in front of an image of Katrina’s storm surge at Michoud.

  • 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.
IMG_3029

Waggoner and Ball’s Aron Change showing the Mississippi River creation of the delta over time

  • 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:

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.

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10 years post Katrina – Where have you gone, Mr. Go?

June 8, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Hurricane Katrina, K10, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet

By Amanda Moore, Deputy Director, National Wildlife Federation, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition

Over the coming months as we approach the 10th anniversaries of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition will publish a series of blog posts that examine issues and topics relevant to these events, particularly as they relate to coastal restoration. Below, is an update on the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO).

MRGO house

Home in lower 9th ward – Post Katrina.

Even before the storm, locals dubbed the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) a “hurricane surge super-highway”. Since its construction in the 1950s, MRGO has impacted over 600,000 acres of coastal ecosystems surrounding the Greater New Orleans area and destroyed over 27,000 acres of wetlands that once served as important buffer from storm surge.

Indeed, ten years ago, MRGO lived up to its name and intensified the impact of Hurricane Katrina, creating a funnel that channeled its surge into the heart of communities. The result? Catastrophic destruction. After Katrina, it was clearer than ever that “Mr. Go” had to go.

Ten years later, we examine what has been accomplished, what work remains and how you can help.   

Accomplishments:

  • MRGO was finally closed: Following the storm, in 2006, renowned Louisiana coastal scientists released a report detailing the impacts of the channel and recommending its closure. In this same year the MRGO Must Go Coalition – a group of 17 local and national NGOs and community organizations – was formed to advocate for the closure of MRGO and restoration of the ecosystem. Congress passed the Water Resources and Development Act in 2007, mandating the channel be closed to navigation and the Army Corps develop a plan for ecosystem restoration. By 2009, the channel was closed with a rock dam near Bayou La Loutre and a $1.1 billion surge barrier across the MRGO funnel was officially completed in 2013. These closures have moderated surface water salinity, setting the stage for large-scale ecosystem restoration.
MRGO surge barrier

MRGO surge barrier

MRGO rock dam

MRGO rock dam

  • Advocacy resulting in impact: The MRGO Must Go Coalition worked closely with the Corps to watchdog the drafting of their congressionally-mandated ecosystem restoration plan. The groups helped define the size of the impact area, brought community concerns to the forefront and helped prioritize projects. The coalition, whose positions are captured in these 2010 and 2011 papers, successfully extended public comment period timelines and increased the number of scheduled public hearings. A record 75,000 public comments were sent to the Army Corps in support of MRGO Must Go recommendations. Some of the coalition’s recommendations were included in the Army Corps plan and others, notably, the Violet Diversion, were not.
  • Restoration planning in earnest: In 2012, the final $3 billion Army Corps MRGO ecosystem restoration plan was approved and sent to the Assistant Secretary of the Army and a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement was completed. Assistant Secretary Darcy then recommended $1.325 billion of projects to Congress for appropriations. This was an unusual move and speaks to strong public activism on the issue, since the Corps has no local sponsor for the MRGO project due to a dispute with the State of Louisiana about who is responsible for paying for these restoration projects. Despite strong public support and heavy activism, no wetland restoration projects in the plan have been funded by the Army Corps to date. Around the same time in 2012, the State of Louisiana released their 2012 Coastal Master Plan, which recognized the impacts of MRGO and touted the benefits of proposed projects. The plan also reflected the important role played by the NGO community and included the vast majority of the MRGO Must Go Coalition’s ecosystem restoration recommendations, including many of those in the Army Corps’ plan.

What still needs to happen?

