Archive for Hurricane Katrina
This week marks a decade since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed into the Gulf Coast, killing nearly 2,000 people and devastating communities and coastal wetlands. Louisiana has come a long way in the past 10 years in restoring coastal areas that act as a natural buffer against storm surge – but there is still much work to do to achieve comprehensive restoration that can protect our communities from future storms. Below is a look at some of the damage caused by these storms – and information on moving forward to create a more resilient Louisiana coastline.No Comments
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, email@example.com
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849, email@example.com
Jimmy Frederick, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, 225.767.4181, firstname.lastname@example.org
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, 504.421.7348, email@example.com
Conservation Groups Commemorate Katrina Anniversary by Urging President Obama to Prioritize Restoration
Coastal Restoration Is Key to City’s Long-Term Resiliency, and Administration Has Opportunities to Advance Efforts
(NEW ORLEANS, LA—Aug. 26, 2015) As President Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush prepare to visit New Orleans to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this week, 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 joint statement:
“In the coming days, President Obama, two former U.S. Presidents and other leaders will honor the thousands of lives lost and bring well-deserved attention to the progress Louisiana and the Gulf Coast have made since the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina a decade ago.
“However, the job here is far from finished. Louisiana’s coastal wetlands – its first line of defense against future storms and a key driver for the health of the Gulf – continue to vanish at the stunning rate of one football field an hour. We look to President Obama to prioritize restoration of Louisiana’s disappearing coast for the remainder of his term and in doing so, leave a legacy of lasting resilience for the region.
“President Obama and leaders across government must maximize the impact of restoration efforts by protecting existing revenue streams for restoration, ensuring that the parties involved are working together effectively and prioritizing funding for large-scale ecosystem projects that will most significantly benefit the region. The pending BP settlement provides a tremendous immediate opportunity to do that, with billions of dollars that can be dedicated now to the most critical ecosystem projects Gulf-wide, including substantial investments in the Mississippi River Delta.
“This is not just a Louisiana crisis, it’s a regional and national issue: Louisiana’s coast and its communities are powerful economic engines for shipping, energy, seafood and other industries that feed and fuel the nation and support millions of jobs across America.
“Katrina was the wake-up call. We certainly hope the Gulf Coast never has a repeat of that level of devastation. But unless meaningful coastal restoration moves forward and is funded for the long-term, we leave the people, wildlife and industries across the Louisiana coast at immense risk. And because of the flow of funds resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the President and his Administration have the opportunity to act now, to turn these twin disasters into a positive, lasting and meaningful legacy in the Gulf. “
- On July 2, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice and BP announced an agreement in principle on a global settlement that will resolve all remaining federal and state litigation relating to BP’s role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon offshore oil disaster. BP will pay a total of $18.732 billion to settle these claims with $7.332 billion designated for Natural Resource Damages (in addition to the $1 billion BP already paid for early restoration efforts), $5.5 billion in Clean Water Act penalties and $5.9 billion will cover economic damages to states and localities on the Gulf Coast. For more information on the agreement in principle, click here.
- If the agreement in principle with BP becomes final, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, an independent federal entity established by the RESTORE Act, will have more than $1 billion dollars to dedicate to critical ecosystem restoration projects across the Gulf in the near-term.
- Additionally, the Louisiana Coastal Area Program (LCA) represents another opportunity to construct large-scale ecosystem projects that increase coastal resilience. The Administration has requested U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) funding for the Louisiana Coastal Area Program (LCA) in previous years, and Fiscal Year 2017 is an opportune time to refocus on this critical program to maximize synergies with RESTORE Act funding and increase the overall impact of coastal restoration efforts in Louisiana.
By Steve Cochran, Director, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program, Environmental Defense Fund
Ten years ago, just after Hurricane Katrina, I was asked to talk to Environmental Defense Fund’s board about the place where I grew up, the New Orleans area that had been hit so hard.
