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December 2012 Coastal Scuttlebutt (cont.)



Here's our competition, folks.

Long Island coastal city builds post-Sandy sand berms that washed away yesterday. Good investment.

Charles Lane authored a story on NPR’s All Things Considered today on a touchy subject indicated by the title: Areas Rebuilding After Sandy Seeking More Aid From Washington

In case you’ve been asleep there’s a changed attitude in Congress re funds for emergency relief from natural disasters (or increasingly unnatural, as the case may be).

Sandy’s current (and clearly premature) price tag is set at $60 plus billion, which the administration has approved. Congress, not the POTUS, appropriates dollars, however, and under pressure from the Tea Party, the House refuses to even consider approving this stipend until the next session begins. Good luck.

A new generation of huge repair bills will reflect the impacts of more damaging storms during the coming decade, while fiscal hawks fight any recovery funds that aren’t offset by spending cuts. Coastal cities in politically powerful blue states will soon be demanding federal investments in storm protection measures, which will cast even more doubt on funding the $50 billion Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.

The residents of Long Beach on Long Island threw up a six foot sand berm after Sandy decimated their beach dunes. The sand berms disappeared yesterday. Sound familiar? Now they want a 20’ sand dune engineered to survive the next Sandy.  They don’t have a BP to pick up the tab, however.


These issues could in theory be rectified with a new slackwater navigation channel for the lower river. Why isn't such a win-win solution mentioned in the 2012 Louisiana Coastal Mater Plan?

Panama Canal

The channel dimensions (draft and width) of the Panama Canal are being expanded dramatically. This will allow for the use of the canal by a new generation of container ships from Asia, which has huge implications for coastal Louisiana, America’s Delta. This was noted today by Bob Marshall in an opinon column in The Times-Picayune. Marshall’s piece was largely based on recent quotes by Denise Reed, the new science director of the Water Institute of the Gulf, who correctly sees the canal expansion as a very important element in the restoration of our coast…even though the Panama Canal is curiously not mentioned in the $50 billion Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast..

Not to be petty but I’ve been making a similar argument for almost a year, as shown in this post from January 13, 2012.  Since that time both the brain power and the modeling capability available and dedicated to the lower river have expanded considerably, perhaps by an order of magnitude.

So saying, it’s time for some action. I seem to remember Clint Willson, LSU Civil Engineering Professor, telling me a year ago that a new expanded state-of-the-art physical model of the lower river to replace the outmoded existing model will be completed and unveiled in 2013. That, plus the involvement of Denise’s employer, The Water Institute of the Gulf, which has staffed up with the world’s leading experts on the river, implies that we should soon begin seeing specific alternatives for a deep draft slackwater channel from the gulf to New Orleans that cannot be ignored by coastal planners or the navigation industry.

We should definitely not be either defensive about the canal expansion or apprehensive about river policy that could be unduly influenced by port and navigation interests  at the expense of environmental concerns.


More on oil dispersants

My coastal research colleague Andy Nyman emailed more information on his research grant aimed at finding less toxic oil dispersants (surfactants) in anticipation of ‘Macondo !!’ that was described here on December 26 and 27 (scroll down). Here’s a lightly edited version of what he said:


We won’t describe results of the recently-funded research until we’ve published them, which is a year or two down the road. In the meantime, Chris Green and I have some other dispersant research that we expect to have published this spring (funded by the National Science Foundation the year of the spill). When we know the publication date, I’ll contact you to see if you’re interested in reporting the results.  

As background to those research projects, three points need communicating to the public:

1) dispersed oil is more toxic than non-dispersed oil;

2) dispersed oil is more toxic that the dispersant alone; and

3) the best chemical tests available (oil fingerprinting) cannot distinguish between the less toxic, undispersed oil and the more toxic, dispersed oil. That’s based on really old research that we published before the spill. 

A fourth point is that, based on what I know, I continue to eat our seafood because I assume that the oil and dispersed oil reduced the quantity of seafood but not its quality. If an animal survives long enough to grow to an edible size, then it is free from the toxins in oil because most animals have the ability to create enzymes that break down the oil.  