  • Meaningful restoration: The MRGO projects in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan are proving critical guides for current restoration efforts in the New Orleans area. The Master Plan served as a blueprint for the CWPPRA program as two projects in the MRGO impacted area advanced to planning and design in 2014. It will also guide restoration work funded by the RESTORE Act, legislation that brings Clean Water Act penalties generated from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, which directly impacted the MRGO ecosystem area in 2010, to the Gulf coast for restoration. In 2014, the state put forward three key MRGO projects — Golden Triangle Marsh Creation, Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration, and the Maurepas Diversion — as candidates for RESTORE Council The MRGO Must Go Coalition has met with RESTORE Council staff on several occasions to ensure they are fully aware of the need for restoration in the MRGO area. We will soon learn if these state-proposed projects were indeed chosen for funding.
MRGO map 2

Projected land loss in MRGO area

MRGO map 1

Planned restoration for MRGO area

So, what can you do?

  • We’ve had many successes over the years with the closure of the channel and developing plans for restoration. However implementing these plans and restoring our critical coastal ecosystem remains. As the RESTORE Act process plays out, more funding will become available for restoration under direction of the RESTORE Council, State of Louisiana, and local parish governments. Those decision-makers will have the opportunity to ensure funds are used for restoration based on the best science and to make sure MRGO is addressed.
  • It’s up to everyone who cares about the future resilience of our region to speak up. The loss of wetlands caused by the channel leaves us without our historic, protective wetland buffer – a major line of defense against storm surges and an important factor in the effectiveness of our new $14 billion levee system. We can strategically restore our region’s protective wetlands and sustain a healthy coastal ecosystem, but it’s up to us to be our own champions for resilience and ensure the right projects are funded.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we have our work cut out for us to ensure that restoration, which is vitally important to our region’s future, moves forward with urgency. Visit restorethebayou.org to learn how you can view the MRGO ecosystem impacts in person, learn more about ongoing ecosystem restoration and how you can get involved. Check out these albums from the MRGO Must Go Facebook page to see photos before and after the outlet’s closure.

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Opening of Hurricane Season a Timely Reminder of Urgent Need for Coastal Restoration

May 28, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, Media Resources

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849, jhebert@audubon.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org
Jimmy Frederick, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, 225.317.2046, jimmy.frederick@crcl.org

Opening of Hurricane Season a Timely Reminder of Urgent Need for Coastal Restoration

Leading conservation groups call for action as storm season commences

(New Orleans, LA—May 28, 2015) Prior to the June 1 start of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season, national and local conservation groups working together on Mississippi River Delta restoration– Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana – issued the following statement:

“The start of the 2015 hurricane season and the approaching 10th anniversaries of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are powerful reminders of the need to restore Louisiana’s coast in order to better protect our communities.

“The looming storm season should serve as a warning flag to state and federal officials of the urgency for implementing and fully funding science-based coastal restoration solutions. Wetlands serve as the primary line of defense against storm surge for New Orleans, Houma, Lake Charles and all of Louisiana’s coastal communities. Restoring the Mississippi River Delta and Chenier Plain are the cornerstones of the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy, which incorporates natural and manmade features to better protect this vital region.

“Without restoration of Louisiana’s coast, other efforts to protect against storm surge and damage will provide little more than stopgap solutions. The destruction caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita 10 years ago demonstrated the urgent need to fortify and restore coastal barrier islands, cheniers and wetlands, to provide strong storm defenses that can work in concert with levees and other structural solutions.

“Our coast is disappearing at the alarming rate of a football field every hour. As our wetlands disappear, so does the natural protection they provide for millions of coastal residents, hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and gas infrastructure, one of the nation’s most productive seafood industries and its critical navigation system.

“Nearly 10 years after Katrina and Rita, we urge the RESTORE Council to fund large-scale restoration projects in the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan and for the Louisiana Legislature to fully implement this plan before it’s too late.”

Background:

Louisiana has made important strides in the 10 years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Federal and state authorities have:

  • Instituted the 2012 Coastal Master Plan for restoring Louisiana’s coast and protecting coastal communities.
  • Created the RESTORE Council to prioritize funding for restoration projects with fines received from BP and other companies responsible for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.
  • Closed the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) channel that increased Hurricane Katrina’s destructive power in the greater New Orleans area.
  • Started implementing over 200 projects across 20 parishes, including those aimed at rebuilding and protecting marshes, barrier islands and other natural buffers.

