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January 2013 Coastal Scuttlebutt (cont.)

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JANUARY THIRTY-FIRST

Academic centralization

Stephen Moret, next LSU prez?

In today’s The Advocate Koran Addo reported that some LSU faculty members are complaining about being excluded from talks that could determine long-term university policy decisions. Here’s a quote:

The LSU Board of Supervisors is working to consolidate the LSU System and Baton Rouge campus under a single leader. LSU faculty has described the ongoing process as “hasty and erratic,” and has criticized the board for paying lip service to faculty inclusion while effectively shutting them out of the process.

Forgive my paranoia but two incidents may bear into this discussion: (1) the creation of The Water Institute of the Gulf (TWIG), which some coastal research scientists feel is a power play to exclude independent thinkers from participation in applied coastal research and to silence academic critics of coastal policy; and (2) rumors that the Jindal Administration intends to appoint current Department of Economic Development (DED) secretary Stephen Moret as the next LSU president.

Under the new LSU consolidation plan the LSU president’s position will presumably be more powerful than when John Lombardi was president, before he proved himself a little too independent of the 4th floor of the State Capitol.

As long as a governor who has proved himself hostile to academic science occupies the governor’s mansion the LSU faculty members’ fears are justified.

JANUARY THIRTIETH

Gulf coast ecosystem restoration, post BP

A staff report in today’s The Advocate describes the July 2013 release of a comprehensive plan to restore the Gulf environment by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Council. This council was established by the Obama administration to oversee the allocation of much of the civil and Clean Water Act penalties against BP called for under the RESTORE Act.

Here’s a quote from an article in the Sacramento Bee by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) describing four specific goals for the council:

In addition to development of a comprehensive plan to restore the Gulf environment, the Council directly oversees expenditure of 30 percent of RESTORE Act funds for the ecological restoration projects specified in that comprehensive plan. The Council’s four Gulf Coast restoration goals include: restore and conserve habitat, restore water quality replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources, and enhance community resilience. This “Path Forward” is the beginning of a process that will culminate in a plan scheduled to be completed and released in July 2013. 

I’d sure like to see EDF and the other NGO “green groups” begin to speak out on our governor’s denial of climate change and support for the $13 billion Morganza-to-the-Gulf project, which could nullify in one fell swoop any benefits gained from the plan by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Council.

JANUARY TWENTY-NINTH

Nicholas Stern speaks at a climate conference in Hong Kong on October 27, 2008Photo by MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

Underestimating climate change

A post by Daniel Polito in Slate.com cites an article from The Guardian quotes Nicholas Stern, one of the world’s leading experts on the economic consequences of climate change, as saying that since 2006 he has underestimated the temperature rise associated with climate change. Here’s a stark quote, that appears to make obsolete the sea level rise projections basd on 2-3 degrees increase in temperature assumed by the IPCC:

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change claimed there was a 75 percent chance that global temperatures would increase by two or three degrees above average. But now Stern believes the world is “on track for something like four.”

Assuming a roughly linear relationship between temperature rise and sea level rise, Stern’s thinking would mean that south Louisiana could be 8-10 feet lower re MSL by the next century.

JANUARY TWENTY-EIGHTH

TWIG coincidence

The exact day that I posted a feature article on The Water Institute of the Gulf (TWIG) NPR-affiliate station in Baton Rouge WRKF-FM 89.3 ran a brief article about the Institute and its director Dr. Chip Groat. I called the station twice for more details to o avail and my calls but the piece by Kelly Connelly now appears on the station website.

I’m intrigued by the coincidence in timing and anxious to find out if anything else comes out about potential conflicts and other issues related to TWIG. Dos anyone out there know anything?

JANUARY TWENTY-SEVENTH

Don’t count on the feds for coastal bucks, thanks in part to Scalise, Cassidy and Fleming

Photo from NOLA.com/The Times Picayune

An op/ed column by Bob Marshall in NOL.com today again broaches the twin issues of money and hypocrisy with respect to the salvation of the southern part of Louisiana. In terms of limiting factors to implement the Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. Money is the second biggest challenge…after finding and moving sufficient sediment to fill in and restore flooded landscape.

The third challenge is hypocrisy, the anti-administrative rhetoric expressed and votes cast by certain members of our congressional delegation (Scalise, Cassidy and Fleming). These three doofuses are more than happy to vote for federal support for Louisiana but they disparage federal funding for other coastal states impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

As Marshall points out, this hypocritical behavior is not exactly a formula for success in terms of attracting federal dollars to implement. It’s already biting us in the ass in terms of funding.

