March coastal scuttlebutt: daily miniposts
A strong editorial in today’s The Times-Picayune describes the looming deficits in the state budget that face the legislators who will join the governor at the State Capitol this week as the legislative session kicks off. The editorial doesn’t mention the coastal implications of the red ink but the anticipated exponential rise in the dollars spent on coastal projects will no doubt contribute to the sobering fiscal reality check in Baton Rouge.
The request for approval of the FY 2011 annual state plan with $507 million in state coastal funding may trigger some head scratching, in view of severe and growing cuts to higher education, the seat of academic coastal science.
Today is Earth Hour Day, when people concerned about climate change in 92 countries around the globe are turning off their lights for an hour, from 8:30 to 9:30 PM in their respective time zones. Inconvenient timing for fans of the Elite Eight NCAA games. I’ve seen no mention of Earth Hour Day in the local news media.
Andrew C. Revkin created Dot Earth, a blog site supported by the New York Times to provide credible current information on climate science. On March 25 Revkin provided a column on the ocean conveyance system that plays a critical role in distributing heat energy around the globe from equatorial areas to high latitudes. Concerns that rapid melting of Greenland ice would disrupt this conveyance stream were recently allayed by new studies that show no slowdown so far. Revkin’s post includes a fascinating animation of the flow pattern. Check it out. The Gulf Stream is a major part of the overall conveyance system and the loop current that distributes heat energy through the Gulf of Mexico is a giant eddy from the Gulf Stream (not shown in the animation).
John M. Broder wrote an article for today’s New York Times on the waning congressional support for a cap-and-trade market system to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. A new approach to limiting CO2 emissions is called “cap and dividend” in which (if I understand the concept) the right to pollute would be auctioned by the government, rather than bought and sold by competing industries under a carbon trading system.
… licenses to pollute would be auctioned to producers and wholesalers of fossil fuels, with three-quarters of the revenue returned to consumers in monthly checks to cover their higher energy costs.
The effects of this shift are unclear but it would seem to reduce the possibility that cash credit for carbon sequestration may help pay for coastal wetland restoration projects in Louisiana.
I neglected to note the death on March 20 of my environmental hero Stewart Udall at the age of 90. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to co-host him on a pre-Katrina flight over part of the Louisiana coast, with folklorist Nick Spitzer, who hosts American Routes, a public radio music program based in New Orleans. My daughter Emilie also flew with us and we all enjoyed raw oysters at the former Acme Oyster House on Lakeshore Drive near UNO. This account of Udall’s environmental impact by Elizabeth Shogren was aired on NPR on March 22. During our flight Udall told us that as Secretary of Interior under LBJ he attempted without success to establish a national seashore along the Louisiana Coast. Local politicos, including the late Senator Russell Long, wouldn’t hear of it.
In case you missed it yesterday a number of news outlets, including this post in HuffPost, noted the disappearance of this small Indian island in the Bay of Bengal , a victim of anthropogenic climate change.
I was particularly struck by the following quote on the dramatic change in the rate of sea level rise during the past decade by Sugata Hazra, a professor at Jadavpur University in Calcutta.
Until 2000, the sea levels rose about 3 millimeters (0.12 inches) a year, but over the last decade they have been rising about 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) annually.
At the recent Hurricane Workshop at LSU I heard speakers using the rate of from 2-3 mm/yr, half the rate used in the story. That’s a big discrepancy,
Bruce Alpert wrote an article for The Times-Picayune about the closing of the office to coordinate gulf coast rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. For the past year rhis office, which was set up by President Bush, has been headed by Janet Woodka, Tulane Law School graduate. Ms. Woodka will transfer to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where Alpert says she will be assigned to coastal restoration in Louisiana. That appointment sounds intriguing, in that EPA has an excellent record of promoting important but sometimes controversial restoration projects. These include reconnecting Bayou Lafourche to the Mississippi River at Donaldsonville, a river diversion into the Manchac coastal forest, the pipeline conveyance of dredged sediments and even the beneficial use of spent bauxite (red mud) from the local manufacture of alumina.