But there is a long road ahead before meaningful and sustainable restoration is achieved. For the benefit of all Louisianans and Americans for generations to come, as hurricane season begins, we ask:

  • The RESTORE Council to include projects from the 2012 Coastal Master Plan in its final comprehensive restoration plan, including the 19 priority projects our coalition identified for achieving significant progress.
  • The Louisiana Legislature to prioritize coastal restoration and fully implement the 2012 Coastal Master Plan for sustaining the state’s coast.
  • Our next governor to make coastal restoration chief among his or her administration’s priorities and to protect existing and work to secure future coastal restoration funding.
  • Develop the state’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan with a focus on the best science-based solutions available to achieve large-scale restoration and long-term protection.

As you report on this year’s hurricane season and/or Hurricane Katrina anniversary, please contact us if you’d like to speak with one of our experts. For more information on the projects that can save Louisiana’s coast, please visit: http://www.mississippiriverdelta.org/restoration-projects/map/.

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The Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Composed of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. Learn more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Risk and Resilience: Society of Environmental Journalists hosts annual conference this week in New Orleans

September 4, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in BP Oil Disaster, Community Resiliency, Hurricane Isaac, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, Media Resources, Meetings/Events

By Elizabeth Skree, Communications Manager, Environmental Defense Fund

This week, along the Mississippi River at the Hilton Riverside in New Orleans, hundreds of environmental journalists, reporters and bloggers; journalism students and professors; communications professionals; and NGO and government expert presenters and panelists are gathering for the annual Society of Environmental Journalists Conference. The conference brings together environmental journalists from around the world to learn about emerging environmental issues, meet new sources and experts, learn about new tools and programs, network and socialize.SEJ poster

The theme of this year’s conference is “Risk and Resilience,” and there is no better place to discuss these issues than the Mississippi River Delta. Nine years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and six years after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, it is impressive how much of the region has recovered. But while many areas have been revitalized, there are just as many areas that are still rebuilding. Recent climate reports indicate that coastal cities like New Orleans can expect to see more intense storms in the years to come, amplifying the need for increased storm protection. In 2010, the Gulf oil disaster delivered yet another blow to Louisiana’s coast. Even now, the full effects of the spill are unknown, and oil continues to wash up on shore.

On top of it all, Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, a first line of defense against storms, have been vanishing at a staggering rate: Since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost nearly 1,900 square miles of land. That’s like the state of Delaware disappearing into the ocean. These wetlands help protect cities, communities and infrastructure by lessening the effects of storm surge. But every hour, Louisiana loses another football field of land, putting the region at increased risk.

But there is hope for recovery and the creation of a restored, resilient Mississippi River Delta. Plans are in place to rebuild coastal wetlands, which will in turn help fortify the coast and cities like New Orleans, provide vital habitat for wildlife and migratory birds, create new jobs and protect existing industries and provide a myriad of other ecological and economic benefits to not only Louisiana, but the entire Gulf Coast.

Staff members from the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign will be at this week’s conference serving as tour guides, panelists and exhibitors. They will be available to answer questions about Louisiana’s land loss crisis, the Gulf oil disaster, solutions for restoring the Mississippi River Delta and other environmental issues facing the region. You can find campaign experts on the following field trips and panels:

Thursday field trips:

Louisiana’s Great Lakes, Cypress Swamps and Woodpeckers

  • Alisha Renfro, Staff Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
  • John Lopez, Executive Director and Senior Scientist, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation
  • Melanie Driscoll, Director of Bird Conservation, Gulf Coast/Mississippi Flyway, National Audubon Society

Oyster Reefs and Fisheries in the Aftermath of BP and Katrina

  • David Muth, Director, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, National Wildlife Federation

The Long Road Home: Community Resilience, Adaptations, and Legacies From America’s Biggest Rebuild