Right now, BP fines are the only source of revenue on the table, and that (uncertain) amount of money will be far insufficient to meet funding needs to move orwad aggressively on the plan.

JANUARY TWENTY-SIXTH

Sir David Attenborough addresses the audience at the opening of an exhibition of Edward Lear’s artwork in the Ashmolean Museum on Sept. 19, 2012 in Oxford, England. Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Global, not just coastal

Try as I might this Saturday I failed to find a news item with specific coastal implications (other than an article by Timothy Boone in The Advocate on the possible buyout of his paper, Louisiana’s largest daily newspaper, which could affect environmental reporting in the future).

Thus I call to your attention a recent post  by Will Oremus in Slate.com that features one of my environmental heroes impugning our species. Sir David Attenborough, naturalist extraordinaire, is quoted as saying that the human species is a plague on the Earth.

This statement, made by a leading authority on the human role in runaway ecological dysfunction around the globe, should not be dismissed as hyperbole. Identifying our species as the nemesis of life as we know it fits into a recurring theme of my thinking that involves the transition between the 11,000 year Holocene epoch since the dawn of human civilization, and the unmistakable and disconcerting rise of the Anthropocene epoch.

It occurs to me that since the dawn of life 3.8 billion years ago only two species of organisms have ever evolved the power to transform the globe. The first was the photosynthetic Cyanobacterium, which oxidized the world ocean beginning around 2.3 billion years b.p. and the hominid species Homo sapiens, which, beginning only 200 years ago, has made a mess of everything.

Any thoughts?

JANUARY TWENTY-FIFTH

Coastal cynic: Money, money, what’s it good for?

Diogenes, a cynic long before I was around.

Mark Schleifstein reported today in NOLA.com that a 23 year-old state/federal coastal task force of which I was long a frustrated member has approved almost $58 million for new coastal restoration projects. The task force referred to leads the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA).

This bureaucratic organization is chaired by the Corps of Engineers, with reps from the U.S. Departments of Interior, Agriculture and Commerce, EPA and the governor’s office. My frustration with this body was (and is) based on its top-heavy organization, replete with subcommittees and rules and meetings during which participants seriously discuss whether, for example, lining a retreating shoreline with rocks is justified…it usually isn’t.

I long argued that the annual federal CWPPRA stipend (65% federal, 35% state) was insufficient to do anything significant and that the money should be pooled for several years. It never happened.

Anyhow, while reading Schleifstein’s article and the band aid projects that will be constructed this year I thought about the difficulty that we humans have dealing with large numbers that differ by orders of magnitude. This involves, for example, dollars and volumes of dirt needed to ‘fill in’ the sinking coast.

Reality checks are always in order and I would remind readers that two years ago the state blessed the (still unfunded) $50 billion Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. If one divides the $58 million cited in this article by the $50 billion plan tab by building these projects we’d theoretically be an incremental 0.12% closer to success. I say theoretically because the relative sea level problem continues as we speak. Does this sound like progress or just a feel-good exercise?

JANUARY TWENTHY-FOURTH

Non-levee flood protection ideas needed

In today’s The Advocate Amy Wold described the tenor of an unusual coastal meeting held yesterday (she didn’t say where but presumably in Baton Rouge) in which alternatives to flood protection by coastal levees were discussed. This was the inaugural meeting of a new subcommittee of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) formed specifically to address the reality that coast wide levee protection is out of the question and will never be completed. IMHO this includes the locally beloved but ill-conceived 98 mile $13 billion Morganza to the Gulf project.

It was refreshing to learn that alternatives to levees are being entertained by at least some coastal officials. I was not surprised to note enthusiastic input from committee member John M. Barry, who is extremely pragmatic and who recognizes both the benefits and long term costs of traditional earthen levees. Here’s a quote:

“I think this is extraordinarily important,” said John Barry, a member of the state coastal authority and vice president of Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East. He said he has been disappointed that since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there has not been enough of a focus on finding ways to reduce flooding risks outside of levee construction.

JANUARY TWENTY-THIRD

Plaquemines Parish residents get FEMA reality check 

Benjamin Alexander-Bloch reported today in NOLA.com that residents of Plaquemines Parish (and presumably other coastal parishes) were notified at a public meeting that they will soon be billed with new flood insurance rates based on new FEMA DFIRM maps (Digital Flood Insurance Risk Maps).  Here are some key quotes:

The proposed new flood insurance maps…likely will place base flood elevations at 17 to 21 feet for areas of Plaquemines outside of Belle Chasse.

