Panel discusses solution for coast erosionMay 25th, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: news
From 1930 to the year 2000, coastal Louisiana lost over 1,500 square miles of marsh land, and the data presented to by the panel at the America’s Wetland Foundation Conference in Belle Chasse indicates an additional 513 square miles will be lost by 2050.
The conference held on May 16 in the Belle Chasse Auditorium showcased local leaders and keen scientific minds, who discussed the various solutions to the ever shrinking coast.
“These forums [are] for people to participate, for science to be involved in the process, for individuals who are directly impacted to have a voice in what their future should look like,” said Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. “I don’t know of any process like this that has ever been done, and I’m glad to see it happening.”
Parish President Billy Nungesser attended the panel discussion, expressing that it was in Plaquemines’ interest to make a solution happen now, including proposed plans for dredging, increasing the size of berms and barrier islands, and being smart about how money is invested and natural resources are spent.
“We must do something immediately if we are going to see action within our lifetime,” Nungesser said.
The scientific collaboration included several local experts, such as Dr. Denise Reid from the University of New Orleans and the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences.
“When we prepare any solution, we have to consider it in the systemic context, and we have to consider local implications of system level solutions,” said Reid, who provided her own presentation to the panel. Reid made it clear that what everyone was talking about was more than just land loss. It is oysters, it is agriculture, and it is people.
“Basically water levels rise and people leave the coast,” Reid said.
“If we all left Louisiana, and left the levees, mother nature would pretty much take care of the coast. What this is about, it’s about people,” Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach commented.
The panel heard recommendations for using the natural course of the Mississippi River, and use that flow to build up, by using the sediment deposits the river carries. Another idea involved planting in the surrounding barrier lands with more than just marsh. A forested ridge of cypress trees along the dredged barrier islands would increase protection and possibly lift some areas to 100 year flood protection.
As Dr. Joseph Sahayda, Director of the Hurricane Center, Louisiana State University, explained to the panel, marsh vegetation is too flexible and lets some surge pass, however the trees will sustain heavy damage in the impact they take, so it will be necessary to create a sustainable plan if implemented.
“If we don’t grow sustainable vegetation, all the sediment will just wash away,” said panel member Ken Savastano. Savastano stressed that sediment was only half the battle, that controlling the salinity of the water is also a factor. But other panel members, including Reid, said that salinity is variable in the rivers and waters of the coast, changing almost in a blink by environmental standards.
No matter the final recommendation that is made by the panel, and makes its way to President Obama’s desk, the overall message was delivered most poignantly by R. King Milling, chairman of the America’s Wetland Foundation, when he said, “If we do nothing, then everyone in this room loses everything.”