I remember two things about that discussion. One was my voice breaking unexpectedly (and embarrassingly) as we talked through pictures of the Katrina aftermath and came across places I intimately knew.
As an adult, I had developed a love/hate relationship with my home – loving the beauty, the people, the community and the culture, but frustrated by what I saw as the general tolerance of mediocrity and corrupt politics that limited its possibilities. That frustration had pushed the love down, and I had moved away. But there it was again. Sometimes you don’t know how much you care.
The second thing I remember was saying that the Katrina response was a deep test of our governments – local, state and national. As we know now, in that moment, it was a test they failed. But fast forward to July 2, 2015, the day a global settlement was announced in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill case. It was a day when governments rose to the occasion. The result was literally the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history.
The BP Settlement and Louisiana Coastal Restoration
Under the agreement, Louisiana will receive more than a third of the money – $6.8 billion of the $18.7 billion, and $5.8 billion of that is specifically targeted to restoration. The overall restoration total for Louisiana will likely be just under $8 billion, including early restoration dollars and criminal settlements.
These are significant resources at a critical time. Land loss across the coast of Louisiana, exacerbated by the spill, continues at a fearful rate. But we are making progress against that loss, and with the solid state commitment that now exists, and effective plans in place, these resources will allow us to battle back in earnest, with a clear-eyed view toward success.
In particular, the state plans to re-engage the enormous power of the Mississippi River and its sediment through a series of sediment diversions – using the natural land-building capacity of the river by reconnecting it to the delta it originally built. This science-based, innovative approach is the critical piece in our ability to provide solutions at a scale that can match the challenges in the Mississippi River Delta – now the largest restoration effort under way in the world.
Rebuilding Our Coast to Protect Our Communities
About a month after the spill, I was allowed to sit in on a tribal council of the indigenous United Houma Nation. As the oil continued to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, which it would do for another two months, I listened and watched as a man described, through a quiet voice and uncontrolled tears, how he had always looked to the waters of the Gulf and drawn confidence, knowing he could always provide for his family by accepting its gifts. But now all he could feel was fundamental fear.
Money can’t replace that kind of loss any more than it can bring back the 11 loved ones who lost their lives in the accident.
But we must do what we can – and in that context, the BP settlement is a tremendous step forward, because we can restore the Mississippi River Delta, so it can protect this area in the future.
Details matter, of course, and details remain to be decided as the Agreement in Principle is turned into a consent decree. We need to remain involved and vigilant. But it does seem clear that this agreement combines avoiding years of litigation with levels of funding that can truly make a difference.
With these resources, we can go to work to make sure that the largest environmental settlement in our nation’s history also becomes the most meaningful settlement in a place that, well, I love.
By Rachel Pickens, Esq., Resiliency Manager for Coastal Outreach & Community Awareness, Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development
"River to the Bayou" is a phrase often spoken by members the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED). When CSED was created in December 2006 by Pam Dashiell and Charles Allen, they envisioned rebuilding a more resilient neighborhood, one that stretches from the Mississippi River to Bayou Bienvenue. Learning from Katrina, they realized that resilience is more than strengthening the built environment – it also requires restoring and protecting the surrounding natural environment.
There is a need for more education and awareness of the importance of our coastal wetlands in communities like the Lower 9th Ward, which have and continue to be disproportionately affected by strong storms. Residents must look out to the coast protect what's in the neighborhood, and in the Lower 9th Ward, that means reconnecting people with the river and the bayou.
To address this need, CSED is creating a Wetland Education Center for residents to learn and interact with the water that surrounds the neighborhood. The site will run along Florida Ave, between Caffin Ave. and Lamanche St., across the street is the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle and platform. It is composed of four lots, which CSED purchased from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority in 2013. The first phase of the project, an outdoor classroom, was constructed through a partnership with Tulane's School of Architecture during the 2015 spring semester.