…The federal government will no longer subsidize insurance rates in areas with certain classes of risk…Any increase in the risk premium will be phased in over a five-year period.

…home owners are urged to call FEMA at 866.331.1679 on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. for specifics….if the new flood maps are adopted, most Plaquemines residents outside Belle Chasse will be hit hard if they don’t elevate to at least the new 17- to 21-foot base flood elevations, if not higher.

Based on initial FEMA estimates, the new NFIP premiums for a $250,000 single-family, one-story home in a high- to moderate-risk zone that sits 4 feet below base flood elevations could come to $9,500 a year. If the structure is at the base flood elevation level, it still would cost about $1,410 a year.

If the home is 3 feet above base flood elevations, it would fall to a more reasonable $427 a year.

The future is here, folks. Here’s the link to a user-friendly resource on coastal location and flood risk created by the LSU AgCenter.

JANUARY TWENTY-SECOND

Gore praises Obamafor remarks on climate change in inaugural address

According to a short post in TheHill.com Al Gore paid a rare compliment to President Obama for making a clear commitment to addressing climate change. The climate change and renewable energy comments were prominently included during the POTUS’ second and final inaugural address yesterday. I was inspired by other progressive commitments as well and generally very proud to be a member of an increasingly rare demographic…old white Southern Democratic males.

The cost of reversing climate change.

Alister Doyle with Reuters wrote a sobering new post in HuffingtonPost describes a new study commissioned by Mexican President Calderone on the monetary cost of reducing the impacts of climate change. The study estimates
that the global society faces a substantial monetary cost of tab of $5 trillion for patching up infrastructure damaged by climate change, in addition to $700 billion/yr to make significant progress toward reducing carbon emissions.

Presumably the cost of no action would be inconceivable.

JANUARY TWENTY-FIRST

Project to pump river silt to build marsh is about to commence

Photo from The Advocate

Amy Wold reported in today’s The Advocate that an experimental project to test the effectiveness of dredging sediments from the Mississippi River bed and pumping it many miles through pipelines to replace sunken marshes in the Barataria Basin. I’ve always supported the project but I’m pretty cynical about the cost-effectiveness of the technique.

Wold interviewed Kenneth Bahlinger, project manager for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), who reported that 8,200 cubic yards of sediment will be relocated to restore a little over one square mile of marsh and ridge habitat. That’s about 1.6 Mercedes Benz Superdome Equivalents, or SDEs.

Here’s a quote:

Bayou Dupont will create 196 acres of marsh, nourish 93 acres of existing marsh — including 20 acres of maritime ridge.

At the Long Distance Sediment Pipeline project area, there will be 415 acres of marsh created, Bahlinger said.

The number used totals about 700 acres and It kills me to see numbers significant to single acres like Bahlinger used. Projects in the real world aren’t nearly as precise as that.

BTW 640 acres is a little over one square mile, so if all goes as planned this project would recreate a little more than one square mile, of the stated average of 15 sq mi lost each year. Not exactly a reason to break out the Champagne.

It’s unclear to me why this project has a stated finite goal, rather then being considered as an open-ended process that would continue to be used indefinitely, as long as there were some diesel fuel.

Once again, money becomes the limiting factor and this morning I called into the Jim Engster radio show on WRKF-FM to ask his interviewee, CB Forgotston, about the cost of coastal restoration. Check out his response.

JANUARY TWENTIETH

No post today!

If my almost 4 year-old MacPro laptop 13 were to fail in some way I’d be s**t outta luck so scuttlrbutt writing time was sacrificed for a far larger cause and now everything is in Apple’ Time Machine. What a relief.

JANUARY NINETEENTH

Graphic from floodsmart.gov. Here's the link: http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/flooding_flood_risks/levee_simulator.jsp

U.S. levees in bad shape

The AP reported in NOLA.com that a new study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows that thousands of miles of levees around the country are in substandard condition, many subject to failure. The following quotes from the article lists reasons for the substandard rating, one of which caught my attention and raised my ire about a blanket corps’ policy with which I disagree:

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue ratings for a little more than 40 percent of the 2,487 structures, which protect about 10 million people. Of those it has rated, however, 326 levees covering more than 2,000 miles were found in urgent need of repair.

