November 2011 coastal scuttlebutt (cont.)
This coastal mini-post is typically updated daily by noon CT.
Turning the Tide, an important documentary on the challenges to and feasibility of restoring the Mississippi River Delta (America’s Delta), will be broadcast this evening at 8:00 PM on LPB (repeated at 10:30). I viewed an advance copy of the 90-minute show last evening and I highly recommend it to coastal advocates at all levels of interest.
Even casual viewers will probably recognize some of the names on the following list of folks who participated in the making of the documentary:
Chris Accardo, Chief of Operations Division, New Orleans District USACE; Dr. Mead Allison, University of Texas Institute for Geophysics; John Barry, Author & Historian; Andrew Beall, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority; Dr. Donald Boesch, University of Maryland; Brenda Dardar, United Houma Nation; Mark Davis, Tulane University Law School; Dr. John Day, Louisiana State University; Charles Demas, U.S. Geological Survey (ret.); Huib de Vriend, Director of Science, Deltares, The Netherlands; Melanie Driscoll, Louisiana Coastal Initiative, National Audubon Society; Colonel Ed Fleming, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Garret Graves, Director, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority; Pete Gerica, Commercial Fisherman; Oliver Houck, Tulane University Law School; Russ Jeffrion, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority; Chris John, Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association; Dr. Paul Kemp, Louisiana Coastal Initiative, National Audubon Society; Dr. Alex Kolker, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium; Dan Kroes, U.S. Geological Survey; Kent Jordan, Musician; Marlon Jordan, Musician; Troy Landry, Commercial Fisherman; Gary LaGrange, President, Port of Greater New Orleans; Dr. John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation; Jan Luijendijk, United Nations Institute for Water Education, The Netherlands; Timothy Matte, Mayor of Morgan City; Dr. Irv Mendelssohn, Louisiana State University; Dr. Ehab Meselhe, University of Louisiana at Lafayette; David Muth, National Wildlife Federation, National Park Service (ret.); Dr. Denise Reed, University of New Orleans; Dr. Harry Roberts, Louisiana State University; Dr. Abby Sallenger, U.S. Geological Survey; Colonel Robert A. Sinkler, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Dr. Greg Stone, Louisiana State University; Kerry St. Pé, Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program; Dr. Chris Swarzenski, U.S. Geological Survey; Dr. Colin Thorne, University of Nottingham, UK; Dr. Torbjörn Törnqvist, Tulane University; Dr. Gene Turner, Louisiana State University; Dr. Robert Twilley, University of Louisiana at Lafayette; Brian Vosburg, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority; Major General Michael Walsh, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Ken Wells, Editor, “Bloomberg News” and Author; Dr. Clint Willson, Louisiana State University; Jerome Zeringue, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
Christina Hendrick Melton of LPB wrote, directed and produced the show. She’s scheduled to be interviewed by Jim Engster today on his radio program on WRKF-FM 89.3 (9:00 AM and rebroadcast at 8:00 PM).
I’m currently working on a review of the show that I plan to post tomorrow.
How does the state spend its coastal bucks?
While researching yesterday’s post on the fate of the expansion of the Louisiana coastal zone I pulled up House Bill 1, which summarizes appropriations for the state budget. While looking over this huge piece of legislation I found some interesting items related to how much money the state of Louisiana is spending specifically on coastal issues this year.
This is a complex question, of course, because just about anything that happens in Louisiana has coastal implications. For example, the construction and maintenance of highways, bridges and causeways on the Holocene soils of deltaic Louisiana is far more expensive than on solid land on the Pleistocene Terrace.
At any rate, I’d like to encourage folks who are more accounting-oriented and conversant with budgets than I am to look over the following coastal budget for 2011 that I extracted from HB 1. Note that the figures shown do not include coastal expenditures by the Departments of Wildlife and Fisheries, Environmental Quality, Transportation and Development, Agriculture and Forestries, Health and Hospitals, the Louisiana University system, etc.
In terms of The Department of Natural Resources, note that: (1) the Coastal Management Program is not explicitly linked to the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration; and (2) the Atchafalaya program is not explicitly coordinated with the oastal protection and restoration effort.
This breakdown raises many more questions than it answers. The Governor recently bragged during a press conference in Terrebonne Parish that the state has already committed $250 million to the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane levee project. I don’t see that figure reflected in this budget. Neither do I see the $240 million of BP-financed sand berms listed, although a barrier island item is shown. Are they related? Readers are encouraged to contact me with insights (email@example.com).
Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities (GOCA)
Authorized Positions: (10) 2011 Budget: $15,972,268
Established to lead the effort to solve the recognized catastrophic long-term coastal erosion problem in Louisiana.
