A Coastal Conservation Conversation
The Lens , with sponsorship from the Mississippi River Delta Coalition , is hosting a panel discussion—a Coastal Conservation Conversation—on the financing of the $50 billion master plan for coastal restoration at Loyola University, Wednesday, Aug. 20 from 6 to 8 p.m., in room 114 Miller Hall. (The title of the event is admittedly not dyslexic-friendly; just think CCC .)
The experts on the panel will be:
Mark Davis , Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy • John Driscoll , Corporate Planning Resources • Kyle Graham , Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority • Douglas J. Meffert , Audubon Louisiana/National Audubon Society • Steve Murchie , Gulf Restoration Network
The discussion will be moderated by John Snell  of WVUE/Fox 8.
What Is Coastal Restoration and Why Is It Needed?
Every year Louisiana loses 25 square miles of land—50 acres every day. About 1,900 square miles have disappeared in the past century—more than 25 times the land area of Washington, D.C.—and the erosion is accelerating. Katrina tore away four years’ worth of land loss—about 100 square miles—in only a few hours. The land loss is not only killing species of wildlife, but is taking away the buffer that protects human settlements such as the city of New Orleans and Acadiana—Cajun country—from hurricanes and the encroaching Gulf of Mexico. Valuable oil and gas and shipping infrastructure are also endangered, exposed to violent storms. Experts say if a serious, all-hands-on-deck, fully-funded federal effort is not mounted within the next five to ten years, New Orleans and Acadiana will be lost.
Wetlands protect human settlements from hurricane storm surges, which can rise as high as 25 feet. Every 2.5 to 4 miles of wetlands reduce hurricane storm surges by about a foot; measured another way, each mile of marsh reduces storm surges by 3 to 9 inches. Metro New Orleans, home to about 1.5 million, is now protected by a buffer no more than about 20 miles of wetlands.
Coastal restoration—replacing the eroded soil and wetlands—can be done in many ways, as the panel will explain, but among the methods being attempted are diversions of sediment-rich water from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. Diversions at strategic openings, such as the ones at Caernarvon and Davis Pond, allow river water to spread across the wetlands and replenish the soil. Other methods are vegetation plantings (as shown in the photo below, left), hydrologic restoration, marsh creation, shoreline protection, sediment trapping, and stabilization of barrier islands. All are being implemented, but only to a small, insufficient degree.
What Will They Be Talking About?
We spoke with Mark Davis  of Tulane’s Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy to ask about the focus of the Coastal Conservation Conversation. Davis, former director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana , says there are many good, workable plans that have been drawn up over the years; the critical need now is to identify how exactly the implementation will be funded. “For one thing, the $50 billion figure you’ve heard about does not include everything that will be needed. We need to identify what funds we have currently available to draw from, and then where we can get the additional funding. The funding cannot be left to chance,” Davis emphasized. “Considering that nobody wants to pay higher taxes—not individuals and not businesses—where will the money come from? Bonds won’t do the trick.”
Davis stressed that the often-heard assertion that “they owe it to us”—meaning Big Oil owes Louisiana the money to repair damages from oil exploration—doesn’t get us very far. If that is true, how are you going to get that money? How are you going to convince the companies to help pay for restoration? We all need to have some “skin in the game,” he said, to make elected officials and CEOs take our claims seriously. Environmental groups and activists must be able to demonstrate what we are doing, what we ourselves are willing to pay and to do, with time and roll-up-your-sleeves efforts. This could involve talking to neighbors, organizing town hall meet-ups, generating public will and action to press on elected officials and businesses, and volunteering for plantings and other restoration efforts.
For a simple example, Davis said, we’re willing to spend a few dollars more for bottled water to make sure we have clean, safe drinking water. Expand it out from there: what else are we willing to pay for to ensure that the state will have restored wetlands that preserve wildlife and hunting and fishing areas and keep a buffer between us and the hurricane storm surge?
“We shouldn’t delude ourselves about what we’re facing,” Davis said. “There is an area between fatalism and acceptance of doom. We have not yet become victims of inevitable change. We have tools here that we can work with.”
“Louisiana has to realize that other parts of the United States are discovering they need assistance, local and federal, for storm protection and rebuilding—Florida especially and now, after Hurricane Sandy (2012), New York and New Jersey, too. We have to have a practical financial plan. This is what the Coastal Conversation is about.”
In addition to The Lens and the Mississippi River Delta Coalition , the Coastal Conservation Conversation is being sponsored by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana , the National Wildlife Federation , the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation , and the Audubon Society Louisiana . See the event’s Facebook page here .
“We have a hard task, but through the power of connectivity, we can succeed. In a democracy, you can turn the situation around. . . . We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to use our voice to influence our legislators. . . . This is our time. This is a great cause. How are you going to get your nieces and nephews and neighbors involved? The way we’re going in the state of Louisiana, this place will not be fit to live in.”
—Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré , keynote address on leadership and environmental justice, Rising Tide conference, New Orleans, Sept. 14, 2013
Land-loss maps from MicrobeWiki ; planting photo by NOAA ; photo of oil/gas pipeline canals cutting through Louisiana wetlands, 2010, from Getty Images via Bloomberg; bottom map of Louisiana by U.S. Geological Survey circa 1950.