My comments: Andy,‘this is very helpful and I also continue to eat what grows along our coast. Nevertheless, you raise an important issue that I haven’t seen discussed before. Based on your points 1 and 2, it appears that a decreasing scale of toxicity would look as follows:

dispersed oil > dspersant alone > undispersed oil.

If that’s the case why should dispersant have been used in the first place after Macondo? The massive use of Corexit, both underwater and on the surface may have been a huge environmental mistake.

Skimming, burning and mopping up oil with a nontoxic ecologically friendly material, such as hay, may have been the far more appropriate response, no matter how loudly state and local officials called for more action.


5,500 folks moved here between July 2011-July 2012. What in hell were they thinking?

5,500 runners in a typical 10K road race in Orange County, CA. They're not running in this direction.

Steven Ward reported in yesterday’s The Advocate that the Population of Louisiana grew by 5,498 between July 2011 and July 2012 to a total of 4,601,893. In other words our population grew last year by 0.12%, after a slight net loss in 2010.

If there’s a story here, it’s not that Louisiana grew but that we’re absolutely dead in the water, population wise. One needn’t be a statistician to recognize that a 0.12% growth rate is noise and not significant growth.

If you invested $1,000 at an interest rate of 0.12% your earnings of $1.20 wouldn’t pay for a small cup of coffee at CC’s, let alone at Starbucks.

Meanwhile, according to this post from Reuters, the U.S. grew by 2.3 million people, or 0.73 percent from Jan. 1 3012. Your $1,000 investment would net a cool $7.3,* enough to buy a Latte’ Grande and throw in a couple banana muffins. The real story for Mr. Ward should be why Louisiana is lagging so far behind.

By the way, 5,500 people is the number of people who died in 2009 as a result of being distracted while driving. It’s also about 300 more than the 5,200 men currently housed at Angola, at a cost of over $54/day. It’s also slightly more than ten times the 515 people who were murdered in Louisiana in 2011.

Don’t get me wrong, population growth isn’t necessarily a good thing for coastal residents. Louisiana has never followed the gulf coast sun belt population growth pattern, swollen with retirees and others escaping cold winters. I’ve long believed that this is at least partly related to our uniquely low-lying deltaic topography, which we well know is particularly vulnerable to hurricanes.

The article includes the following priceless quotes from our intrepid leader, who, if he runs for prez in 1916, will have to defend his eight year tenure.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said the recent census data on population growth are positive and reflect the state’s continued economic development strides and his administration’s work in job creation.

“The bottom line is that for the past five years in a row, more people have been moving into Louisiana than moving out,” Jindal said in an email statement.

“In fact, during the last four years, over 20,000 more people moved into Louisiana from Texas, Mississippi and other states than moved out of Louisiana to other U.S. states. This is in stark contrast to the 15-year period from 1990 to 2005, when Louisiana experienced net domestic outmigration of more than 7,500 people every single year.”

That’s impressive, Bobby. What else you got?

*Harley Winer corrected my arithmetic here.


Outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

EPA Administrator resigning after inauguration

Tom Kludt reported in Livewire that New Orleans native Lisa Jackson is stepping down after almost four years as one of the best EPA Administrators in recent times and the most vocal about the need to restore the Gulf Coast.

I’m proud to have had the opportunity to shake her hand once at a meeting at Tulane. I got a big smile when I assured her that Bobby Jindal’s opposition to her attempt to regulate industrial CO2 as a pollutant causing climate change was an embarrassment to the scientific community in Louisiana.

More on oil dispersant research

Yesterday I expressed confusion about an ongoing research project to test alternative means of responding to crude petroleum released into coastal waters. The researchers are reportedly testing the effectiveness of various chemical surfactants and dispersants, and their relative toxicity to a species of fish.

I was struck by a reference in the original AP report about using sugar cane bagasse and other agricultural byproducts in the research project. This relates to my interest in using ordinary field hay spread over an oil spill to concentrate the oil and to serve as a medium for petroleum munching bacteria.