Means of Finance:
State General Fund (Direct) $8,863,718
State General Fund by - Interagency Transfers $2,391,934; Fees & Self-generated Revenues $2,599,053
Disability Affairs Trust Fund $207,579; Over-collections Fund $148,030; Federal Funds $1,761,954
Total Expenditures: $15,972,268
Means of Finance: Executive Office
COASTAL PROTECTION & RESTORATION
Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA)
Authorized Positions: (3) 2011 Budget: $369,252
Established to achieve comprehensive coastal protection for Louisiana through the articulation of a clear statement of priorities and focused development and implantation efforts. The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority is working closely with other entities on coastal issues, including the state legislature, the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation, and the Division of Administration’s Disaster Recovery Unit within the Office of Community Development.
Total Expenditures: $369,252
Means of Finance: ?
Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration (OCPR)
Authorized Positions: (154) 2011 Budget: $205,790,457
Established to develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive coastal protection and restoration master plan, as well as establish a safe and sustainable coast that will protect communities, the nation’s critical energy infrastructure, and our natural resources.
Through the Administration activity, to implement strategies, projects and activities, set forth in the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for Sustainable Coast and Annual Plan as approved by the Louisiana Legislature.
Performance Indicators: Acres directly benefited by projects constructed: 10,323 Percentage of acres benefited coast wide compared to total potential acres projected by the annual plan: 100% Percentage of miles of levees improved compared to the total potential miles of levees improved projected annually: 82%
Total Expenditures: $206,159,709 (Note that this figure differs from the above $205,790,457)
Means of Finance:
State General Fund by Interagency Transfers $89,427,367
Fees & Self-generated Revenues $20,000
Statutory Dedications: Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund $116,712,342
Payable out of the State General Fund by Interagency Transfers to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for expenditures associated with the Deepwater Horizon event $966,875
Payable out of the State General Fund by Statutory Dedications out of the Oil Spill Contingency Fund to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for expenditures related to the Barrier Island Project $60,000,000
Payable out of the State General Fund by Interagency Transfers to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for expenditures associated with the Deepwater Horizon event $4,084,493 (Why separate from the $966,875?)
DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Authorized Positions (2) 2011 Budget: $257,844
The mission of the Atchafalaya Basin Program is to coordinate the development and implementation of a cooperative plan for the Atchafalaya Basin that ensures its services to many people while at the same time protecting its unique value.
Through the Atchafalaya Basin activity, toward the goal of restoring the water quality in the Atchafalaya Basin, the program will work with the technical advisory group to identify water quality projects in the basin and will construct said projects resulting in an increase in the water quality in the surrounding areas.
Performance Indicator: Percentage of water quality projects that result in a documented increase in the water quality in surrounding area 100%
Through the Atchafalaya Basin activity, toward the goal of enhancing opportunities for the public’s enjoyment of the Atchafalaya Basin experience, the program will work to increase the utilization of the basin.
Performance Indicator: Number of new or rehabilitated access points constructed annually: 1
Total Expenditures: $257,844
Means of Finance: ?
Office of Coastal Management (OCM)
Authorized Positions: (49) 2011 Budget: $90,710,795
The Office of Coastal Management is the agency responsible for the conservation, protection, management, and enhancement or restoration of Louisiana’s coastal resources. It implements the Louisiana Coastal Resources Program (LCRP), established by Act 361 of the 1978 Louisiana Legislature. The LCRP is Louisiana’s federally approved coastal zone management program. The OCM also coordinates with various federal and state task forces, other federal and state agencies, the Office of the Governor, the public, the Louisiana Legislature and the Louisiana Congressional Delegation on matters relating to the protection, conservation, enhancement, management of Louisiana’s coastal resources. Its clients include the U.S. Congress, legislature, federal agencies, state agencies, the citizens and political subdivision of the coastal parishes in Louisiana’s coastal zone boundary and ultimately all the citizens of Louisiana and the nation whose economy is impacted by the sustainability of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.
Through the Coastal Zone Management activity, to ensure that the loss of wetlands resulting from activities regulated by the program will be offset by actions fully compensate for their loss (as stipulated by permit conditions) on an annual basis.
Performance Indicator: Percentage of disturbed wetland habitat units that are mitigated by full compensation of loss
Percentage reduction in permit processing time 100% 0%
Total Expenditures: $90,710,795
Means of Finance:
State General Fund by Interagency Transfers $3,547,327; Fees & Self-generated Revenues $20,000; Statutory Dedications: Oil Spill Contingency Fund $167,944; Coastal Resources Trust Fund $968,544; Federal Funds $86,006,980 (94.8% of total budget)
Is Baton Rouge a coastal capital city?
It should be obvious to anyone who has lived in or flown over south Louisiana recently that the official state coastal zone, as approved in October 1980, is far too limited and exclusive of a lot of landscape that is clearly, if not legally coastal. This limitation puts serious constraints on the credibility and ‘implementability’ of the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, to be released in January.