National Public Radio’s Morning Edition carried a fascinating story yesterday on the concept that climate change influenced the direction of human evolution during our six million year history. A major study is now being mounted to further test this hypothesis. I’m fascinated with the ironic possibility that ‘natural’ climate change expanded the adaptability, technological capability and population density of our ancestors. This capability has now reached the point at which anthropogenic climate change threatens our very existence.
Having stayed up until the bitter end watching CSPAN last night I was deeply moved by the dramatic passage at 10:30 PM CDT of the health care reform package by the US House of Representatives. The bill is far from perfect but its implications for the President’s administration are huge. I believe that he will now be empowered to lead the struggle on the global issue with direct coastal implications – a national energy policy to address climate change and our unsustainable dependence on oil from the Mideast. Who Dat!!!
March 21: Superbowl Sunday for health care reform?
Today’s New York Times carries a description of the comeback from the dead of the Obama health care reform package , which, if it achieves 216 votes or more in the US House this evening, will rival the Saints’ win in Miami for improbability. I believe that the coast of Louisiana is riding on the passage of this package. Here’s why:
According to Garret Graves, Gov. Jindal’s coastal advisor, President Obama has shown extraordinary support for saving the northern Gulf Coast from a long slow death. The Obama administration will continue for from three to seven more years, during which time either we will reach the point at which a sustainable future for at least part of our coast becomes possible or we can begin to draft the epitaph for the largest delta in North America.
The effectiveness of the Obama administration, including what happens in south Louisiana, may be contingent on the outcome of this crucial vote. Who Dat says that health care reform can’t pass?
Richard Burgess reports in today’s The Advocate that a state official from St. Mary Parish has been advancing the concept of installing turbines in the Wax Lake Outlet of the Atchafalaya River to generate electricity for Morgan City:
…state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, is pushing legislation this year to create the St. Mary Hydroelectric Authority to pursue projects on the river.
The following quote from Representative Jones reflects widespread public ignorance about the role of the Atchafalaya and lower Mississippi distributaries in sustaining all of south Louisiana:
“There is a significant amount of flow, and we don’t use it for anything,”
Growing interest in using the lower Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers to generate electricity is not surprising but lawmakers should be discouraged from proposing the formation of independent districts with authority to manage the flow of parts of the river system that represents our only hope of saving part of the coast. Lawmakers should be reminded of the problems created by the formation of independent levee districts in the past.
I encourage you to read this Editorial in today’s The Times-Picayune about the extremely bleak and worsening Louisiana state budget picture, with a $400 million shortfall during the next 3 months and red ink as far as the eye can see. Over 100,000 of Louisiana’s 4 million residents are public employees (2.5%). The obvious need for belt tightening while the coastal program is expanding are very unclear.
I wasn’t able to attend the entire meeting on March 17 of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) but Mark Schleifstein summarized most of the critical agenda items discussed in an article in The Times-Picayune on 3/19.
On 3/18 Amy Wold wrote an article about the same meeting for The Advocate. She focused on the fact that the CPRA approved the draft 2011 annual state plan for protecting and restoring the coast. I recently posted a critique of this document. The next step in the process is approval by the state legislature during its upcoming session, which will allow the expenditure of $546 million during FY 2011 for various projects.
A colleague who’s an experienced coastal engineer sent me some comments about the meeting from an insider’s perspective. My ‘spy’ expressed concern over some CPRA policy decisions that were announced. One of his comments bears sharing with all those readers interested in levees and flood risk standards:
Many folks have noted that the 1% hazard as a “design objective” is way below optimal (on cost-benefit) for protecting urban areas with high property/economic value and way above optimal for less dense areas (where it could make sense to design a 50-yr levee). The 1% criteria is obviously not appropriate for protecting lives, where evacuation is not feasible…
The inexplicable and inexcusable scheduling of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) meeting yesterday, on the second day of the two-day Hurricane Workshop at LSU, forced me to leave the former meeting before it ended. The CPRA meeting included several technical presentations, including one on river diversion modeling and one on flood levee decertification that I for one would like to able to review.
This made me wonder why the proceedings transcript and/or power point slides should be posted on the CPRA website. At the very minimum, whatever materials are given to CPRA members should be available to the public.
How about it?