Since posting I spoke with Andy Nyman, one of the principal investigators and it quickly became apparent that the research project described in the report is far too complex to explain in a few paragraphs, so I won’t even try. Of more relevance to readers of LaCoastPost was a comment by Andy following two days in the field in the vicinity of Head of Passes in the lower river.

Andy Nyman is a highly seasoned field scientist, whose research involves a lot of time in boats and boots mucking round in marshes. He reported that during the past two days in the vicinity of South Pass, where the surface river water is typically highly turbid. The water is normally muddy, brown or brownish green and loaded with suspended clays and microscopic algal cells.

Yesterday the water column was crystal clear to a depth of about five feet. Andy said that he’d never seen this condition even in August, let alone at this time of year, when the stage is normally rising.

He attributes this absence of suspended river sediments to the fact that not only is the river stage and velocity low because of the two year record drought but also because the river bar is migrating upstream, dropping its sediment load ever closer to New Orleans.


Soaking up coastal oil

Andy Nyman, Ph.D.

The Associated Press reported in today’s The Advocate that three academic researchers, including my friend Andy Nyman at the LSU Ag Center, have won a grant from the National Science Foundation and EPA to develop a new effective way to soak up rogue oil in coastal waters.

Here’s the entire short piece, with sentences highlighted that I find confusing or ambiguous.

LSU AgCenter scientists are partnering with researchers at Columbia University and Iowa State University on development of an environmentally friendly substance that could be used to clean up oil spills.

Andy Nyman, an LSU AgCenter wetlands biologist, and Chris Green, an LSU AgCenter toxicologist, are testing the chemical’s toxicity on a baitfish known as the cocahoe minnow.

The $211,000 project is being funded for three years by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation.

The research is in reaction to the 2010 BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the recognized need for an effective, environmentally friendly dispersant, Nyman said.

My thought: It’s unclear whether Dr. Nyman is looking for a better way to disperse the oil or a better way to collect the oil, to degrade its toxicity or to speed up its incorporation into the estuarine food web, so that it can be metabolized and burned away biologically.

The work focuses on developing less-toxic materials, called surfactants, which are important ingredients in many household products and in oil spill dispersants. Chemicals are classified as surfactants if they have surface properties that allow them to help oil and water mix.

My question: Is this study aimed at developing a new, less toxic surfactant or a substitute for a surfactant, as suggested by the following highlighted sentence.

Iowa State researchers are exploring a process using fermentation of bacteria, soybean wastes and bagasse, the fibrous remains of sugar-cane stalks.

This sentence implies that only the Iowa folks are interested in the utility of using bacteria, soybean wastes and bagasse. Surely Dr. Nyman and his LSU colleagues are equally interested.

Columbia researchers are studying the substance’s potential to disperse crude oil.

My question: What does ‘the substance’ refer to specifically, a dispersant, an absorbent or what?

I would love to propose that the researchers test another Louisiana agricultural product as a possible response to the next blowout, common hay. Following the BP blowout I proposed a massive air/se drop of hay to absorb and degrade the crude petroleum. The governor decided to go with a $260 million sand berm ‘solution,’ however.

The study by the three universities is in its early stages, Nyman said. “I think we’re a decade or two away from seeing something in the marketplace,” he said.

My question: Why so long, Andy?


Tornado watch for Christmas, what next?

Christmas 2012 is an unusually slow coastal news day, which suits me just fine, thank you. I’ve got plenty of writing projects underway that need time so my primary hope is not to lose power.

Mark Memmott reported on NPR’s Morning Edition today about a significant risk of tornadoes over a huge swath of the U.S. just inshore of the gulf coast today, as shown on the graphic.

Bizarre weather was the rule for 2012 and the year is clearly not giving up during its final days.

Spesking as a weather amateur I see a massive unstable coastal system along the northern gulf that is unquestionably connected to and influenced by marine forces from the gulf. How can anyone look at this graphic and deny a link between global warming and extreme weather?