The outdoor classroom includes a bioswale, where the sloped ground collects water that would otherwise cause flooding in the adjoining street. The goal is to retain 100% of all rainwater that falls on the site. Plants in the bioswale include spider lilies, thalias, irises, and soft rush, all plants that live well in wet and boggy soils.
The bioswale is divided into three zones, demarcated by oyster benches and oyster trails. The oysters serve as "check dams", which slow down the rainwater and prevent it from eroding the bioswale. The three zones are a visual timeline of the neighboring Bayou Bienvenue. The zone by the entrance, with the diversity of native plants, represents the past, before Bayou Bienvenue was destroyed by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). The middle zone represents the current state of the bayou, sparse with only a few switch grasses. The third zone, representing the future, remains unfinished and will be a site for additional plantings.
The site also includes two shaded structures. The first, an outdoor classroom and a second, to be used for kayak storage. Both structures are composed of steel columns and shade cloth that provides 90% UV protection. In front of the structures are rows of silver shower Aztec and purple foundation grass which will help prevent erosion. The outdoor class room also includes an orchard now growing grapefruit, orange, satsuma, kumquat, fig and apple trees, along with a magnolia tree. Program coordinator, Kathy Muse started a butterfly garden in the back part of the site several years ago.
Phase 2 of Wetland Education Center will include the placement of a modular classroom. Designed by Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, in partnership with the US Green Building Council (USGBC), the classroom features sustainable building materials and design elements. It was showcased at the 2014 USGBC Green Build, held in New Orleans. The classroom, which was donated to CSED, will be used as a K-12 environmental education center and research space.
While the Wetland Education Center is still a work in progress, it is currently open to the community and it will be a gathering and learning site for wetland awareness and water management. CSED believes that the first step towards resiliency is education and with the help of the Wetland Education Center, the Lower 9th Ward will become more resilient than ever.
CSED and other environmental groups will be holding a ribbon cutting ceremony for the first phase of the project on August 11th at 10am, following a press event at the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle Platform to discuss the state of our coast 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. For more information on this event, contact Samantha Carter at carterS@nwf.org.
For more information on CSED and how you can get involved, click here.1 Comment
As we approach the 10th anniversaries of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita – a time when we all learned about the importance of the Louisiana coast as a first line of defense against storms – Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition and Dirty Coast are partnering to feature YOUR coastal restoration messages on t-shirts, bags, posters and other snazzy products that will be sold in Dirty Coast’s New Orleans stores and across the web to help raise awareness and support for Louisiana coastal restoration.
Louisiana continues to lose a football field of land every hour, and our state has lost 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930s. These wetlands are crucial to protecting our homes and communities from the effects of hurricanes and storm surge. Without action, we stand to lose another 1,000 square miles by 2050. We want to engage people locally and nationally to understand just how important our coast is to the long-term resiliency of southern Louisiana and the entire nation that depends on our region.
That’s where YOU come in! We want to hear YOUR ideas for coastal restoration slogans! The creative wizzes at Dirty Coast are looking for slogans to use to create designs they’ll place on products to educate people around the world about how badly we need our coast restored now.
How It’s Going Down:
- Submit as many ideas or slogans as you like here from now through July 23, 2015.
- After July 23, we’ll select the best THREE slogans that most closely align with the positive messages of coastal restoration and have the best potential to make rad t-shirt designs.
- We'll let YOU vote for the slogan you want to see designed into a t-shirt and other products.
- The first place slogan will be made into a design Dirty Coast will sell year-round on t-shirts and other products to raise funds for restoration efforts. The person who submits the winning design will receive a $200 gift card to Dirty Coast, second place will receive a $100 gift card, and 3rd place a $50 gift card.
- We’ll announce the winning design at a launch party on August 20 at Dirty Coast’s new Marigny location (2121 Chartres Street).
- The winning design will be featured and sold in Dirty Coast stores and online over the next year, with a portion of sale proceeds going to the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition to help educate and engage people about the need for coastal restoration.