The need to expand the coastal zone was at long last acknowledged by state officials in 2009, when a study was undertaken by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) to use science as well as politics to shape a new, more inclusive and realistic coastal boundary. This was perhaps the best coastal policy decision made during the Jindal administration.
Much of East Baton Rouge Parish deserves to be included within this expanded coastal zone, based on: (1) the explosive development of flood plain landscape beyond the Pleistocene Terrace that cuts across the Parish; (2) the geopolitical advantages of having Louisiana’s Capital City within the coastal zone umbrella; and (3) a November 14 article by Randy Rosetta in the Baton Rouge Business Report about a new hurricane risk model that predicts significantly more future storm damage in the state capital.
Having lost power for over a week in Red Stick during Hurricanes Andrew in 1992, Katrina in 2005 and Gustav in 2008, I for one am not surprised.
The study on the proposed expansion to the coastal zone was completed in 2010. Results and recommendations were supposed to be submitted for approval to the legislature during the 2011 regular legislative session, so as to take effect in 2012. Nevertheless, after a cursory search of bills passed and signed into law this year I found nothing about approval of an expanded coastal zone. What gives?
Coastal management vs. coastal restoration
Yesterday’s coastal mini-post (scroll down) focused on the strong anti-regulatory climate evident at both state and federal levels during this election cycle. The GOP members of Louisiana’s delegation are jumping on board this philosophical choo-choo that’s gaining steam, despite the fact that it seriously jeopardizes the already tenuous efforts to protect and restore America’s Delta.
How are environmental protection and coastal management related to coastal protection and restoration…and the future of coastal Louisiana?
The concept of protecting, managing and regulating coastal resources of the nation led to the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, overseen by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Louisiana eventually joined other coastal states as an official participant in this program, which provided limited federal funding in return for a system of state regulations and permit requirements so as to limit damage from such development activities as oil and gas exploration, production and transport.
In 1980, Louisiana became an official participant in this program and the Louisiana Office of Coastal Management (OCM) was created within the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR). Putting this office within LDNR, which manages oil and gas activities for the state, was a political decision that created an obvious conflict of interest…and guaranteed that OCM would never gain serious authority.
In 1989, when Louisiana created its auspicious Coastal Restoration Program, both management and restoration were considered sibling functions and the OCM was expanded to LDNR’s Office of Coastal Restoration and Management (OCR&M). Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration (OCPR) was created and empowered to quasi-independent, interagency status, overseen by the Governor.
The poor little OCM was left behind as a stepchild in LDNR, separate and unequal but still partly funded, overseen and periodically evaluated by NOAA. The most recent evaluation was delayed because of the BP blowout but submitted to the state in October. A colleague kindly provided me with this evaluation, which I haven’t had time to review in detail but here is the executive summary.
Section (§) 312 of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of 1972, as amended, requires NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) to conduct periodic evaluations of the performance of states and territories with federally-approved coastal management programs. This review examined the operation and management of the Louisiana Coastal Resources Program (LCRP) by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Office of Coastal Management (OCM), the designated lead agency, from April 2005 – December 2010.
This document describes the evaluation findings of the Director of NOAA’s OCRM with respect to the LCRP during the review period. These evaluation findings include discussions of major accomplishments as well as recommendations for program improvement. The evaluation concludes that the OCM is successfully implementing and enforcing its federally-approved coastal management program, adhering to the terms of the Federal financial assistance awards, and addressing the coastal management needs identified in section 303(2)(A) through (K) of the CZMA.
The evaluation team documented a number of LCRP accomplishments during this review period.
The LCRP adapted to changes in coastal priorities after major hurricanes, legislation, and agency reorganizations by aligning policies and practices with the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) Master Plan and focusing on beneficial use and resiliency against storms and other hazards. Investments and improvements in the Strategic Online Natural Resources Information System (SONRIS) and PermitTrak helped many LCRP partners and stakeholders to support their own work and interests and improved LCRP transparency and accountability. The Louisiana Coastal Resources Program completed an extensive, science-based study of Louisiana’s 30-year old coastal zone boundary that used current scientific data and took into account socioeconomic factors and public input. The recommended changes to the boundary will better serve the state’s coastal zone management needs. LCRP revised its permitting process to implement the master plan, reviewed its mitigation program, pursued changes to strengthen its in-lieu fee program, and implemented new beneficial use rules. A mitigation program review identified strategic changes that align better with the CPRA Master Plan. The LCRP applied lessons learned during major hurricanes to inform and improve how it responded to subsequent emergencies. The LCRP committed to increasing community resilience by undertaking projects in specific areas of concern and establishing key partnerships. The LCRP committed to increasing the beneficial use of dredged materials from USACE dredging projects and used the full extent of its federal consistency authority in its efforts to accomplish that goal.