Top of the morning, Y’all!
Amy Wold wrote an article for The Advocate about information presented at the first of a two-day hurricane conference at LSU that continues today. I was at the conference but missed many of the presentations, being engaged in side bar conversations on coastal science and policy.
The single issue that I heard over and over is that the third dimension is the weak link. Flood risk maps and surge models are all dramatically hindered by obsolete bathymetric and topographic coastal data. Elevation is the solution to inundation.
Molly Reid reports in The Times-Picayune on a new technique to reduce the populations of urban nutria in New Orleans. The invasive rodents have been digging tunnels in levees along Bayou St. John, where shooting and trapping are infeasible. A pest control company has been successfully using nutria-sized hunting dogs to follow the large rats underground. I’d be interested to learn whether this approach has application to the city slicker critters’ country cousins that have long been destroying wetlands that the government spends more than $5,000/acre to recreate.
This is a complaint.
Early predictions are that 2010 could be a bad season for Atlantic hurricanes and I can’t think of any subject more important to the informed public and coastal officials in south Louisiana. A very timely two-day hurricane workshop is being held today and tomorrow at LSU’s Lod Cook Center.
So why is the monthly meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) scheduled for March 17, in direct competition with the hurricane meeting?
Is anyone employed by the state tasked with keeping track of coastal meetings? If not, why not?This is ridiculous and it’s inexcusable.
On 3/13/10 New York Times science reporter John M. Broder described a new report by the Department of the Interior (DOI) that nearly a third of the ~800 species of birds in the US are showing significant signs of stress from climate change. Coastal birds are particularly at risk.
Melanie Driscoll of the Louisiana Audubon Society was quoted on WRKF-FM today also calling attention to the DOI report. The increasingly threatened Mississippi River delta is as critical to migrating birds as any piece of geography in the world.
This latest annual DOI State of the Birds report needs to be highlighted in the draft 2011 Annual State Plan on Coastal Protection and Restoration. I won’t hold my breath.
Jared Serigne is a film maker with interesting family roots that connect to the French founders of New Orleans. He sent this link to a five-minute videoclip interview with Junior Rodriguez, famously outspoken and colorful former President of St. Bernard Parish, about the damage caused by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) that was recently sealed off from the Gulf of Mexico. I’m most intrigued by Junior’s advocacy of one of the most straightforward and important coastal protection and restoration projects – the need to plant baldcypress saplings on a large scale. This is worth a watch.
Nikki Buskey wrote an article for The Daily Comet that describes an address on the state of coastal protection and restoration given by Garret Graves, Governor Jindal’s coastal advisor, at a membership luncheon for Restore or Retreat in Thibodaux on Friday. During his presentation Graves brought up $19 million in new money that the Obama administration has allocated for projects in south Louisiana as the beginning of what could be a very promising funding stream.
Graves told attendees that the money will be used to jump-start three specific and long-awaited coastal projects in the area of particular importance to residents of Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes – but also of very high priority to the overall restoration program:
a major project to dredge Bayou Lafourche and bump up the amount of Mississippi River water flowing down the bayou; a project that would use the Houma Navigation Canal Lock to divert freshwater from the Atchafalaya River into northern Terrebonne marshes; and a Barataria Basin shoreline restoration project that would rebuild the Caminada Headland and Shell Island east of Bayou Lafourche.
Huffingtonpost carries a videoclip of Bill Maher hosting a debate on climate change on his HBO show “Real Time” on March 12. In my opinion this discussion effectively captures in less than 8 minutes the current state of ignorance on the part of educated climate change skeptics. This is really worth watching, no matter your feeling on the issue. I love Mahar’s final quote, “I want to live.”
Paul Rioux wrote an article published on 3/10 in The Times-Picayune on the Donaldsonville-to-the-Gulf flood protection project, a proposed system of levees and gates that could divide the Barataria Basin into a northern “protected” zone and a southern “unprotected” zone. Rioux covered a public meeting in Jean Lafitte in lower Jefferson Parish of the science board that was commissioned by the state to evaluate alternative alignments of the levee.
John Ettinger with the Environmental Protection Agency and various members of the environmental community have expressed strong concerns about the wisdom of enclosing wetlands with so-called “leaky levees.”