Some Tips to Help You Out:
- Keep it positive: Our situation is grave, but we want to feature positive, proactive messages that convey that solutions are possible. Some questions to get your creative juices flowing:
- What does the Louisiana coast mean to you?
- Why is it important that the Louisiana coast be restored?
- How would you explain coastal restoration to a kindergartener?
- Why is it important that we act now to restore the coast?
- Keep it simple: The message needs to be easily understood, engaging and memorable.
- Keep it fun: In case you’re not familiar with Dirty Coast designs, they’re clever, fun and captivating. See some of their designs here for inspiration.
What’s In It for You?
- Prizes: The person who submits the winning design will receive a $200 gift card to Dirty Coast, second place will receive a $100 gift card, and 3rd place a $50 gift card.
- Glory: Your winning message will be proudly worn by coastal warriors around the country for generations come, to spread the message of Louisiana coastal restoration.
- Pride: You can tell your grandkids that you had a hand in the fight to save our coast.
What more reasons do you need? Now get to work unleashing your creative genius to save the coast! Submit your ideas here. We can’t wait to see the results.
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
About Dirty Coast: Dirty Coast began in 2004 as a response to what was passing for local apparel on Bourbon street; a way to make cool designs for die hard New Orleanians. Small batches of shirts and posters. A fun side project. In 2005, a Category 3 storm made its way through the area without causing too much damage. Then the federal infrastructure meant to protect the city failed and filled New Orleans with water. Soon after, Blake found himself in Lafayette with all his plans placed on hold. While in exile, meditating on this fate of his beloved city, Blake designed a bumper sticker that read, “Be a New Orleanian, Wherever You Are.” He printed 5,000, and placed them all over New Orleans as soon as he could return. The reaction to Blake's design was overwhelming, and developing the Dirty Coast brand became a no-brainer. Why T-shirts? Because they are the great equalizer. You can have a good design. You can have fun, cheeky copy. But to create a shirt that exists on a level beyond your standard laundry, that engages your friends and neighbors in conversation, that starts debates, that elicits laughter, nostalgia, and many “Yea Ya Right!” That’s what we’re trying to do. To be bold and to be real about our dirty, marvelous city. Everything we do, everything we make is a proclamation of our love for New Orleans. And when you truly love something, you want to share it with as many people as possible. So whether you’re born here, a transplant, or simply passing through, you can be a New Orleanian wherever you are.
About Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition: 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.No Comments
By Ezra Boyd, PhD, Disastermap.net, LLC
The Hurricane Surge Risk Reduction System
As we approach the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the associated levee failures, the people of the Greater New Orleans (GNO) region face constant reminders that our safety and viability depend on a complex system made of numerous elements that together mitigate risks from hurricane induced tidal floods. The near constant construction of levees, pumps and floodgates over the last decade provides the most visible evidence of this system. Together, these components are termed the structural lines of defense. In addition, work on other important, but less visible, components have also reduced our flood risk. Broadly speaking, the other two major components are the coastal lines of defense and the community lines of defense. Together, these three components comprise the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy for Sustaining Coastal Louisiana (MLODS).
Beyond a list of 12 separate lines of defense (see figure below), MLODS represents a system that allows us to use the professional tools and standards of systems engineering to assess the current status of storm surge risk reduction. Within the field of systems engineering, a system is defined as: “an integrated set of elements, segments and/or subsystems that accomplish a defined objective.” The 12 lines of defense make up the elements of the system, and systems engineering helps us figure out if they function in an integrated fashion to accomplish the objective of managing storm surge risk.
A recent report from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, called “A Systems Engineering Based Assessment of The Greater New Orleans Hurricane Surge Defense System Using the Multiple Lines-of-Defense Framework,” provides a detailed assessment of the current system of levees, pumps, gates, coastal landscape features and community resilience steps that the region depends upon to manage storm surge flooding risk.