  • Amanda Moore, Deputy Director, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, National Wildlife Federation

Friday panels:

 “The Globe: Feeding Eight Billion People in a Warming World”

  • Rebecca Shaw, Associate Vice President of Ecosystems and Senior Lead Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund

“Oceans and Coasts: The BP Spill’s Untold Ecological Toll”

  • Natalie Peyronnin, Director of Science Policy, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, Environmental Defense Fund

The Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign will also be cohosting a hospitality reception with The Walton Family Foundation Thursday evening from 5:00-9:00pm. Stop by and meet our campaign’s experts and learn more about our work restoring Louisiana’s coast.

We will also have an exhibit booth Friday and Saturday, stop by and pick up materials, hear about our programs and projects and meet some of our staff.

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Nine years later: Is the Gulf Coast prepared for another Katrina?

August 29, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, Science

This post originally appeared on Environmental Defense Fund's EDF Voices blog.

By Estelle Robichaux, Environmental Defense Fund

Hurricane Katrina was the costliest and one of the deadliest storms in United States history.

Hurricane Katrina was the costliest and one of the deadliest storms in United States history.

Nine years ago, as Hurricane Katrina gathered strength in the Gulf of Mexico, I called my grandmother and namesake to wish her happy 84th birthday – and to urge her to leave her home on Bayou Lafourche until the storm passed.

It would take several more days before I heard my mother’s voice over the phone and was reassured that everyone in my family was fine. Thankfully, all we lost to Hurricane Katrina were material things.

As we mark another anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, the memory of the infamous storm and its aftermath is still vivid for many current and former Gulf residents.

While New Orleans and many coastal communities have since been revitalized, some scars remain visible and serve as a reminder of the tremendous and destructive power of Mother Nature. They call on us to act now to prepare our communities for the next big storm.

River helps rebuild wetlands

In their most recent reports, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Climate Assessment warned that as the climate continues to warm, the North Atlantic basin will likely experience more Category 4 and 5 hurricanes.

While the Gulf Coast won’t necessarily see more storms in the future, scientists believe they may be more intense. This, combined with the effects of sea level rise, means the region’s communities and infrastructure will be increasingly vulnerable to storm surge and high winds associated with tropical storms.

At Environmental Defense Fund, we’re working as part of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition, to rebuild healthy wetlands in coastal Louisiana, using the natural power of the Mississippi River to take advantage of sediment in the river to rebuild land.

In addition to levees and other structural storm protection measures, the state needs resilient coastal wetlands to be part of its hurricane risk reduction system. Coastal wetlands can serve as an important buffer and retention area for storm surge.

That way, when the next big storm shows up, Louisiana communities and cities will be better protected.

Economic stakes are huge

For the last 40 years, EDF has been working to address the root causes of land loss in Louisiana and find innovative solutions to restore the delta. One-quarter of the state's coastal land area has disappeared since 1930 and Louisiana continues to lose land at an alarming rate – one football field every hour, on average.

Coastal restoration will help save jobs and industry vital to our economy, and help us build resilience against catastrophic storm surges like the one brought by Katrina.

It also has direct implications for important national and international economic and ecological systems:

  • 100 million birds live in or pass through the delta each year, with 400 different species relying on the delta at some point during their life or migratory cycles.
  • Louisiana has the largest commercial fishery in the lower 48 states.
  • Five of the 15 largest ports in the country are in Louisiana, and 60 percent of all grain exported from the United States is shipped through the ports of New Orleans and South Louisiana.
  • Louisiana is home to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the only deep water oil port in the United States capable of offloading deep draft tankers.

Coming up: Peak hurricane season

With only three named storms to date in 2014, this year’s hurricane season has so far been unusually quiet. But today, nobody in Louisiana is sitting back.

The peak hurricane season, which falls between mid-August and the end of October, has only just begun. This means the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts may see more action soon enough.