The evaluation team also identified areas where the LCRP could be strengthened. The DNR must work with NOAA’s OCRM to develop and submit to OCRM a work plan with interim benchmarks and a time line for meeting the outstanding conditions of its conditionally approved coastal non-point program and then submit documentation to OCRM indicating how Louisiana met the outstanding conditions. The Louisiana Coastal Resources Program should revise its financial assistance award application and tracking and reporting procedures to ensure compliance with award guidelines and OCRM’s performance report guidance.
The LCRP should develop a strategic plan for increasing community resilience, including identification of potential new partners and ways to take advantage of existing partners, priority areas for improvement, and ways to move from projects to the adoption and implementation of changes. Finally, the LCRP should ensure that its federal consistency correspondence and determinations comply with NOAA regulations.
IMHO, failure to integrate and coordinate the functions of the OCM with those of the far sexier and more popular OCPR guarantee its continued impotence of the OCM.
Economic woes blamed on environmental regulations
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and the revolutionary environmental protection laws that followed close behind resulted in dramatic improvements in air and water quality. As lagniappe, the environmental protection climate led to a national appreciation for the ecological value of both inland and coastal wetlands among young voters in the 70s. Nevertheless, a strong undertow of opposition to environmental regulations has always lurked just under sea level, ready to surface and sweep away the progress that more than half of contemporary American voters are too young to appreciate.
Whenever the national economy falters, a well-financed campaign is mounted to oppose any tightening of environmental regulation, e.g., reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and to roll back existing rules. This campaign is based on the hoary urban, suburban and rural myth that environmental regulations destroy jobs. During the overheated partisan political climate of the 2012 election cycle the anti-regulatory forces have resurrected this meme by asserting that recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 won’t happen without rolling back environmental protection.
Marian Wang addressed this controversial topic from the national perspective in an article posted on September 21 in Propublica.org. Bob Marshall provided a south Louisiana perspective on the relationship between eco-regulations and jobs on November 16 in an opinion piece from The Times-Picayune. He also described the hypocrisy of two members of the Louisiana delegation, Steve Scalise (R-Metairie) and Jeff Landry (R-New Iberia), who support relaxing environmental regulations, including those on which the rationale for restoring our coastal ecosystem is based.
The Advocate carried a story today by Larry Margasak of The Associated Press reporting a dramatic partisan bias on the part of major energy-related companies. Industry reps warn GOP-dominated congressional committees about dire impacts of environmental regulations, for example on coal-fired power plants; but they use far less dramatic language when they address the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
During the Thanksgiving break I engaged in substantive conversations about the future of coastal protection and restoration with two bright young environmental attorneys and two gray-haired retirees with many years of hands-on policy experience. These discussions focused on the growing gulf between rhetoric and reality re protecting Louisiana coastal residents against hurricane flooding.
Two specific news items exemplify this contrast between what’s really happening and what the public is hearing.
On November 22 The Advocate published an Associated Press report that the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has documented that atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases set all time records in 2010, with CO2 reaching 389 parts per million. Even worse, the rate of increase is accelerating. Here’s a quote:
The WMO said the increase of 2.3 parts per million in CO2 in the atmosphere between 2009 and 2010 shows an acceleration from the average 1.5 parts per million increase during the 1990s.
These figures imply accelerating sea level rise throughout the century, increasing ferocity of coastal storms and rising flood risk of coastal residents. This new information has direct implications for the contents of the 2012 coastal master plan, which is nearing completion deep in the bowels of the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration (OCPR). This plan will be released in January, I’m sure with much fanfare.
I don’t know what the plan will say either about global warming or about the use of hurricane levees, which since Katrina, have become the principal strategy for protecting coastal citizens. For example, the biggest, most locally popular and yet most fragile and questionable egg in the state’s coastal protection basket is the Morganza-to-the-Gulf (MTTG) levee project.
On November 16 the governor traveled to Chauvin in lower Terrebonne Parish to celebrate the completion of a floodgate on the Bush Canal. This is a $14 million component of the MTTG project, for which state and local officials have committed $260 million to date, naively assuming that federal dollars will be provided to complete what would ultimately be a multi-billion dollar enterprise.
$260 million is amazingly similar to the $240 – 250 million of BP money spent to build ill-advised temporary sand berm oil barriers…which are now disintegrating.
Here’s the link to the press release about the MTTG Bush Canal floodgate, which includes the following incredibly optimistic quote:
The completion of the Bush Canal Floodgate is yet another sign of the incredible progress we have made to do what it takes to protect our communities (my emphasis).
