Archive for Hurricane Katrina
Risk and Resilience: Society of Environmental Journalists hosts annual conference this week in New OrleansSeptember 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.
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
“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.No Comments
This post originally appeared on Environmental Defense Fund's EDF Voices blog.
By Estelle Robichaux, Environmental Defense Fund
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.No Comments
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.1 Comment
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
New Orleans, LA
July 26, 2014
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.
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.
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!No Comments
Media Advisory for Feb. 20: “Bayou Sundance” Documentary to Premiere in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth WardFebruary 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, firstname.lastname@example.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
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.
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
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
Last Tuesday, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority authorized the state attorney general to file suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to get the federal government to pick up 100 percent of the expense for the federal plan for ecosystem restoration of damage caused by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). Since 2008, there has been an ongoing dispute between the state and the Corps involving interpretation of Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) of 2007 legislation, in which Congress directed the Corps to develop a plan for restoration of the MRGO ecosystem at full federal expense.
The $3 billion plan, mandated for completion by May of 2008, was finally completed in 2012. Yet, there is still disagreement over what cost share Congress intended, leaving this critical federal restoration effort at a standstill. The state contends that construction is a 100 percent federal expense, while the Corps contends that the typical cost share on restoration projects, 65 percent federal and 35 percent state, applies. This billion dollar question will now be determined by a judge.
The MRGO Must Go Coalition, a group of 17 conservation and neighborhood organizations working since 2006 to see the MRGO closed and the ecosystem restored, has researched this cost share issue for several years. We believe that Congress intended for the MRGO projects under WRDA to be at 100 percent federal cost for construction, responding to the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish during Katrina and the devastating role the MRGO played in this event.
Given the extent and urgency of the restoration needs, however, we call on the state of Louisiana, the Corps and potentially other federal agencies to work together to identify all available funding sources and ensure restoration moves forward in a timely manner. All parties involved should be present to work, first and foremost, to ensure timely implementation of comprehensive MRGO ecosystem restoration, as mandated by Congress. We are painfully aware that, every day, the MRGO ecosystem further deteriorates and communities remain at risk.
We welcome this opportunity for the federal court to resolve the cost share dispute. But no matter how the ruling comes down, the bigger question remains: Where will the funds come from to pay for the $3 billion in restoration projects outlined in the MRGO ecosystem restoration plan? Billions of dollars will have to be appropriated by Congress. It is our job, as stakeholders in the resiliency and safety of the Greater New Orleans Area and as citizens who care about justice being served for the communities and ecosystem torn apart by the MRGO, to ensure that our leaders in Congress clearly understand the importance of this restoration effort and that they find the will to get it done. Learn more and take action at www.MRGOmustGO.org.No Comments
By Amanda Moore (National Wildlife Federation) and Elizabeth Skree (Environmental Defense Fund)
Excitement filled the air last Friday as community members, government officials, students and staff from local and national conservation organizations gathered on the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle viewing platform in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward to celebrate the unveiling of new educational, interactive signs. These signs help interpret an important story for visitors as they look out over the open water and ghostly remains of a former healthy cypress swamp. At this powerful site, in the backyard of a community less than five miles from the French Quarter that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, visitors will learn about efforts to restore the Bayou Bienvenue ecosystem as well as the broader, critical need for coastal restoration. The signs were a project of The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development and the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign.
In addition to the four National Park Service-grade signs, a new website, www.restorethebayou.org, was also created to accompany the signs. On the site, visitors can learn more about the history of Bayou Bienvenue; read about the vision for restoration of the wetland triangle as well as broader Louisiana coastal restoration; learn about community and environmental organizations working to restore the wetlands; watch videos in the multimedia gallery; sign the virtual guestbook by taking a photo using Instagram and adding the hashtag #restorethebayou; and take action by signing a petition to decision-makers, asking them to prioritize MRGO-area restoration projects – like the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle.
The dozens of people in attendance heard from Garret Graves, Chair of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, who proclaimed the importance of the platform and signs when he said, “This is such an important teaching tool for us…it’s a microcosm of what is happening on a huge scale in coastal Louisiana.”
Other speakers included Charles Allen, Director of the City of New Orleans’ Office of Coastal and Environmental Affairs; Arthur Johnson, Executive Director of the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development; and Amanda Moore, Greater New Orleans Program Manager for the National Wildlife Federation, speaking on behalf of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition.
Get involved! Check out Restore the Mississippi River Delta’s Facebook album of photos from the unveiling event, and visit www.restorethebayou.org to learn more about the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle and coastal restoration efforts.No Comments
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