At the same time, data show that the intensity and duration of hurricanes continue to increase. Louisianians know we must act now to restore our coast and the protection it gives us before the next Katrina comes along.

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Hurricane Katrina anniversary serves as reminder of need for increased storm protection

August 28, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Hurricane Isaac, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes

By Alisha Renfro, Ph.D., National Wildlife Federation

While the Atlantic hurricane season started June 1, the time period between the end of August and October 1 is typically the most active part of the season. It was during this window that some of the biggest and most destructive hurricanes made landfall along the Gulf Coast, including Betsy (1965), Camille (1969), Katrina (2005), Rita (2005), Gustav (2008) and Ike (2008). As waters in the Gulf of Mexico warm – providing fuel for hurricanes – and sea levels continue to rise, the threat to coastal communities of more powerful and destructive storm increases.

The destruction in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, only nine years ago, serves as a tragic reminder of the danger of relying on levees alone for protection at the same time as the barrier islands, marshes and swamps that once provided a buffer against storm surge disappear.

The idea that coastal environments can provide protection against storm surge and sea level rise is not a new concept, but moving toward truly integrating coastal habitats and coastal restoration with more traditional engineering options, such as levees, has been slow.

A recent article in Ocean & Coastal Management, “The role of ecosystems in coastal protection: adapting to climate change and coastal hazards,” outlines steps that need to be taken to improve our understanding of the storm buffering benefits that different coastal habitat types have to offer and how this information can be integrated into planning and development processes and coastal management decisions to help reduce costs brought about by sea level rise and storms.

The authors of this paper suggest four critical steps that need to be taken to integrate the benefits of coastal habitats in light of sea level rise and storm event protection to coastal communities:

1)      Building a case for considering the benefits of natural coastal protection. This includes having enough evidence and understanding to build computer models that can capture the various coastal habitats – barrier islands, oyster reef, marshes and swamps – and their shape, size and health in order to calculate the protection they offer to nearby communities and infrastructure. This also means calculating the economic value that these coastal environments provide as fishery habitat, timber production and recreational space to further justify their protection into the future.

2)      Including ecosystems as a fundamental component to decision-making processes. This means including the future loss of the protection provided by nearby coastal habitat when assessing how vulnerable a particular community is and the predicted risk to a community from rising sea levels and future storms. It also means factoring in the social, economic and cultural changes to a community that happen in the future as coastal habitats change or are lost. To help planners, managers and community members visualize what the future environment may look like, decision support tools need to be developed to help people understand what the future may be and identify communities and infrastructure that may become more vulnerable.

3)      Using tested management tools to justify and maintain coastal environment protection. This includes the establishment of marine protected areas, coastal restoration efforts to re-establish protective coastal habitat, planned retreat in situations where the fight against erosion and storms is being lost and the incorporation of coastal habitat with planning and design of engineering structures.

4)      Implementation. This includes putting in place policy tools that encourage the integration of coastal habitat with engineered solutions and access to the relevant information needed by planners and managers at the local and national levels.

As land loss continues in coastal Louisiana, we become more and more vulnerable to storms. And we’ve seen firsthand that faith in hurricane protection levees is not enough. Why do we continue to live in such a vulnerable place? Because while it is vulnerable, it is also beautiful, rich with resources that benefit the entire nation and home to some of the largest ports in the U.S. It is also home to people, communities, culture and a way of life not found anywhere else.

Engineered structures are important and will continue to be important for the future of many communities in coastal Louisiana, but protection and restoration of coastal environments is also absolutely essential. Understanding the full range of benefits provided to people by coastal habitats is essential to integrating those benefits with engineered structures to help us visualize what our future will look like and plan accordingly.

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Guest Post: Why New Orleanians should care about coastal restoration, by Lynda Woolard

August 4, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, People

Guest post by Lynda Woolard (New Orleans)
This post is the first in a two-part guest series.

"The simple truth is, if we fail to restore our coast, we fail to protect our city from future storms." 

