Sometimes, the phraseology makes Louisiana’s plight seem academic, but coastal land loss and rising sea levels have had a huge impact on our state within living memory. This is not an issue of 100 years ago or 200 years ago, but very much a contemporary impact on our way of life.
An Associated Press reporter visited Delacroix to talk to one of the few remaining fishermen in the coastal town. The marsh now encompasses the woods where Ricky Morales played as a boy; the residents are moving, as in many other south Louisiana towns and villages, behind protective levees.
And the land loss that has plagued the state for the past century — we’ve lost the acreage of Delaware along Louisiana’s coast — continues to erode the barriers to Gulf of Mexico storms.
“We’re losing the cultural fabric of south Louisiana,” Jessica Schexnayder, a researcher with the Louisiana State University Sea Grant program, told the AP. “It’s not just whether the land will disappear; it’s about when it’s going to be gone.”
While some people, with varying degrees of seriousness, debate the human-caused sources of global warming, Louisiana’s problem is sea-level rise combined with subsidence.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top coastal aide, Chip Kline, recently told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that agencies have to deal with that reality of sea-level rise and it would be “insanity” to simply ignore it.
At the same time as those slow, but steady, forces are at work, the metropolitan New Orleans area has significantly more protection from levees and protective gates on waterways and canals. Still, the region is more vulnerable to storms because of the long-term land loss.
Marshes and coastal forests have eroded so significantly that the flooding and death dealt by Hurricane Betsy in 1965 became even more pronounced after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita 50 years later.
“The best hope for these communities, and this includes New Orleans, is getting behind a very aggressive delta restoration program,” Jim Tripp, a senior counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, told the AP. He sits on panels exploring multibillion-dollar plans to restore Louisiana’s coast.
Coastal restoration will get a large influx of money from the proposed BP settlement from the 2010 oil spill. Kline’s agencies and the state, generally — since the 1920s, he said — have banked on using river sediments to mimic the natural development of Louisiana’s Mississippi River plains.
Those are, however, costly projects, and it’s quite likely that with the best of efforts, the state will have to prioritize carefully where the sediments can do the most good and what other strategies will have to be employed in places where slurry pipelines and other expedients won’t work or are too expensive.
The attention of major media outlets like the AP and The New York Times, among others, is drawn to Louisiana’s coastal issue during the anniversary of Katrina’s horrors. But if coastal restoration is not achieved, at least in part, the threat to Louisiana’s people and our heritage along the coast continues to grow.