The press release also includes the following brief history of the MTTG project:
Efforts to fully protect the Lafourche and Terrebonne region from storms have been ongoing since the Cold War. In the late 1980s, the parish, levee districts and Army Corps of Engineers began evaluating the need to provide hurricane protection in this region.
In 1992, the Corps of Engineers began studying the best way to provide hurricane protection for Terrebonne Parish and portions of western Lafourche Parish. Congress understood the strategic importance of the area to the nation, and authorized construction of the then $550 million Morganza to the Gulf hurricane protection project.
The Corps, however, missed the deadline for the project and the authorization expired. In 2003, project features were reauthorized, and again in 2007, the entire Morganza project was authorized for construction. Despite the repeated authorizations, the federal government has not invested any construction funding into the Morganza project.
It seems remarkable that the design and alignment of this 72 mile system of levees and gates has changed little since it was first proposed two decades ago, despite huge advancements in technical knowledge and losses of coastal landscape in lower Terrebonne Parish.
Our governor and most of our congressional delegation continue to pretend that global warming is a myth. Texas and Louisiana continue to be among the few coastal states that refuse to draw up climate change contingency plans.
Because November 24th dawned clear and cool and there are more household plans than time for Thanksgiving I came very close to a one phrase daily mini-post saying, “On holiday.” The write-aholic in me wouldn’t let me get away scot-free, however, so here’s a turkey day thought.
Guille Novelo and I sat mesmerized the other night watching an hour-long documentary on PBS called My life as a turkey, filmed in an undisclosed back woods part of Florida that resembles coastal Louisiana.
Have a glass of Thanksgiving wine and watch this show that’s definitely not a turkey. Don’t worry, the artificially selected overweight bird you chowed down on was a far cry from these beautifully feathered dinosaur descendants.
Louisiana outranks Mississippi…thanks, Big Oil!
I had been sitting on several important coastal stories for this Thanksgiving Eve but at the last minute I was inspired to comment about the following short but provocative letter to the editor that was published in The Advocate on November 21:
On Nov. 1, an article in The Advocate titled “La. top crude producer” stated that Louisiana is the No. 1 U.S. producer of crude oil, No. 2 in petroleum refining capacity, and No. 3 in natural gas production.
Economist Loren Scott said, “Some people have asked me … what if we hadn’t been so lucky as to have all this oil and gas under our state?
His response was, “Well, it’s very easy to figure out what we would look like. All we have to do is look one state to the east. We’d look just like Mississippi.”
Since Mississippi is usually in 50th place and we are 49th, that doesn’t seem like a far place to slide to, and aren’t we glad they don’t have oil and gas.
How many states are there?
Oil and gas exploration, production and transport activities have caused roughly 50% of the damage to America’s Delta since the 1930s, including the loss of about 1,000 square miles of landscape. State officials have never demanded ANY compensation for this incredible loss,** presumably out of the ridiculous fear that Big Oil would abandon our state if the industry were respectfully asked to pay for even a little of the coastal damage for which it is culpable.
Our state economy is largely dependent on oil and gas jobs but the industry is equally dependent on our labor. We’re amazingly complacent to the long-term costs vs. the short-term benefits of this incredibly profitable industry. How bizarre it is that our state, which theoretically controls the valve to about one third of the oil and gas used by the entire U.S. of A., ranks 49 out of 50 in terms of most socioeconomic indices.
Speaking of ranking, virtually every Louisianan, myself included, expects the top-ranked LSU tigers to win the BCS Championship game on January 9 in New Orleans…ironically on inauguration day for Governor Jindal. I wonder how many game day viewers around the country will grasp another irony…that the top college football team in the country represents one of the most politically and intellectually impoverished states.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving. Go Tigers, beat the Hogs!
*Presumably no kin to well-known coastal advocate and authority Doug Daigle.
**In 1982 late governor Dave Treen unsuccessfully promoted the Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy (CWEL tax) that would have raised targeted coastal revenues from the transportation of hydrocarbons through the state.
$773K paid to National Guard to fight coastal ‘Zombie’ fire.
Remember the coastal ‘zombie fire’ two months ago, in drained and sunken former wetlands in eastern New Orleans that blanketed America’s Delta with smoke? I was curious about the cost of the effort to fight this persistent blaze, using National Guard helicopters and personnel.
Thus I googled ‘cost of fire fighting in eastern New Orleans’ and, curiously enough, found a cryptic note from The Associated Press posted on November 19…not from a LA media source…but on a website from Erie, PA! According to the post, a total of 22 days was spent between August 30 and September 16, 17 days on the coastal fire and 5 days fighting an inland wildfire in Caddo Parish. Assuming that the cost was proportional, the zombie fire effort cost 77.3 % of $1 million, or $773,000.