System Interactions and Factors of Concern
Once the Hurricane Surge Defense System (HSDS) has been specified as a system, the tools of systems engineering then allow us to identify system interactions that create major factors of concern. A system interaction refers to when the performance of one system element is impacted by the other elements, while a factor of concern is an element or interaction between elements that could potentially reduce the system performance. The report identified and described a number of system interactions and factors of concern. Two of the major concerns are with the Foot of the Twin Spans bridge and the IHNC/GIWW navigation canal (shown here). Both result from interactions between systems elements that affect evacuation effectiveness.
I-10 East Evacuation Route & Chandeleur Islands
Interstate 10 is a major evacuation route. During peak evacuation, an estimated 2,000 vehicles per hour utilize its eastbound lanes to escape GNO. These eastbound lanes cross Lake Pontchartrain on the edge of New Orleans. Since Hurricane Katrina, the bridge, locally known as the “Twin Spans”, has been rebuilt in an $800 million project that raised the bridge to 30 feet above sea level. Not far from the bridge is the rebuilt levee system that provides perimeter protection for GNO. Between the levee and foot of the bridge is an approximately 1 mile section of interstate that is at ground level and outside the levee system. Most of this section of highway is 7 – 8 feet above sea level. However, just before the foot of the bridge, atop of narrow peninsula that has experienced landloss on all three sides, the highway dips to around 6.7 feet above sea level. This low, unprotected section of a major evacuation route is prone to flooding early during storm surge events, thus blocking any further evacuation.
The Chandeleur Islands, a rapidly eroding barrier island chain, are located some 60 miles from the foot of the Twin Spans bridge. Yet, how they perform as a coastal line of defense affects the performance of the I-10 East evacuation route. Hydrological studies have determined that the elevation and integrity of the Chandeleurs influences the timing and height of the peak surge, with the surge peaking 1.5 feet higher and 1 hour sooner if the islands continue to erode. Exemplifying the concept of system interactions, the Chandeleur’s ability to mitigate storm surge impacts the available window of time to evacuate people using the eastbound I-10.
IHNC/GIWW Closure Operations, Vessel Evacuation, and Vehicular Evacuation
The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC) and Gulf Intracoastal Watery (GIWW) are two manmade navigation canals within the eastern half of GNO. During Hurricane Katrina, they were major conveyance pathways for storm surge and also the location of numerous levee breeches. Since Hurricane Katrina, the area has been subject to major levee upgrades along with newly constructed floodwalls and floodgates. While these structural improvements provide a potentially much improved level of protection, the gates in particular create a new set of concerns related to system behavior. They also provide another example of asystem interaction that also affects evacuation effectiveness.
Simply put, closing the gates in anticipation of a tropical system is a complicated procedure that must be coordinated with navigational interests, railroads, and the Port of New Orleans. Most navigational vessels are required to evacuate the IHNC/GIWW before a hurricane. This in-turn requires that the vessels pass under a number of drawbridges. Since the drawbridges must be opened to let vessels pass, they then hinder vehicular evacuation of the general population. Here the operations of these structural components (the flood gates along these two canals) impact the performance of the evacuation component, another example of a system interaction that creates a major factor of concern.
These are just two of many factors of concern with the current HSDS. Our report documents others, some small and others major. Maintenance, long term funding, coordination, and public risk communication were the major themes uncovered in our study. Because it is important for the public and policymakers to understand the true level of protection, LPBF continues to build on the momentum create by this report. As step toward addressing some of the issues identified in the report, we have recently launched the Pontchartrain-Maurepas Surge Consortium to facilitate regional collaboration between levees boards, floodplains managers, coastal scientists, and others engaged in storm surge management and risk reduction.
The report, along with LPBF’s continuing efforts at implementing MLODS for coastal flood protection, has been funded by the Kresge Foundation.