The warmest surface water today in the northern gulf is 76.3 degrees F today at Buoy 42002 near Brownsville TX. Compare this to the snowy surface temperature at Oklahoma City, at 25.9 deg F.

I don’t know what specific meteorological ingredients were necessary to produce today’s bizarre tornado risk but the surface temperature gradient is certainly one of the critical thermodynamic drivers.


I-49 expansion is a coastal project


Richard Burgess reported in The Advocate today that a coalition of interests has been formed to support the construction of two key coastal spans of the I-49 corridor that would cost $5 billion. I was struck by the fact that, although the project was compared to the La-1 project to elevate the southernmost leg of Louisiana Highway 1 from Leeville to Grand Isle, the word ‘coastal’ never appears in the article.

Traditional highway construction in south Louisiana becomes steadily more problematic as (1) the coast continues to sink; (2) hurricane risk and insurance costs continue to rise, thanks to climate change; (3) construction costs rise; (4) infrastructure projects are less and less likely to be funded, given the federal budget crises and increased scrutiny of all infrastructure projects.

I discovered this article in The Times-Picayune by Ed Anderson, published April 5, 2009 and updated on October 12 that year. One obvious change since then is that Bill Ankner, Ph.D. former secretary of Louisiana DOTD, was summarily fired by Bobby Jindal, presumably because he favored accepting federal dollars during the first Obama administration to explore passenger rail service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. What a radical.


Lake Pontchartrain in the news

Carlton Dufrechou, emperor of Lake Pontchartrain

On December 19 Bruce Alpert reported in that President Obama is expected to sign a bill that was first proposed in 2001 formally reauthorizing the restoration of Lake Pontchartrain. Just think what’s happened to our coast and the Pontchartrain basin since 2001, let alone since this restoration program kicked off!

I don’t know much about its official history but restoring Lake Pontchartrain has the fingerprints of my friend Carlton Dufrechou all over it. I remember attending an anniversary celebration as recently as 2007 at the Lakeside Hilton, when Carllton still chaired the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

He gave a heartfelt emotional talk listing many successes in what began primarily as a water quality improvement effort. When the program began, two of the primary environmental insults were the result of (1) clam shell dredging throughout most of the lake; and (2) eutrophication, algal blooms and dead zones from nutrient runoff from dairy farms on the north shore.

Those problems have long since been solved and the restoration program expanded to the entire basin, wetlands and all. Click on this link to see some of the progress made.


Use coastal funds for hospice care

Laura Maggi reported in that all hospice care will be discontinued in February 2013, so as to trim $1.1 million from the state’s health care budget. In other words my state has decided during the Christmas season to reduce by a noise level its Department of Health and Hospitals budget by putting it squarely on the backs of patients who are literally on their last legs.

These are Louisiana’s most powerless constituents, folks who will never walk, or vote again. Forget the governor’s $226 million BP sand berm fiasco in 2011; this policy decision should by itself put Bobby Jindal at the head of the most notorious residents of either the old or the new governor’s mansions.

Were I still an official member of the Louisiana coastal authority I would propose funding DHH’s $1.1 million hospice shortfall from the state’s dedicated coastal trust fund. The governor could direct Garret Graves, his coastal guru, to find a legal way to use dedicated coastal funding to benefit the most desperate residents of the coastal zone, which is constantly expanding.

We spend more per capita than any other state to incarcerate (mostly harmless) drug offenders. How about a pittance for coastal compassion?


Have yourself a merry winter solstice

Graphic from

December 21st is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and the longest day south of the equator. Phil Plait described the astronomical mechanics of the winter solstice in today.

The Mayans and many other ancient cultures recognized the solstice as an important, and perhaps even holy day of the year, providing reassuring predictability and constancy in an otherwise chaotic world.

Whereas most holidays are celebrated on calendar dates that coincide with historical events, the solstice is a culture-free event that was taking place for 4 billion years before humans were around to recognize, name and even celebrate it.


