You should love the coast. The Louisiana wetlands are among the most beautiful places on earth, but the essence of their beauty lies in the dynamic nature of coastal ecosystems. The Mississippi River has been building delta wetlands for millions of years. The only constant has been change. Our mistake has been in trying to "restore" the coast to the way we remember it in the past. We have to learn to live with the ebbs and flows of nature.
Having said that, there is no need for panic. The "state of crisis" mentality has largely been promoted by the proponents of building the projects. The plaintiffs of the lawsuit similarly used it to try to induce a state of urgency to force a monetary judgment in their favor. The truth is that the often quoted "football field an hour" rate of land loss is an average value over the last 83 years. The data shows that we are not losing wetlands at anywhere near that rate now. Watch out for the release of an updated study by the USGS that will provide some new figures. I am guessing that the revised estimate will be between 10% and 20% of the normally quoted rate of loss.
Wetlands loss occurs by the conversion of marsh to open water. The process is generally that small ponds expand into larger ponds then lakes, and eventually lakes merge into open bays and sounds. If the USGS does come out with a reduced estimate of the rate of land loss, we can reasonably expect that by the end of this century we will have a few more lakes, and the bays and sounds that we have now will be larger and deeper. Sea level will also rise - based on the current IPCC estimate of 3 mm/yr we will see about 10 inches of sea level rise by the end of the century, so the gulf will encroach a little - but we have time to work this out.
The worst thing we can do is to spend billions of dollars building projects that may not do any good, and may even be doing harm. This is a time to reinvigorate our emphasis on allowing our research institutions to incorporate science into our planning.
One of the early publications on coastal lands loss was a 1987 joint publication by EPA and Louisiana Geological Survey titled “Saving Louisiana’s Coastal Wetlands” which convened a panel of experts to summarize the issues. Among their summary conclusions was the following:
“Many of the panel members initially recommended that this report place less emphasis on the issue of accelerated sea level rise. Not because it is not a serious possibility, but because a one-meter rise could have implications so profound as to cast doubt upon the wisdom of undertaking major efforts to protect Louisiana's wetlands, and might thereby lead to a delay in several pending projects.”
The rationale behind this report seems to have set the tone for coastal restoration over the succeeding two decades that resulted in the formation of the Master Plan – we should suspend our consideration of factual science in order to forge ahead with the construction of a set of preordained projects. The problem is that relative sea level rise, which is the combination of global sea level rise and local subsidence is the overwhelming driver of change in the coastal wetlands. The two billion dollars or so that have been spend on coastal restoration since the publication of this report have proven outright that spending money on construction projects in a hopeless attempt to reverse the effects of these processes is not the answer.
The answer, however, is very likely to involve the oil and gas industry. Subsidence and sea level rise affect all denizens of the coast, including the oil and gas industry. The industry has billions of dollars of infrastructure across the coast that supports a sizable portion of the economy. The industry has a vested interest in understanding the causes and effects of subsidence, of mapping the areas that are most affected, and in forecasting the patterns of change that are inevitably coming. The industry should step up and support the necessary research to address these issues – but so should the state. The blind forge forward to plan, fund and construct the projects of the Master Plan has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to pay engineering firms to design and redesign projects that may never be built while the coastal research institutions at LSU and UNO are being starved of funding.
Now is time for everyone with a vested interest in the coast to make an effort to work cooperatively. The industry should support research that will bring good science back into the consideration of what to do about changes in the coastal wetlands, but the media can do its part by toning down the vitriol.
This is a projection of what the Louisiana coast will look like at the end of this century. It was published by Dr. Harry Roberts, head of the LSU Coastal Studies Institute, in 2009. The projection is based on well-established rates of subsidence and sea level rise. The forces of natural subsidence in coastal Louisiana are simply overwhelming to any type of land building project that humans could come up with. Dredging projects may be capable of creating small patches of land on either side of the river, but looking at this map, you have to ask - what difference would that make?
I also find it completely reprehensible that individuals involved with this lawsuit would use restoration of the coast (and the goodwill of so many people that want to see it restored) as a front for an enterprise that appears to be intended solely for personal financial gain.
We can achieve restoration of the Louisiana coast, but it can only come from restoring the natural systems that built the marshes in the first place. Restoration can only mean restoring nature to the way it would have been if we had never interfered in the first place. This will necessarily be a process that will will be transitional over decades, but the sooner we get started the better. Once we start moving in that direction, we will also come to realize that nature is going to make the change on its own, whether we want it to or not.
I don't think this will show up as a link on this board, but you can copy and paste it to your browser. To your point, this seem pretty obvious what is going on.
This lawsuit was doomed from inception. Its fundamental flaw was in the dishonesty of its approach. It was concieved in a shady backroom deal in which the only lawfirm ever considered was given an unprecedently luractive contract (for which taxpayers are still on the hook). The plaintiffs never sought the advice or consent of any other agency or political body, and only sought public support after initial backlash from other levee boards or the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (none of whom supported it).
The most egregious fault of the suit, however, was its campaign of misinformation once the plaintiffs did seek public support. Although there is no specfic reference in the lawsuit to how any monentary judgment would be spent, this campaign lead people to believe that money would be spent to restore the wetlands as a means of providing them flood protection. There is absolutely no truth whatsoever to a contention of this kind. Billions of dollars have already been spent on coastal restoration projects over the past twenty years. None of these projects have produced any meaningful restoration of the wetlands, and they certainly have not provided any improved flood protection to anyone. The plaintiffs of the this lawsuit purposefully misrepresented the truth about the potential of coastal restoration to provide flood protection to the constituents of the SLFPAE.
The one thing that is left out of every one of these conversations is the fact that we have been doing coastal restoration for 20 years, and already spent well over $300 million. None of the projects that have been operational during this time have created any significant new marsh, and there has been no enhancement to flood protection. More importantly, there is no sound scientific reason to think that spending more money, whether it be $50 billion or $100 billion will produce any better results. The marshes are being submerged by a combination of global sea level rise and subsidence. The only hope for creating significant new marsh is to redirect the full flow of the River and allow it to create a new natural delta system. This would require giving it up as a navigational channel, and the most respected experts in the field have said that even that is probably not enough.
The better alternative would be to follow the lead of New York. They have initiated a buyout program for coastal residents. The average offer in one blue collar neighborhood on Staten Island was $450,000. If the plantiffs want to garner public support for these lawsuits they should include a buyout option as part of the judgement instead of giving it all to coastal restoration contractors to build more of the same projects that have failed us for two decades
Powered by Foundation