The problems are myriad: earthen walls weakened by trees, (my emphasis) shrubs and burrowing animal holes; houses built dangerously close to or even on top of levees; decayed pipes and pumping stations.

I’m intrigued (but not surprised) by the problem characterized as levees being weakened by trees. That’s because I’m a strong advocate of testing the radical (to the corps) concept of incorporating dense plantings of long-lived sturdy native trees, such as live oaks and Baldcypress on hybrid levees that I call Faux Chenieres.

These structures would be modest in elevation, thrifty on clay and essentially maintenance free. They would be intended to be overtopped during extreme surge events, during which the tree trunks would dramatically absorb hydraulic energy, knocking the knees out from the destructive power of the rushing water.

JANUARY EIGHTEENTH

Engineering study of New Orleans levee upgrade bad news and good new 

John M. Barry, author and vice chairman of the SLFPA-E

Mark Schleifstein reported today in NOLA.com that a new study led by local engineer Bob Jacobsen and some other experts from outside Louisiana indicates that the virtually complete $10 billion post-Katrina New Orleans levee upgrade is already somewhat obsolete. The fact is that, according to Jacobsen, the science has advanced significantly since Katrina, for example in terms of gulf surge modeling.

The bad news is that we know more now than we did when we were bolstering the levee system…but there are no plans to use the new information, as far as I know.

The good news is the fact that hurricane surge prediction has advanced significantly in the seven years since Katrina.

Schleifstein’s article suggests that at least one member of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) is taking an aggressive approach to employing the latest and best science. I’m talking about the South East Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E), which commissioned the study.

The following quotes from the article are instructive:

The study’s results should be used by the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to help guide its five-year update of the state master plan for coastal protection and restoration, said University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill researcher Richard Luettich, an authority member who also is one of the creators of the ADCIRC storm surge computer model used by the corps during its levee design process. “It seems like the master plan provides the mandate to do this a recurring basis,” Luettich said. “Of course, it’s one thing to have a mandate, and another to have the money to do it.”

John Barry, vice chairman of the authority, said reviewing the design of the rebuilt levees and then pushing for needed changes is aimed at avoiding some of the planning pitfalls encountered by the corps that led to levee failures during Katrina.

“Everybody in this room is aware of the history leading up to Katrina,” Barry said. “At one point in the construction process of what was later termed a system in name only, it was determined by the corps that there was subsidence occurring, and there was a decision made that new construction would be adjusted for the lower elevation, but they would do nothing to retroactively correct parts of the system that were already built.

Like everyone else who cares about saving America’s Delta the real elephant in the room, as noted by Leuttich, is cost. Where is the money coming from to carry out the master plan when BP funds run out? This state is broke, folks!

 JANUARY SEVENTEENTH

Creationism in voucher-ready private schools

This morning on his radio show on NPR affiliate WRKF-FM, Jim Engster interviewed John White, whiz kid Superintendant of the Louisiana Department of Education and chief spokesman for the education system reforms underway.

This article by Danielle Dreillinger in NOLA.com describes White’s having just received an evluation by the BESE Board of 3.15 out of 4. Had I known about the second article by Danielle Dreillinger posted on NOLA.com today I’d have called in to Engster’s show. It seems that 20 Louisiana private schools that accept voucher students on public dollars, teach creationism, the religion-based antithesis of the science of evolution.

Region taught as scine in public shools is a travest.

This information was uncovered by Zack Kopplin, son of Deputy New Orleans Mayor Andy Kopplin and vigorous opponent of the Louisiana Science Education Act, the brainchild of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Here’s a statement about education reform from Zack’s blog:

 

I just started reading a small paperback by Jerry A. Coyne called Why Evolution is True. Here’s a quote that specifically reminded me of our governor’s belief in a few thousand year old world:

…thanks to global positioning system satellite technology, we can see the continents moving apart at a speed of two to four inches per year…This, by the way, combined with the unassailable evidence that the continents were once connected, is evidence against the claim of “young earth” creationists that the Earth is only six to ten thousand years old. If that were the case, we’d be able to stand on the coast of Spain and see the skyline of New York City, for Europe and America would have moved less than a mile apart!

