The Problem

2002 U.S. Geological Survey Study


“Evidence from this study demonstrates that the primary factor causing accelerated interior wetland loss in south central Louisiana between the 1950s and 1970s was accelerated subsidence and probably fault reactivation induced by rapid, large volume production of hydrocarbons (primarily gas) and formation water.”

Read the entire study at coastal.er.usgs.gov by clicking here (PDF).


THE CRISIS

In the past decade Louisiana has survived some of the worst hurricanes in our history. That’s the good news. The bad news is that environmental conditions are such that the storms we can expect in the future are becoming more devastating and our natural defenses against them are becoming weaker. These are not the hurricanes of old when preparation meant putting tape on our windows, batteries in our flashlights and extra water in our bathtubs. These are storms that could flatten coastal Louisiana and flood inland areas of the state in unprecedented ways.

WHAT HAS CAUSED THE PROBLEM?

Storms gain strength over water and lose strength over land. The more land between you and the hurricane, the safer you are. Our wetlands are our buffer, our first line of defense against catastrophic flooding and devastating hurricane winds. The wetlands protect our levees and flood walls which in turn protect our homes, our lives and our livelihoods. This buffer is fast disappearing and that means we are in greater danger than ever.

The following aerial pictures illustrate the amount of wetland loss we’ve experienced around Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes in just the ten years between 1998 and 2008.

Much of this story can be told in numbers:

  1. From 1932 to 2010, Louisiana lost 1,883 square miles of coastal land. (source: U.S. Geological Survey, scientific investigations map 3164)
  2. Trend analyses from 1985 to 2010 show a wetland loss rate of an area approximately the size of one football field per hour. (source: U.S. Geological Survey, scientific investigations map 3164).
  3. Since the 1930s, we’ve lost land roughly equ
    al to the entire coastline of Thailand or Sweden.
  4. Louisiana property insurance rates are rising dramatically.
  5. The loss of a one-mile strip of our wetlands results in an estimated $5,752,816 average increase in property damage according to data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers based on past hurricanes (source: http://www.lsu.edu/seagrantfish/pdfs/portrait_estuary.pdf)

What cannot be quantified is the human toll this takes on our residents:

  1. Louisiana residents moving further and further inland abandoning their traditional homelands and the graves of their ancestors as the Gulf of Mexico creeps ever closer.
  2. The bayous and marshes in which we hunt and fish being lost to the sea.
  3. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, many of our residents elected not to move back to the state for fear of hurricanes. 

WHAT IS BEING DONE TO FIX THE PROBLEM?

The state Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority has done an extensive analysis of the problem and concluded that it would take a minimum of $50 billion to address these problems. To really fix the coast, the plan estimates, it could cost $100 billion. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget for fiscal year 2014 was $24.7 billion. That means in order to fix the coast, the state would have to dedicate every penny of its expenditures to this problem for the next four years. Nothing we are doing now even has the potential to address the massiveness of the problem.

WHAT HAPPENS IF WE DO NOTHING?

In March of 2007, the Times-Picayune ran a special edition entitled Last Chance. “It took the Mississippi River 6,000 years to build the Louisiana coast,” the article says, “it took man 75 years to wash a third of it away. Experts agree we have 10 years or less to act before the loss becomes irreversible.”

According to that article, in 10 years, at current land-loss rates:

  1. Gulf waves that once ended on barrier island beaches far from the city could be crashing on levees behind suburban lawns.
  2. The state will be forced to begin abandoning outlying communities such as Lafitte, Golden Meadow, Cocodrie, Montegut, Leeville, Grand Isle and Port Fourchon.
  3. The infrastructure serving a vital portion of the nations domestic energy production will be exposed to the encroaching Gulf.
  4. Many levees built to withstand a few hours of storm surge will be standing in water 24 hours a day and facing the monster surges that come with tropical storms.
  5. Hurricanes approaching from the south will treat the city like beachfront property, crushing it with forces like those experienced by the Mississippi Gulf Coast during Katrina. (http://www.nola.com/speced/lastchance/t-p/index.ssf?/speced/lastchance/articles/day1.html)

We can elect to do nothing. But if we fail to act and act quickly, we will be allowing the forces of coastal erosion to vote our proxy.