Had I been the governor who had to sign off on the use of the Louisiana National Guard, I would have first approached the property owner (apparently a Mr. John Cummings, Esq.) and given him the option of either paying the Guard to do the job or breaching the nearest levee and allowing nature to put the zombie fire out of our misery.
The end of the band R.E.M. was announced in September, accompanied by widespread play of their iconic song from 2003 It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine). I just noted that the graphic with the song title about catastrophe lacks an apostrophe.
HuffingtonPost recently covered an article by Alok Jha in The Guardian on the end of the world, at least as far as humans are concerned. To my surprise, of ten potential calamities for Homo sapiens that he described, the only coastal catastrophe on the list is a Mega Tsunami, described as follows:
Geologists worry that a future volcanic eruption at La Palma in the Canary Islands might dislodge a chunk of rock twice the volume of the Isle of Man into the Atlantic Ocean, triggering waves a kilometre high that would move at the speed of a jumbo jet with catastrophic effects for the shores of the US, Europe, South America and Africa.
Danger sign: Half the world’s major cities are under water. All at once.
I was surprised that Mr. Jha omitted the following two global crises that seem at least as likely to arise this century as anything on his list. These crises involve extremes in global freshwater dynamics: too much imminent demand and too much imminent release:
1) Quenching the thirst and irrigating the crops of 7 billion humans is already unsustainable, without adding 2 or 3 billion additional folks this century that will add their voices in many languages to the chorus of another familiar but much older song, How dry I am.
2) The rapid melting of frozen freshwater in Antactica and Greenland would dramatically expand the volume of the world ocean, drowning most of the largest population centers and backing coastal zones up against mountain ranges and deserts.
According to the accompanying graphic from a 1996 USGS report, water on Earth is about 3% fresh and 97% salty. Of the 3% freshwater about 31 % (~1% of the total) is liquid and 69% (~2% of the total) is frozen on land, especially in Antacrctica and Greenland. Sudden release of this water triggered by a global warming ‘switch’ would expand ocean volume by 2% and thermal expansion would add I suppose another 1%.
It’s the end of the coast as we know it (and I feel terrible).
A current piece by David Biello in the November 20 Science News blog of the prestigious journal Scientific American carries a gallery of satellite images of parts of the Niger Delta, one of the world’s great deltas, which has been drenched with over 3 million barrels of oil since 1976. I took the liberty of posting this piece in its entirety, as follows, hoping that I’m not breaking copyright restrictions:
More than three million barrels of oil have been spilled in the Niger Delta, part of nearly 7,000 such accidents since 1976. This human and ecological catastrophe can now be seen from orbit. Comparing satellite images ??taken before and after known oil spills—like the one that flowed from late 2008 to early 2009 near Bodo, Nigeria—a swath of devastation becomes apparent. In 2006, despite years of oil extraction, thick tropical vegetation blanketed the region, as evidenced by the healthy red glow picked up by the satellite’s infrared eye.??By January 2009 death had eaten through the landscape, appearing in green and black, concentrating on those areas touching the oil-polluted river. The water itself sported a rainbow sheen, whereas mud in the tidal flats changed from yellow to an oily gray. All told, oil contaminated some three square kilometers of waterways and landscapes.??The American Association for the Advancement of Science Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project carried out the research in support of an Amnesty International effort known as “Eyes on Nigeria.” The campaign aims to monitor conflict in Nigeria as well as environmental hazards such as oil spills and gas flares, which have been banned since 2008 but can still be detected from space. In the vicinity of Bodo the goal is to force Shell oil company to pay $1 billion to clean up the oil contamination and its aftermath.
Biello’s piece includes a dramatic photo gallery of images taken over time showing the dramatic impact on the Niger Delta wetlands. My question is whether or not similar images in the same range of wavelength sensitivity of America’s Delta have been examined to see coastal impacts of the Macondo blowout last year. If yes, what was found? If not, why not?
Scientific ignorance is bliss in the U.S. of A.
While browsing HuffingtonPost this morning I stumbled on this description of a tantalizing British TV series about the current state of knowledge about the Universe, hosted by Stephen Hawking, perhaps the brightest man alive. The series is called Brave New World with Stephen Hawking. Unfortunately, streaming videos of the five part series are not accessible to the 4.4 percent of the seven billion people on Earth most desperately in need of the information presented…Americans. Here’s a chilling quote from the host of the series:
“We are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history,” said Hawking, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, leaving him almost completely paralyzed and unable to speak.
“Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million.
“Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.”
The ongoing series of GOP presidential debates strongly suggests that Americans are collectively the most profoundly jingoistic, provincial, xenophobic, resource-wasteful…and technically illiterate people on Earth. Citizens of the most powerful country in the history of the world, those of us most in need of learning how the world works, are being deprived of a valuable ‘text book.’