I was recently blessed with an opportunity to go along for a boat trip to see the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) and the Central Wetlands of southeast Louisiana with a delegation from the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign. I was initially a little anxious, because despite having lived in New Orleans for 20 years, this was new territory for me. Although these wetlands are less than a 30-minute drive from my home, I had never been out to see them.

Skyline from Central Wetlands

New Orleans skyline from the Central Wetlands. Credit: Lynda Woolard

I felt some relief upon reaching the marina, as others on the boat were residents of St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes and had made this trip many times for fishing, work and recreation. My fears were replaced by awe as we traveled into the wetlands. The waterways and surrounding marshes were stunning and peaceful and seemed a world away from the city. Yet amazingly, we could still see the New Orleans skyline throughout much of our trip. While New Orleanians identify ourselves as living in a port city, we don’t often think of ourselves as living in a coastal city. But we do!

Shell Island Memorial II

Memorial to St. Bernard residents who lost their lives during Hurricane Katrina. Credit: Lynda Woolard

Interspersed with the beautiful natural scenery of southeast Louisiana were stark reminders of how precarious our proximity to the coast is. We saw an entire fishing village that had been wiped away by storm and remains a ghost town. We saw the memorial and sculpture at Shell Beach, placed in honor of the 163 St. Bernard residents who lost their lives during Hurricane Katrina. We saw the further peril we have put ourselves in by decades of carving up these coastal marshes and failing to protect them adequately.

The creation of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet navigation channel, which is a straight shot from the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of New Orleans, has put our entire region at greater risk from hurricanes. It’s been called the “Hurricane Highway” because it led a surge of seawater in a direct path to cause catastrophic flooding of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina. However, its damage is more far reaching than that. The construction of the MRGO has made our levees and surge barriers, which were not engineered to withstand open water, more vulnerable. Our hurricane protection systems, both manmade and natural, require protection by freshwater wetlands and marsh.

Because of the MRGO, our wetlands are disappearing at a more rapid pace. The channel itself has eroded as well, from a 650-foot wide waterway to 2,000 feet wide. While traveling down the MRGO, we could see cypress tree “tombstones” marking the spots where vibrant wetlands once flourished. Our charter boat captain told stories about how more islands vanish with each passing year. The introduction of salt water into the marshes has been disastrous.

MRGO Boat Tour II

Amanda Moore from the National Wildlife Federation identifies landmarks on a map of southeast Louisiana. Credit: Lynda Woolard

The good news is that steps are being taken to restore the Mississippi River Delta. There is a Coastal Master Plan in place to rebuild the wetlands, barrier islands and marshes that serve as our city’s first lines of defense against hurricanes and to preserve the ecosystems that support our state’s way of life. Massive and impressive projects, like a surge barrier and a rock dam, have already been started that will lessen further damage from the MRGO.

Surge Barrier II

Surge barrier. Credit: Lynda Woolard

But this good news comes with some alarm bells. Progress needs to come at a much faster rate, because our wetlands are disappearing too quickly. While traveling to the Golden Triangle Marsh, it was made very clear that St. Tammany Parish citizens need to be made aware that if we allow wetland deterioration to continue to the point of losing the New Orleans East Land Bridge, the waters of the Gulf will be on their doorstep. The environmental scientists and engineers working on restoration have done the research – they know the solutions and it is imperative, regardless of what we have allowed to happen in the past, that we listen to them now… and act.

The residents of Orleans Parish need to see this as an incredibly urgent issue, because this is as big of a safety issue as having secure, functioning levees. There is a direct correlation between protecting our city – as well as our culture – and restoring our wetlands. The simple truth is, if we fail to restore our coast, we fail to protect our city from future storms. I believe the Gulf Coast, Louisiana’s wetlands and the city of New Orleans are treasures worth saving. If we have the will, we have the power to make it happen.

Lynda Woolard
New Orleans, LA
July 26, 2014

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Of Coast and Culture: Happy Mardi Gras, Y’all!