Louis A. Codispoti,* wrote an article just published in the highly respected Science Magazine that links Gulf hypoxia, the ‘dead zone’ along the northern gulf coast to anthropogenic climate change (ACC).
Gulf hypoxia is caused by concentrated nutrients in Mississippi River water draining from over-fertilized Midwestern cornfields. The nutrients (primarily forms of dissolved nitrogen oxides) trigger ‘algal blooms,’ exploding colonies of floating algal cells that eventually sink to the bottom and decompose – sucking up dissolved oxygen.
Modern agriculture is a well-known source of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide but this study demonstrates yet another link between agriculture and ACC. Here’s the abstract of the article.
Although present in minute concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere, nitrous oxide (N2O) is a highly potent greenhouse gas (1). It is also becoming a key factor in stratospheric ozone destruction (2). For the past 400,000 years, changes in atmospheric N2O appear to have roughly paralleled changes in CO2 and to have had modest impacts on climate (1), but this may change. Human activities may be causing an unprecedented rise in the terrestrial N2O source (2). Marine N2O production may also rise substantially as a result of eutrophication, warming, and ocean acidification. Because the marine environment is a net producer of N2O, much of this production will be lost to the atmosphere, thus further intensifying N2O’s climatic impact.
*University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory, Cambridge, MD 21613, USA. This center is headed by Don Boesch, frequent LaCoastPost contributor and commenter.
Paul Purpura wrote an article published today in The Times-Picayune describing a talk that Gov. Jindal gave on the West Bank yesterday in which he spoke effusively about the dramatic increase in money spent on the coast during the first two years of his administration.
The coastal program has in fact reached a new level of spending but I question how much personal credit our governor deserves and how much is an accident of timing. More important is the fact that money spent does not equate to progress on reversing land loss in south Louisiana. To claim net progress on the ground at this point is purely wishful thinking.
Purpura’s article includes two specific quotes attributed to Jindal that make me cringe:
“I want to emphasize this. We are not waiting. We need our federal government to be our partners in this…But we cannot wait for them to do more studies.” Dismissing the need for more studies denies the huge uncertainties that confront us.
“Yes, we need levees,” Jindal said. “We can’t build the great wall of Louisiana alone to protect us from these storms. We need comprehensive coastal restoration as well.”
The “great wall of Louisiana” is a concept that has been thoroughly discredited by the very science that our governor implies is unnecessary.
Ted Griggs wrote a business article in The Advocate today that flies in the face of official state opposition to carbon cap-and-trade legislation under debate in Congress. Griggs reports that if CO2 limits were imposed on industry there would be a large demand to sell CO2 and that this market would include injecting CO2 underground to drive residual crude oil to the surface. Are you listening Steven Moret (head of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development)?
John M. Broder wrote a hopeful article published in The New York Times about two of America’s rivals for the Global Gold Medal of per-capita Greenhouse Gas Generation. The European Union and China are current silver and bronze medal holders, respectively, with India in 4th place. China just passed the US in terms of total emissions.
Yesterday China and India signed onto a non-binding but ambitious agreement drafted at Copenhagen for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
If only Louisiana’s members of the US Congress shared a serious interest in lowering Louisiana’s significant contribution to America’s shameful top position on the winner’s podium.
Mark Schleifstein’s article in today’s The Times-Picayune describes the unusually cold and wet approaching Spring in south Louisiana, resulting from a strong El Nino condition produced by warmer than average surface waters in the Pacfic Ocean.
Schleifstein reminds readers that:
It’s…been an unusually wet three months, with 25.92 inches of rain recorded at Louis Armstrong International Airport in December setting the record for rainfall in any month since records have been kept.
Buried in the story are interesting quotes attributed to Dr. Barry Keim, Louisiana’s State Climatologist, who has been fairly silent on anthropogenic climate change and global warming.
But don’t think this year’s cold weather disproves global warming, Keim said. “The bottom line is that no individual season tells you much about global warming, or the lack thereof,” he said.
Indeed, records of world-wide temperatures this winter have shown unusual cold hitting much of the central and eastern United States, including the Gulf Coast, and a band in Europe and Asia.