Additional resources:No Comments
By Jacques P. Hebert, Communications Director, National Audubon Society, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition
This Tuesday a group of nearly 200 people gathered at the Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market for a day of talks from a variety of community and business leaders, artists, academics and others as part of the first-ever TedxNewOrleans. While the perspective of each talk varied, resilience and recovery of Greater New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina served as a unifying theme. The talks were spirited, inspirational and truly painted a picture that New Orleans “didn’t just come back, we got crunk” as colorfully stated by Michael Hecht of GNO Inc. in closing the day. Videos of the events are forthcoming, but in the meantime, here are some of the highlights:
- Rod West, Entergy’s Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, painted a visceral picture of the days following Katrina, from thinking we had dodged a bullet to being told there were white caps on Canal Street to then having to inform his employees that their homes were underwater and ask that they get to work literally repowering New Orleans.
- The Executive Director of 504ward, “New Orleans’ home base for young talent,” Jessica Shahien explored the city’s transition and her organization’s role in turning the notorious brain drain into a brain gain and how young professionals are flocking to live in New Orleans.
- Troy Simon detailed his journey from being twelve, illiterate and living in the Lower 9th Ward at the time of Katrina to being a senior at Bard College, a nationally-recognized speaker on education reform and meeting President and Mrs. Obama at the White House.
- SMG Executive Vice President Doug Thornton discussed the recovery of the Superdome – particularly his team’s frantic struggle to get it functional in time for the 2006 Saints vs. Falcons opener – and its status as an economic engine for New Orleans and symbol of resiliency.
- Through a series of conceptual drawings, Aron Chang of Waggoner and Ball Architects provided an overview of how the Mississippi River built its delta over time and encouraged all of us to “draw” our visions for what the future of our region might look like.
- A former marketing executive at Mignon Faget and Sucré and creative director of the Muses parade, Virginia Saussy colorfully recounted the months following Katrina when laughing through tears was critical and how she responded to a CNN story suggesting New Orleans cancel its first post-Katrina Mardi Gras.
- From education to healthcare to public housing, Chief Administrative Officer of the City of New Orleans Andy Kopplin discussed how government has been a force of disruptive change since Katrina.
- Actress and musician Kimberly Rivers Roberts recounted how Katrina empowered her to change her attitude from “I can’t” to “I can,” opening up a world of opportunities, including a documentary she filmed “Trouble the Water” receiving an Academy Award nomination.
What struck me in hearing these people speak about resilience, recovery, of “I can” attitudes and disruptive innovations, is that these principles can and have been applied in the fight to save Louisiana’s coast. In addition to the undeniable economic and infrastructural progress made around the Greater New Orleans region that these talks highlighted, over the last 10 years, we have also made significant gains in restoring our coast including:
- Passing game-changing legislation that has provided us with a science-based blueprint (Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast) and funding (the RESTORE Act) for addressing our coastal land loss crisis.
- Closing storm surge super highway MRGO and developing a plan to restore this ecosystem.
- Implementing early restoration projects, such as the Mid-Barataria Land Bridge and Marsh Creation Project, Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation, and other early restoration projects that have already made headway in building land and preventing further loss.
The progress made over the last decade is proof that working together we can address the most significant crisis currently facing our state. Louisiana continues to lose a football field of land every hour. Our best offense to protect New Orleans and Southern Louisiana from future storms is a strong defense, and with all due respect to our Saints, New Orleans has no better defensive line than a restored coast. For that reason, our coalition advocates for a Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy – anchored by a restored coast working in concert with the $14.5 billion dollar improved levee system and water management innovations like the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan. These pieces of the pie fit together to protect our communities, industries and culture and serve as a model for similar communities around the world.
As we look ahead, in order to ensure the long-term protection and resiliency of our region, we need to continue to fund and implement the Coastal Master Plan, particularly the 19 priority projects in it identified by our coalition as having the greatest potential to restore our coast. Ten years later, it’s clear that New Orleans has bounced back (and even gotten a little crunk). Let’s recognize, learn from and celebrate these successes, but let’s also acknowledge the work that remains and get to it.No Comments
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).
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.No Comments