The Louisiana Land Loss Crisis in America’s Coastal Heartland
Coastal Louisiana lost more than 1500 square miles of land in the 20th century and the rate of loss has averaged 20 square miles per year since the 1990’s. Coastal land loss threatens the existence of Louisiana’s natural framework, its resource base and the human fabric of the United States in the Gulf of Mexico. Without the implementation of coastal restoration efforts in Louisiana proportional to the magnitude of loss, the largest river delta in America, the Mississippi, will erode and subside away beneath the waters of the Gulf. Without putting a massive program of land creation and ecological restoration into effect immediately, the existence of the Mississippi River’s fertile crescent is threatened and endangered for generations to come.
The Causes of Louisiana’s Coastal Land Loss
The causes of coastal land loss in Louisiana are complex. In order to implement a successful regional coastal restoration program in Louisiana we must understand the causes of land loss. Regionally, hundreds of years of flood control, hydrologic modification, subsidence and storms are the overriding causes for the environmental collapse and loss of land in coastal Louisiana. Locally, on the time-scale of decades, oil/gas activities, navigation, and hurricanes have had the most devastating impact on Louisiana’s coast.
Coastal Land loss Solutions
Since 1990 we have engaged in the use of a variety of restoration tools through the Coastal Wetland Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) of 1990. Concurrently, the State of Louisiana and other federal agencies have built site specific projects that have furthered our understanding and insight into our coastal restoration capabilities. From my perspective, we must practice Adaptive Management now as we move forward from coastal restoration projects of local-scale to a vision of regional coastal restoration in Louisiana.Our existing, future, and proposed coastal restoration programs must be integrated and synchronized. If the metric of our state’s coastal crisis is land loss then our metric of success should be land gain. Between the 1980’s and 1990’s our federal partners measured the rate of coastal land loss at 20 square miles a year. After 15 years of CWPPRA and other Federal/State restoration projects, these agencies indicate the rate of land loss continues at a rate of 20 square miles per year.
Our restoration experience has demonstrated that some restoration tools were very effective and some did not perform as expected. An important lesson we learned from the implementation of these projects is that their social impacts cannot be ignored. Another important lesson learned is that the restoration tools we select must produce benefits on a generational or decadal time-scale. Diversions and other solutions using large-scale delta switching processes work on time-scales of multiple decades or centuries, just as the Mississippi River built it’s delta naturally over the last several millenniums. Dedicated dredging and pipeline slurry offer us the capabilities to build land quickly on a decadal scale without the adverse effects of large volumes of freshwater. Small diversion iversions offer the opportunity to sustain newly created landscapes after they are built.
For the LCA ecosystem restoration plan proposed for authorization through the Water Resources Development Act of 2005, the Near-Term Critical Ecosystem Restoration Features provide the combined opportunity of dedicated dredging/pipeline slurry and diversions from the Mississippi River. Of particular interest is the LCA Barataria Basin Barrier Shoreline Restoration Feature #3 which will provide our greatest opportunity to implement a regional pipeline slurry restoration project and to learn from this effort. The Fourchon Regional Restoration Initiative (FRRI), a consortium of the Wisner Land Donation, Chevron, Greater Lafourche Port Commission, Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, Lafourche Parish, the City of New Orleans, and the University of New Orleans, has organized to support the implementation of this important project and to remove any scientific uncertainty that the LCA Barataria Barrier Shoreline Restoration Feature #3 should be the first step in Louisiana’s vision of regional ecosystem restoration through the WRDA of 2005.
University of New Orleans Science and Education Support
UNO is supporting these State and Federal coastal restoration initiatives through the establishment of the Center for Hazards Assessment, Response, and Technology (CHART) and the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences (PIES). CHART and PIES provide expert science support for planning, project assessment, and adaptive management. Through UNO’s Academic Departments new focused degree programs are being implemented to provide the critically needed education and training for the professional work force necessary to restore coastal Louisiana.