But data gathered by the National Climate Data Center indicated the colder-than-normal temperatures were more than matched by warmer-than-normal temperatures in the Arctic Circle, and much of Canada and southern Europe, Africa and Asia.
With all due respect to our state climate chief, who I know and respect, such statements contrast markedly with the campaign to oppose greenhouse gas regulation by Barry’s boss, who occupies the Governor’s Mansion.
Am I missing something or is there not an interesting story here?
Paul Rioux has an article in today’s The Times-Picayune about an important coastal meeting today in Jean Lafitte in lower Jefferson Parish, hosted by Jean Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner. A technical review board recruited to oversee the controversial Donaldsonville-to-the-Gulf flood risk reduction project will hear presentations by the state and the Corps of Engineers on the status of the project.
The corps is scheduled to give an update on the project at 1:30 p.m. at the Lafitte Multi-Purpose Complex, 4917 City Park Drive, Jean Lafitte.
Yesterday evening I attended a neighborhood gathering in New Orleans called Great Huddled Masses, an informal group organized to discuss coastal protection and restoration that was founded five years ago by Marie Gould* after Hurricane Katrina. Hosts for the pot-luck dinner and meeting were NOLA residents Rebecca Kruse-Jarres and Bruno Steiner.
The featured speaker was Garret Graves, Gov. Jindal’s coastal advisor, who spoke for almost an hour, covering a history of Louisiana’s coastal crisis. He described a ten-fold growth in coastal project starts during the Jindal administration, with an even more dramatic expansion envisioned.
I was particularly struck by two points made during the discussion.
First, Mr. Graves expressed high praise for the Obama administration. He cited the creation of a brand new dedicated coastal restoration funding stream and the formation of an interagency environmental task force that has now released a strong policy statement on restoring the northern Gulf Coast: Roadmap for Restoring Ecosystem Resiliency and Sustainability.
Second was Graves’ response to a question about the controversial cross basin storm levee project across the highly productive Barataria Basin (Donaldsonville to the Gulf). He asserted that the panel of technical experts recruited to review the project will have serious authority re deciding the final alignment. This is important and excellent news.
*Who is married to The Time-Picayune Outdoors Editor Bob Marshall.
Today’s The Times-Picayune carries an article by Sheila Grissett that describes one of the more subtle environmental and economic costs of flood levees that was probably not anticipated during planning for the $14.6 billion flood risk reduction project now underway around New Orleans.
A section of levee in St. Charles Parish between Lake Pontchartrain and Airline Highway traverses an historic egret rookery, and construction activities to bolster the levee this Spring threaten the survival of wading bird eggs and hatchlings.
An environmental and engineering firm has been hired by the Corps of Engineers to shoo the birds away, using noise, lights and dogs. This concerns the growing number of people who have been attracted to the rookery to spend time (and money) observing and photographing the annual congregation of mating birds.
This illustrates one of the conflicts created by the use of artificial levees to separate human development from the ecosystem in coastal Louisiana.
Amy Wold wrote an article for today’s The Advocate about the potential for flooding within the Mississippi River delta as the unusual volume of snowfall in the Ohio Valley melts during the coming weeks. The Corps of Engineers tracks this potential closely and at this point the corps official to whom Amy spoke doesn’t sound particularly concerned – as long as the melting proceeds slowly.
I have no special insight about the likelihood of flooding in 2010, either from the river or the gulf, but the growing threat of inundation between March and October provides the perfect opportunity to educate the public about life on a delta.
The draft annual coastal plan that is up for legislative approval this Spring totally fails to articulate our unique and precarious deltaic balance between river stage and sea level. This casts doubt on the entire document and passes up a golden teachable moment.
Meanwhile our governor and other elected officials glibly dodge the increasing risk of river and storm flooding from climate change.
Two news items today are of particular coastal interest in the northern gulf coast.
First is the release on March 4 of the much anticipated Roadmap for Restoring Ecosystem Resiliency and Sustainability in the Louisiana and Mississippi Coasts from the White House that signals a dramatic increase in federal interest in and scrutiny of coastal restoration on the northern gulf coast. Mark Schleifstein describes this plan in an article in The Times-Picayune.