Here’s a three-minute video-clip with Richard Dawkins, one of the contributors featured in the series. Dawkins is a distinguished member of what I call the four ‘Ds’ of evolution science, including Charles Darwin, Jared Diamond and Daniel Dennett.
Oh well, at least we can watch the Kardashians for distraction.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated, not by the meaning of life, but by its very existence. I’ve devoted most of my life to studying, researching, and teaching about how living systems have evolved, persisted and self-organized on Earth.
We know that life exists under the most hostile and challenging conditions imaginable here on Terra Firma and the most prolific concentrations of living organisms on Earth are found in the dynamic zones that represent the nexus among the atmosphere, lithosphere and hydrosphere. We know these ‘oases’ as coastal zones. Willie Sutton robbed banks because that’s where the money is and I became a coastal scientist because that’s where life is the most concentrated.
I’ve never harbored the least doubt that life exists throughout the Universe, not just on our nondescript little blue marble.* One of my fondest hopes for my brief time here is that life will be documented beyond Earth while I’m still capable of celebrating.
Because Earthly life is most prolific in coastal zones (especially deltas) the most promising places to discover extra-terrestrial life would be coastal zones on sister marbles in our solar system.
It’s happened; a great briny lake has now been discovered on Europa by a team of NASA researchers, including Britney E. Schmidt, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. This means that coastal zones exist as well and if life does exist on Europa, that’s where I’d look first.
Too bad that we taxpayers can’t dedicate our tax dollars for specific purposes, such as discovering life on Europa. Hurry up you folks; I don’t have forever!
*Based on goings-on at Louisiana’s State Capitol and the results of our recent election I’d wager that widespread evidence for life beyond Earth will be found long before widespread evidence for intelligent life is found here in the Bayou State!
A tale of two coastal meetings: the sequel
Today’s mini-post completes yesterday’s ‘tale of two meetings,’ (scroll down) describing parallel coastal meetings held on November 15-16 in Baton Rouge, one on science and one on policy. The stark contrast in style, substance…and on the ground influence of these back-to-back meetings distills the essence of why I’m pessimistic about the future of our beloved, battered and beleaguered America’s Delta.
First was the final meeting of a board of elite coastal scientists who have been serving as expert advisors to the now-defunct Louisiana Coastal Area Science and Technology Program (LCA S&T). After hanging around until its bitter end I left this meeting excited and reassured in my conviction that there really are very smart and objective scientists out there who, if given half a chance, could design a realistic workable plan to save and sustain some parts of the coast.
Second was the monthly meeting of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), the group responsible for signing off on all policy decisions re coastal protection and restoration. I left this meeting early and as usual totally frustrated that critical coastal policy will continue to turn purely on politics…justified more by science fiction than science.
CPRA meetings are purely pro-forma affairs, hosted and strongly controlled by Governor Jindal’s coastal guru Garret Graves, in perfect allegiance to the interests of his boss. I can’t imagine the collected CPRA membership* not rubber-stamping whatever the governor wants to do to the coast, from building temporary BP sand berms to the equally ‘unadvised,’ unaffordable, unworkable and unsustainable Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee project (MTTG).
This morning I’ve been working again in casual comfort, sans either street clothes or the pressure of having to rush my post, so as to free up time to shower and shave out of respect for the esthetic sensibilities of whomever may happen to sit near me in a meeting room. Despite sitting here in my skivvies I still claim the expertise to stipulate that there are two fundamental knowledge bases on which saving the coast would be absolutely contingent:
A) Geospatial and seasonal details about the sediment budget of the Mississippi River (suspended and bed loads) over a wide range or river stage conditions; and
B) Current and projected rates and spatial patterns of combined coastal subsidence and sea level rise, let’s say through 2030.
Given these realities, here’s my summary of the style and substance of both meetings:
On November 15 the LCA science board members and their colleagues heard the very latest information about (A); and engaged in considerable discussion of (B). The board members and participants, including yours truly, were informed directly from the horse’s mouth (no offense, Mead Allison) in a collegial setting in which critical questions were freely asked and openly discussed.
Unfortunately, no electronic device recorded or court reporter transcribed this important and free-ranging discussion.
On November 16 the CPRA members heard an update on the 2012 Master Plan, on which coastal policy will be steered through the remaining four years of Jindaltime. The information…much of which was based on obsolete technical information…was presented by three (albeit sincere and well-intentioned) state employees,** in a strictly formal setting in which only CPRA members were allowed to comment or ask questions.
Each and every word was duly recorded and will be typed up by a professional court reporter.***
Three issues that I found particularly troublesome in the CPRA meeting included:
1) First there was the de riguer presentation of old coastal land loss imagery, with accompanying projections of future change without action. What offended me about the power point imagery was that after years of complaining that the area of coastal change is far too restricted and ignores the huge areas of dysfunctional coastal forest, such as the Manchac swamps, that are part of the walking dead landscape destined to become open water marked by cypress ‘sticks.’
