Louisiana Wants Federal Government to Help Save Its Eroding Coastline
Associated Press Writer
Sep 5, 2005
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Windell Curole is wryly understated when he talks about how Hurricane Katrina has brought to light an environmental time bomb that he has talked about for years: the eating away of Louisiana's coast.
Now, Curole and his fellow scientists and environmentalists hope the federal government will use the rebuilding of New Orleans as an opportunity to also save the state's rapidly disappearing wetlands.
"For years and years I had hoped that the facts would get the country to intellectually understand what could happen," said Curole, a hurricane expert and coastal restoration advocate. "I think we've got their attention."
Since the 1930s, according to scientists, Louisiana has lost about 1,900 square miles of marsh and swamp, and stands to see another 700 square miles slip away by 2050 if drastic measures aren't taken.
Much of the marsh already gone was south of New Orleans, moving the city closer and closer to the Gulf of Mexico and consequently closer to hurricane storm surge.
Scientists blame both man and nature for erosion of the Mississippi River's delta: oil speculators, massive clear cutting of coastal forests, oil drilling, buildup of the coast and construction of levees on the Mississippi combined with a rise in sea levels and the sinking of land caused by shifting geologic faults.
Louisiana officials began trying to stem the loss only in the last 15 years, and now wants Washington to not only help upgrade its flood protection system but also help restore its coastline. Until now, restoring the coast and improving the levees and floodgates were mostly seen as two projects.
The money could be given to the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on top of $10.5 billion in disaster aid for New Orleans that was approved by Congress on Friday.
What advocates fear is that the federal government will spend billions of dollars on bringing New Orleans back without going further.
"This can't just be a cleanup, it has to be a turning point," said Mark Davis of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, a lobbying group. "If we build it back like it was, then we'll be living in a fool's paradise."
Congress passed legislation in the early 1990s to start rebuilding the delta, which extends from the Mississippi state line to western Louisiana. But the effort was for the most part piecemeal and small in scale. The program received about $50 million a year from a tax on outboard motors.
In the past three years, the state and federal agencies working in Louisiana to restore the coast have ramped up their requests and called for $14 billion in work over 30 years.
Last year, the White House rebuffed that request and backed a short-term plan to spend about $2 billion in 10 years. This year, the push to get even that amount of money has been tangled in political jousts.
Louisiana also has stepped up its effort in the past two years to win over the American public, saying the loss of its wetlands - the largest in the nation - is a national tragedy.
A public campaign, called America's Wetland, has used television spots, documentaries and celebrities to get the message out that Louisiana and its wetlands are economic engines with its important fisheries, ports and energy infrastructure and a vital ecosystem for migratory birds, marine species and plant life.
As envisioned, the restoration of the Louisiana coast could be the largest public works project ever attempted by the United States.
The state wants to flood large estuaries on both sides of the Mississippi River to reclaim land by delivering sediment and freshwater to areas invaded by the Gulf's salty water. Also, they have talked about building a network of pipelines to carry mud and sand into areas being washed out.
"If we're going to rebuild," Davis said, "let's rebuild smart."
We had a hurricane - send PORK quickly!
I got a bright idea, why dont we let the Mississippi run it's course and naturaly replinish the land?
Seems like all that work would interfere with allowing nature to take its course unimpeded.
Sorta like when Mirror Lake in Yosemite was shown to be naturally filling in with sediment, and would eventually shrink and disappear. Suddenly "don't mess with the environment" wasn't such a good idea. Don't know if they ever went ahead with ideas to stop nature.
Old news. Louisiana has been losing coastline and requesting help for it for years.