As reported by Amy Wold in The Advocate, the document is receiving very high praise by local and national environmental groups, who note that never before has an administration so directly committed to action on the most rapidly sinking coast in North America. I find it highly significant that climate change and sea level rise are directly addressed in the document, in contrast to Louisiana’s official denial that greenhouse gas emissions are a threat.
Second, speaking of greenhouse gas emissions and sea level rise, a new study described in DailyMail/UK shows that the melting of Arctic ice is resulting in the release of methane (CH4) at higher rates than expected. Methane is more effective at trapping heat from solar radiation than CO2, and as global temperature rises methane release will accelerate, causing even more heat trapping. That’s called positive feedback, not good news for the gulf coast. Read more.
Louisiana is highlighted in an article in The New York Times by Leslie Kauffman that describes a national trend toward teaching high school students that anthropogenic climate change is based on faulty science – just like evolution by natural selection. Bobby Jindal’s administration has been a leader in this example of Luddite logic by championing SB 733, LA Science Education Act that requires high school teachers to instill doubt in science on the part of their impressionable students. This is a case where being ahead of other states, including Kentucky and Texas, is not a good thing!
Today’s The Times-Picayune carries an article by Frank Donze about New Orleans’ mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu’s new 30 member economic development team that reflect his priorities, which include (among others):
Advocating improvements to the Port of New Orleans pegged to the Panama Canal expansion project, which is due for completion in 2014.
The names include Steven Moret, Gov. Jindal’s secretary of the Department of Economic Development; Gary LaGrange, CEO of the Port of New Orleans; Dr. Tim Ryan, economist and chancellor of UNO; and Ashlyn Graves, an officer with her father’s engineering firm Evans-Graves Engineers – and kid sister of Jindal’s coastal point person Garret Graves!
I call your attention to a New York Times article by John Broder on the fact that climate scientists are being dragged kicking and screaming into the boxing ring of public discourse to defend their research – not something they’re trained for. “Spin 101” was never a part of my graduate school curriculum; neither was “PR 201.”
Frank Lunz is one of the chief spin doctors for those in DC who vehemently lobby against the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. Lunz originally conceived of substituting the phrase ‘climate change’ for ‘global warming’ because the former sounds less threatening to the lay public! I agree with NY Times columnist Tom Friedman, who advocates the use of the more apt phrase ‘global weirding.’
Some readers are aware of my run in with an internet scam artist last week that resulted in the capture of my email address book and a plea for money sent to many colleagues to bail me out of Edinburgh, Scotland. You can hear a podcast account of the experience from the Jim Engster show yesterday on WRKF-FM 89.3. To hear the interview click on the link and adjust the time to 40:00 minutes.
An article in today’s Daily Comet describes legislation being introduced in the US Senate by David Vitter to delay the certification of new FEMA flood maps in Lafourche Parish until work on local levee upgrades is complete. Based on limited information on my part, I would tend to agree with Vitter and with Windell Curole, who heads the South Lafourche Levee District, that the approval of new FEMA flood maps that ignore the existence of levees that have not been officially certified by the Corps of Engineers would not be fair to or in the best interests of the affected coastal residents. I say this as a frequent critic of the massive new levee projects under design or construction to cross the Barataria and Terrebonne basins (Donalsdonville-to-the-Gulf and Morganza-to-the-Gulf) respectively.
March is here and the biggest global coastal story involves the continued effects and aftershocks of the devastating earthquake in Chile that killed over 700, displaced millions and created the potential for tsunamis around the Pacific basin.
The New York Times carried an excellent exposition of the earthquake by Henry Fountain, who described the causes of this tectonic disaster, based on state-of-the-art science. This event is presumably not connected to anthropogenic climate change or the fact that the entire planet is getting warmer. Nevertheless, the forensic investigation of the causes and effects of this occurrence uses exactly the same physics on which climate change is measured and its impacts are projected.
So far, American elected officials and industry lobbyists have not called the earthquake science bogus. It’s painfully clear that in 2010 the scientific establishment is safe from challenge and derision only so long as no ones ox or economic sacred cow is being gored.