Here today, gone tomorrow? A number of forces continue to threaten the Louisiana coastline.
Now you see them, now you don't.
This is perhaps as good a way as any to describe the highly precarious state of Louisiana's vanishing wetlands.
These fragile lands are disappearing at the rapid clip of 35 square miles each year. In fact, more than one million acres have vanished since the turn of the century, and the experts predict another 1,000 square miles will be gone by 2050 if some drastic prevention efforts are not initiated.
A number of forces have combined to create the problem. The many culprits who shoulder the blame include Mother Nature -- e.g., natural subsidence -- and human contributions such as artificial levees that prevent sediment and fresh water from replenishing the starving marshes.
The disappearing coast is cause for considerable angst both on the home front and the national scene for those folks who are in the know about this issue.
Indeed, the region has enormous impact on the entire country:
- The wetlands offer protection for the pipelines, roads and varied infrastructure that enable the transport of more than 25 percent of the oil and gas consumed in the United States.
- Eighty percent of the oil and gas produced offshore passes through the area.
- Thirty percent of the nation's fisheries catch originates here.
- The world's largest port system is sited here.
On the local front, these vital wetlands also provide protection from hurricanes and storm surges for more than two million people living in the coastal zone, which includes New Orleans. Considering the devastation that recent storms such as Ivan caused for numerous Floridians, any increase to the vulnerability of this already-fragile area can make for some sleepless nights for the citizenry.
Goal: Public Awareness
To bring national attention to the problem, Louisiana launched a privately funded public awareness campaign a few years ago. The effort had a goal to convince the country that it is in its best interest to ante up the $14 billion needed to rehabilitate and save the coastal region.
Although the lofty goal is still far from being attained, funding from various sources has been acquired. Perhaps the most noteworthy sum appears slated to come via the energy bill recently passed by the U.S. Congress.
It is reported that Louisiana has been tagged to receive $540 million over the course of four years to apply to the wetlands problem, courtesy of this new legislation. While far short of the sum estimated to be necessary to restore and preserve the coastal region, some high-level folks are optimistic there may be more to come at some future date.
Indeed, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., noted receipt of the lesser, short-term monies would not stand in the way of seeking further funding at some point.
Shedding Some Light
Anticipation and excitement over potential funding from the federal government and other sources has been building for some time, and this, in part, kick-started the initiative to organize a symposium -- Restoring America's Coastal Heartland -- to be held at the upcoming GCAGS meeting in New Orleans (left), according to Miles Hayes with Research Planning Inc.
Hayes is a co-convener of the two-day program, along with Mark Kulp and Shea Penland.
The symposium's intent is two-fold, according to Kulp.
"We wanted to make clear to the public and to the science world at large that this is a problem," he said, "and we wanted to bring to light the really good science that's taken place in response to the problem, and what we've learned and how we may actually be able to deal with some of these issues."
The program is divided into four main sessions:
- Cradles of Civilization: River Deltas, from 8:10-11:50 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 26.
- Processes That Shape Our Coasts, from 1-4 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 26.
- The Emerging Role of Geologists in Coastal Restoration, from 8:20 a.m.-noon on Tuesday, Sept. 27.
- Understanding Subsidence in Louisiana: Rates, Processes and Research Needs, from 1-4 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 27.
"Session One will set the stage for the geological setting of the Delta," Hayes said. "Then Session Two will look at the dynamics and processes that take place along the Delta front such as how tidal inlets function, and there will be a couple of papers on the impact of recent hurricanes.
"There will be some detail data on near-shore areas like Ship Shoal," Hayes noted. "A project some engineers are putting together now is to derive sand from some place or other and build barrier islands, and one of the primary sources would be Ship Shoal.
"The geological background is key to planning a restoration process that works."
The program's second day will kick off with a look at the varied aspects of faulting, e.g., what's causing the faulting and the impact of faulting on restoration. The afternoon session will get down to some individual restoration issues, Hayes said, such as projects for marsh restoration.
Hayes said a couple of restoration projects already have begun but noted everyone anticipated more money would be in the restoration coffers by now.
When queried about funding reported to be in the pipeline via the new energy bill, he noted:
"It's a political football."