Graphic from

$1.1 billion levee proposal being aired today

Mark Schleifstein reported today in that a 17-mile long $1.1 billion earthen levee proposed for construction along the New Orleans East Land Bridge was studied by an engineering firm in California. The study, which was commissioned by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E). will be unveiled to the public today, at a regular meeting of this authority.

Schleifstein pointed out that one of the issues basic to the costs and benefits of the proposed project is the large volume of high quality clay that would be required and the growing generic competition for levee dirt in southeast Louisiana. He doesn’t mention the obvious possibility of using industrial red mud and spent bauxite that is stored just upriver from New Orleans, free for the asking and apparently blessed by the EPA.

I’ll continue to raise this issue until either the state or the corps addresses it squarely…or until I stop breathing.


Len Bahr is far less radical these days!

My daughter Emilie Bahr forwarded this digitized image of a letter to the editor of The Advocate by her cynical Dad that was probably published in the late 70s, before she was born and coastal restoration had taken root. I haven’t discovered the original source of the image but one takeaway lesson here is that even opinions written on typewriters sometimes come alive in cyberspace.

I’m truly intrigued that of the specific pollution-related issues raised in my letter, most have become obsolete, thanks partly to NEPA, the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts and partly to hard work by such folks as Paul Templet, Willie Fontenot, Ollie Houck, John Day, Jim Tripp, Art Smith, Harold Schoeffler and many other colleagues from the old days.

This sounds positive, except that these issues have been replaced by almost the almost intractable phenomena of global warming, sea level rise and the disintegration of America’s Delta.


Graphic from August 13.

Saltwater sill on lower river is quietly doing its thing

Mark Schleifstein reported today in that an earthen sill that was constructed in mid-September to span the lower Mississippi River below New Orleans, has been performing as expected, blocking the upriver progression of a wedge of dense saltwater from the Gulf. This wedge hugs the deepest part of the river, occupying the thalweg.

The $5.8 million sill was built in Plaquemines Parish at the direction of the Corps of Engineers, as a result of exceptionally low river stages resulting from the widespread drought across most of the watershed of the river system.

The Times-Picayune carried a previous article on August 13 by Mark Schleifstein on the construction of the sill project. Back then he noted a conflict over the specific source of sediment to build the sill, which some predicted would compete with a source of sediment needed for a coastal restoration project to pump sediments through pipelines in Plaquemines Parish. I’d be curious to learn whether the pipeline conveyance project was in fact delayed as a result of the sill.

River levels have been too low to support unrestricted shallow draft navigation above Baton Rouge and caused shoaling that has jeopardized deepdraft navigation from BR south to the gulf. This condition will persist until increasing precipitation in the Midwest elevates the river stage to a more normal level.

Balancing the competing environmental, commercial and public health needs for river water and sediments for delta restoration, navigation, drinking water is exemplified by this issue. Sills were also constructed to block salt water in 1988 and 1999. Neither article mentions the potential increase in the need for a salt water barrier to protect drinking water in greater New Orleans, which is apparently becoming more common on average. This presumably reflects the higher frequency of flood/drought conditions, reflecting anthropogenic climate change.

Louisiana state climatologist Barry Keim was quoted in today’s article and, as usual, he described the short term cause of the condition (La Nina) and said not a word about a pattern of increasing river problems resulting from global warming.


Storm surge warning system needs boost

Sample water depth inundation image (left) and storm tide image (right), created using NOAA's SLOSH model. These Maximum of the "Maximum Envelope of Waters" (MOM) plots are for Tampa Bay, Florida, for a composite maximum surge for large suite of possible mid-strength Category 4 hurricane (sustained winds of 143 mph) hitting at high tide.Graphic from post by Jeff Masters, Ph.D. in

An editorial in The Times-Picayune calls attention to the fact that the warning system established by the National Hurricane System to project potential short term sea level rise along vulnerable coastal reaches during approaching storms is not ready for prime time.