 Now here’s a passage from DAndy Kopplin’s blog site about the appalling anti-science record of our state since Bobby Jindal took charge:

by zackkopplin

On April 18, 2012, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law the most expansive and sweeping voucher program in the nation’s history, the Student Scholarship for Educational Excellence Program an or(or the SSEEP). The SSEEP is, in effect, a creationist voucher program, diverting precious state and local resources from public schools and into the coffers of radical religious schools. During the last several months, state, national, and international media have exposed the program’s enormous flaws: among other things, it is providing millions in taxpayer dollars to at least twenty schools that teach Young Earth Creationism instead of evolution; it is funding several schools that appear to lack basic infrastructure; it is propping up a school that is led by a self-appointed “apostle and prophet.”  It is funding schools that teach the Loch Ness Monster is real and disproves evolution.

And most disturbingly, Louisiana’s program is being hailed by many in the religious right as a “model” for the nation.

During the next few months, Texas and other states across the country will introduce their own programs soon, programs that will likely mirror Louisiana’s law.

Follow this website and our Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date on how to prevent our public money from being used to teach creationism.

JANUARY SIXTEENTH

Louisiana congressmen show extreme shortsightedness

Steve Scalise, the putative leader of our congressional delegation.

John Rudolf reported in HuffingtonPost today that a $50.6 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill finally passed the House of Representatives, largely with Democratic support because a number of Tea Party backed Republicans voted no. This group included three stalwart members of the Louisiana congressional delegation, including Steve Scalise (R-Kenner), Bill Cassidy (R-Baton Rouge), and John Fleming (R-Shreveport).

According to a post by Charlie Mahtesian in Politico, some members of the GOP dominated House have named these anti aid folks the ‘Hypocritical Caucus.’

That seems like a pretty apt moniker to me and I think our guys should be ashamed of their vote. It’ll be very interesting to see how they react when the next disaster strikes our coast.

JANUARY FIFTEENTH

Graphic from NOLA.com (map of the proposed 98 mile $13 billion sand berm known as Morganza to the Gulf).

Personal notes

Dear Readers:

I try hard to avoid personal notes but today I’m making an exception. I awoke very early and couldn’t face the laptop screen so I resumed the horizontal position and continued that pattern all day long.One reason may be the incessantly cold, morose weather.

In the 38 years since I’ve lived in Louisiana, I’ve never seen such an unending stretch of winter weather that feels like Baltimore. Once more, where’s the state climatologist and his comments?

Another reason may be that since May 28 2012 I’ve been continuously taking narcotic painkillers for chronic medical issues and on January 13 I stopped taking them cold turkey. What I’m feeling now could be withdrawal symptoms.

I’m working on two controversial stories, one about the Morganza to the Gulf Project, now up to an astronomical $13 billion; and another article about The Water Institute of the Gulf, about which some university scientists are very conc

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  1. johnbgood says:

    Barry nor his board (the SLFPAE) reviewed the Corps’ designs for the new levees.

  2. Trees on levees – I’m not an advocate either way, and it’s certainly not my area of expertise, but I’m curious about this issue. I have heard from a number of sources (civil engineers, fisheries biologists, and farmers) that the reason for controlling trees on levees is that when tree roots die, they rot and create holes in levees. These holes weaken the levees and serve as passageways for water. Also, there is the problem of trees being pushed over by strong winds which causes their roots to tear up the ground.

    • Jim-
      My Chenieres faux concept is a low elevation levee designed to be overtopped, with the energy blocked by dense trunks of live oaks. Drive over to Waveland Mississippi to see the incredible resistance of live oaks that withstood a thirty foot surge. They should plant a strand of these trees all along Hwy 90.
      Len

      • Coastcaster says:

        Len’s faux levee (perhaps better described as treed “berms”) will work to defend against storm surges and will also be good wildlife habitat. But that idea is different than having trees growing in a levee and on the toe, which risks undermining levee integrity. Too, it is important to distinguish between levee purposes. A levee built to contain the flood flow of a river has different specs than one built to buffer/block a storm surge, and trees growing on the inside toe of the latter may not be as risky and may even improve levee function if integrated into levee design.

  3. A much better answer is that given the extremely low river stages because of the drought I can’t imagine that any water is exiting West Bay currently. Anyhow it’s crystal clear.

  4. When do you expect to have these reports on Morganza and TWIG finished? I am keen to read them! I also hope you start feeling better…

  5. I hope you start feeling better real soon.

    I have a question you or a reader might have the answer too if this is acceptable. What is the status of the West Bay Diversion Project? Is it closed? Are they still planning on closing it?

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