2) Next there was a discussion of the use of landscape modeling to very crudely estimate the projected effects of various projects. John Barry, CPRA member, asked an appropriate question of the presenter about her level of confidence in the model output. I was astonished to hear her answer being about 95% that the models were realistic! The person sitting next to me chuckled when he heard me mutter “Bulls–t!”
3) The credibility of the 2012 Master Plan is absolutely contingent on what we know now and what we need to know about issues A and B. Nevertheless, the world experts on these subjects tell me that they are never invited into the inner sanctum of the OCPR, where the plan is being drafted.
4) Finally, at the end of the Master Plan presentation, everyone still in the room was subjected to a tiresome lecture by CPRA Chairman Graves that probably lasted the entire time that a football field-sized piece of coastal landscape is said to be covered by water. He used this time to insult the intelligence of his board members and the audience by repeating familiar shibboleths about why the coast is worth saving.
Most egregious, however was Graves’ assertion, with a totally straight face, that the much ballyhooed centerpiece of the plan its Prioritization Tool, will take gigabytes of input and spit out simple impartial and technically optimum coastal answers, devoid of politics. Using a computer algorithm to justify predetermined policy should not fool anyone with gray hair.
The only new thing I heard from Garret was that no amount of money…not even $150 billion…could maintain the shrinking footprint of south Louisiana for fifty years, which the public badly needs to hear.
*This is not a blanket indictment of all members of the CPRA. There are a few (unnamed) members for whom I have great respect for their technical grasp, political objectivity, outspokenness and non-partisanship. Unfortunately, they’re in a small minority.
**Karim Belhadjali, Kirk Rhinehart and Natalie Snider Peyronnin
***I challenge anyone, either from the media or the general public, to obtain an official transcript of any of these CPRA meetings.
A tale of two coastal meetings
I hate dressing up* for coastal meetings, especially on successive days. Yesterday my investment in time and trouble paid off handsomely but today that’s highly unlikely.
Yesterday’s final meeting of the Louisiana Coastal Area Science & Technology Program (LCA S&T) was a bittersweet experience for those of us who attended. On the positive side, we heard extremely exciting results** of a brand new comprehensive study on how the lower Mississippi River system really functions…specifically about why, when and where mineral river sediments are transported through south Louisiana and stored under various river stage conditions.
Most importantly, we learned that most of the vast sediment load that washes into Louisiana does not, as commonly believed, end up falling off of the continental shelf. This means that the sediment bank balance available to sustain America’s Delta is larger than we previously realized. We also learned what critical uncertainties stand between current (flawed) river management policy and the fundamental strategic plumbing changes necessary to put these sediments to work on our behalf.
On the negative side, everyone in attendance commiserated over the bizarre fact that, with the first-ever detailed audit of the river sediment budget almost complete, the state has unceremoniously fired the ‘auditor’ and pulled the rug out from under the very research program that got us this far. Governor Jindal presumably justifies the decision to cut off his research nose to spite his political face on the basis of cost.
The state refuses to pay its 35% share of the science bill, even though the feds are happy to pay 65%. I suspect that the real motive is Jindal’s insistence on controlling the science input so as to rationalize flawed coastal policy. Shades of Trofim Lysenko, Soviet agronomist who sucked up to Stalin and held back agricultural production in the Soviet Union for decades.
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) is the body that is signing off on this myopic decision by the Governor. Ironically enough, the agenda of today’s CPRA meeting (below) does not include a discussion of the sunset of LCA S&T Program.
Coastal Protection & Restoration Authority Wednesday, November 16, 2011 LaSalle Building LaBelle Room 617 N. Third Street Baton Rouge, LA 70802 9:30 AM Agenda
I. Call to Order
II. Roll Call
III. Approval of Agenda
IV. App II roval of Minutes
V. Old Business
VI. Master Plan Presentation – Karim Belhadjali and Kirk Rhinehart, CPRA
VII. Master Plan Public Comment Period
VIII. NRDA Update – Drue Banta, Office of the Governor
IX. NRDA/Oil Spill Public Comment Period
X. Automated Levee Permitting Process – Billy Wall, CPRA
XI. Bayou Lafourche Summit Presentation - Hugh F. Caffery, Chairman, Bayou Lafourche Fresh Water District
XII. Formal Submittal of the Amended CIAP Plan – Robert Routon, CPRA
XIII. Bank Stabilization Policy Update – CPRA Representative??XIV. Public Comment
Check in tomorrow to read what I learned during today’s CPRA meeting.
*Jeans, polo shirt, sandals.
**From Mead Allison, Ph.D., geophysicist at the University of Texas Austin, the world’s leading authority on sediment dynamics in the lower Mississippi River.