March 4, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Meetings/Events

By Eden Davis and Philip Russo, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition

There are many reasons to advocate for coastal restoration in Louisiana, but few arguments are as compelling as preserving the cultural legacy of a state known for its food, music and festivities. That’s why we as part of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition are doing our best to celebrate tirelessly the cultural apex that is Mardi Gras in New Orleans. We, along with the rest of the community, line the sidewalks and neutral grounds of the boulevards where we share black cauldrons of jambalaya and generous portions of king cake. We gather to see and hear the spectacle that is the dance troupes, marching bands and ornate floats, but most importantly, we do it to feel the pulse of our community and to indulge in its vitality. We may have not always vocalized it as such, but it’s why we’ve always done it, going back all the way to the founding of the oldest and most venerable Krewe of Rex that rolls Mardi Gras morning.

Krewe of Rex King

The Krewe of Rex has held more parades than any other organization. They are the origin of many Mardi Gras traditions, including the official Carnival colors of purple, green and gold. Founded in 1872, Rex sought to attract new businesses and residents to a New Orleans that was struggling to recover from the lingering effects of the Civil War, when divisions and isolation prevailed. The founders knew the creation of a grand Mardi Gras celebration would lend itself to healing those wounds and restoring the unity that was such a prominent feature of this silted landscape. Most would agree that their efforts were an unbelievable success, but history has a way of repeating itself.

Krewe of Rex 2

After Hurricane Katrina, this same story played out again as New Orleans struggled to rebuild not only its levees and homes, but its image. Today’s worries are not of the aftermath of a civil war, but of decades of tremendous land loss and increasingly devastating hurricanes. To ameliorate this, the state adopted a Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. If enacted thoroughly, barrier islands, sediment diversions and marsh creation projects will, along with the efforts of Mardi Gras Krewes, not only sustain our coast, but also the traditions that makes it worth inhabiting. So we are doing our part, reveling when we can, sleeping when we can and asking everyone to join us in support of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan and coastal restoration. Happy Mardi Gras, y’all!

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Media Advisory for Feb. 20: “Bayou Sundance” Documentary to Premiere in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward

February 14, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Media Resources, Meetings/Events

Media Advisory for Thursday, February 20, 2014

Contact: Arthur Johnson, The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, 504.421.9643, ajohnson@sustainthenine.org

“Bayou Sundance” Documentary to Premiere in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward 

Provocative film details history of Bayou Bienvenue through eyes of community elders and youth

Bayou Sundance

The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle is a degraded bald cypress swamp just north of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. Over the past 50 years, human activity has caused the swamp and surrounding ecosystem to erode, increasing the city’s vulnerability to storms and contributing to catastrophic damage during Hurricane Katrina.

Through the eyes of community elders and youth, “Bayou Sundance” documents the history of the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle, including the decline of nearby wetlands, resulting impacts and the area’s movement toward rebirth. This powerful story captures the importance of urban wetlands, natural storm protection for coastal cities and serves as a historical environmental justice case study.

You are invited to join us for the premiere of “Bayou Sundance” and to learn more about the future of Bayou Bienvenue and the importance of coastal restoration to both the city of New Orleans and the state. Light dinner will be served.

This film is a product of The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development with support from Environmental Defense Fund and National Wildlife Federation.

The trailer can be viewed online here, and the full film will be available starting February 20 at www.restorethebayou.org.

Film Screening and Panel Details:
WHAT: Film screening and Q&A panel with filmmakers and producers

WHEN: Thursday, February 20, 6-7:30 p.m. CT

WHERE: All Soul’s Community Center
5500 St. Claude Avenue
Lower Ninth Ward
New Orleans, LA 70117 ‎

WHO: Arthur Johnson: Executive Director, The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development and Producer of "Bayou Sundance"
Happy Johnson: Teacher, Author and Co-Director of "Bayou Sundance"
Amanda Moore: Greater New Orleans Program Manager, National Wildlife Federation

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