Three very different kinds of information are currently used to predict the flood risk of approaching storm systems. One is the probable trajectory and point of landfall of a storm. The second is the ‘footprint’ of the storm as it approaches the coast, e.g., its size, storm category, tidal cycle, wind speed, lateral velocity, water temperature differentials, atmospheric pressure gradient and the level of precipitation likely to be generated.

The third critical dimension fundamental to the prediction of storm surge risk, is the state of resolution of the 3-D topographic profile of the coast on either side of the likely landfall. The topographic profile data include should include features such as multiple lines of defense…levees, roadways, etc.

This profile changes with sea level rise and subsidence. These topographic profile data are plugged into various hydrodynamic computer models used by emergency response agencies and academic institutions to produce the familiar colorful maps of maximum surge levels used to inform policy decisions on evacuation recommendations.

According to the editorial, this is the weak link in the chain of information needed to plan for approaching storms. The editorial points out the fact that the surge prediction function of the U.S. Hurricane Center is woefully lacking in funds and personnel.


Graphic from

Reconnecting Bayou St. John

Coastal scientists have long noted that the unrestricted tidal hydrology in coastal waterways is essential to the health of the estuary and that restricting tidal water flow is universally bad; but this principle is routinely jettisoned during storm events and other coastal crises, such as the Macondo Deepwater Horizon blowout.

While BP oil was gushing the governor and parish officials clamored and harangued the Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard to shut off the flow in tidal passes between barrier islands by dumping rocks or sinking barges to ‘protect’ the internal wetlands.

Constructing rock dikes or earthen levees across tidal passes or seaward of coastal wetlands destroys the natural function of the ecosystem and chokes off its capacity to produce and distribute the organic matter on which the ecosystem depends.

Mark Schexnayder LDWL&F

For many years, ecologists and residents of Bayou St. John have advocated opening up artificial restrictions to water flow between the bayou and Lake Pontchartrain that have made the former stagnant. As reported by Mark Schleifstein yesterday in, such a project is finally happening and Mark Schexsnayder, Deputy Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, deserves much of the credit.

Now what about reconnecting Bayou LaFourche?


Yesterday far blacker than the day after Thanksgiving

Photo from

Three events took place yesterday, at a horrific national level, a grievous statewide level and a serious personal level, all of which make it difficult for me to write a mini-post today. First, words can’t express my reaction to the Connecticut tragedy, so I won’t even try.

Second, as reported by Jeff Adelson in, the State of Louisiana is once again in serious financial arrears. This is a direct result of Governor Jindal’s refusal to consider revenue enhancement of any kind, lest he be branded a liberal.

Reversing progressive tax policy in the form of the Stelly Bill; voiding an extremely modest tobacco tax and turning aside $600 million of federal Medicaid support are just three examples of short-sighted fiscal decisions for which the ‘goobernator’ is absolutely responsible…but for which he’ll never be held accountable.

The impacts of $165.5 in proposed state budget fixes will be borne once again by three widely diverse interest groups: (1) officials from our deteriorating system of higher ed, who represent the principal on which our academic and scientific future depends; (2) Medicaid recipients, including children needing psychological counseling; and (3) patients undergoing end of life hospice treatment, especially those being cared for at home, rather than in nursing homes.

When I read about the cutbacks to hospice care I wondered whether even Charles Dickens could do justice to the Ebenezer Scrooge who lives on in spirit at the Governor’s Mansion.

Finally, on a more personal level my email account, on which managing LaCoastPost largely depends, became inaccessible yesterday and 24 hours later I remain unable to reach the company (GMX). To say I’m a little panicky is an understatement at this time. Bear with me, kind coastal readers, as I try to solve this internet problem.

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  9. Max LaBranche says:


    Your expertise, concern,and labor of love have kept me and many others informed and educated over the past year. Thank you and keep up the good work and the good fight. You DO make a difference.

    May 2013 be a year of health, happiness, and prosperity for you.

    Max LaBranche

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      Your kind words, and those from a few other loyal readers, are what get me up and at the keyboard each and every morning.
      Best to you in 2013!

  10. Good advice for those with small chidren or young grandchildren –

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