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May 2013 Coastal Scuttlebutt (cont.)



Authoritative advice on coastal ‘medicine’

As I close out the May 2013 Coastal Scuttlebutt I call your attention to an opinion column on river diversions in by two of my scientist colleagues, each as qualified on the subject of restoring the Louisiana coast as anyone I know. On May 28, while I was visiting a highly respected medical expert on scleroderma at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, two highly respected ‘coastal physicians’ Drs. John Day and Paul Kemp, weighed in on the important subject of excess nitrogen in river water that is being used to hold hostage the implementation of sediment diversions…the only feasible means of saving a significant part of our coast.

This column should be a must read by anyone who still harbors the mythical notion that restoring the coast could be accomplished without reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta. Implementation of large sediment diversion projects should not be held hostage by excess nitrogen concentration in river water, or delayed while upstream corn farmers are persuaded to reduce the application of fertilizer that washes off of their Iowa, Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota fields and into coastal Louisiana. The corn fertilizer problem is real and it needs to be addressed aggressively but delaying the implementation of massive sediment diversions until it is solved would be tragic.


Coastal Scuttlebutt on medical leave in Baltimore

Dear Readers:I apologize for this temporary hiatus in coastal news while I’m in my old home town visiting a medical expert on scleroderma at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Back in the Bayou State tomorrow afternoon.


Governor’s Office opaque to the public

Yesterday Times-Picayune published a stinging rebuke of Governor Jindal’s administration LSU journalism professor Bob Mann, a noted authority on the Louisiana political scene. The main point of Mann’s essay is the lack of transparency re policy decisions on the part of the governor’s office and key agencies, including natural resources, environmental quality and wildlife and fisheries.

There is no justification for the Jindal Administration to cloak policy decisions, many of which have coastal implications, under an (unethical) veil of secrecy. Future assessments of the effectiveness of coastal protection and restoration during this critical time period will be greatly handicapped by the absence of written records on project priorities, funding options, etc.


Yesterday’s posted extensive excerpts from a book called “Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind” by Ajit Varki and Danny Brower that proposes an hypothesis for why so many people deny science, including climate change.

Here are some representative quotes:

The potent combination of our powerful intelligence with our massive reality denial has led to a dangerous world. Less obvious, but in the long term more dangerous, are threats resulting directly or indirectly from technological developments that have permitted us to increase our numbers well beyond the carrying capacity of the natural world. More efficient agriculture and the invention of artificial fertilizers permitted humans to produce food sufficient to support numbers that would be unthinkable for other animals of our physical size.

…As explained by environmental activist Paul Gilding in “The Great Disruption”: “We have now reached a moment where four words—the earth is full—will define our times. This is not a philosophical statement; this is just science based in physics, chemistry and biology … To keep operating at our current level, we need 50 percent more Earth than we’ve got.”

…One does not need to be an expert to find convincing evidence that global temperatures are indeed rising, and that the climate is changing, likely due to human activities. Every one of the more than 150 national scientific academies in the world, every professional scientific society with members in relevant fields, and more than 98 percent of all scientists who study climate agree on this point. There is increasing agreement that the Industrial Revolution ushered in a new climatic period, which Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen has called the Anthropocene.

…(G)iven the extreme degree of polarization surrounding the debate (on anthropogenic climate change), it is unlikely that any consensus on action will be reached soon. If so, there are alternate sensible approaches that can be pursued. Durwood Zaelke, founder of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, and Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, suggest a short-term strategy that involves cutting emissions of four climate pollutants: “black carbon, a component of soot; methane, the main component of natural gas; lower-level ozone, a main ingredient of urban smog; and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are used as coolants. They account for as much as 40 percent of current warming. Unlike carbon dioxide, these pollutants are short-lived in the atmosphere. If we stop emitting them, they will disappear in a matter of weeks to a few decades. We have technologies to do this, and, in many cases, laws and institutions to support these cuts.”

…Humans may be products of chance events that allowed full theory of mind (ToM) and intentionality to emerge, but we were able to come into existence only because we simultaneously developed the ability to deny our own mortality and reality. But as a by-product, we also deny many of our other problems, despite having the ability to understand them.

…New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter addresses this new and widespread fear of science and the consequences of this reality denial for individuals and for the planet in his 2009 book, “Denialism.” He expresses concern over the fact that both political leaders and the public seem to mistrust science more than ever before. So irrational and unfounded fears about everything from childhood vaccines to genetically modified grains abound, even while dietary supplements and ?natural? cures with no proven value are gaining many followers. As Specter sees it, this war against science amounts to a war on progress itself, and it’s occurring at a time when we actually need science more than ever to chart our future in a rational fashion.

I find this theory interesting but not terribly persuasive. I blame the current pervasive anti-science attitude, at least among Americans, on ignorance resulting from poor education, rather than a widespread denial of human mortality.

What do you think?


Col. Edward Fleming, former commander of the Corps of Engineers' New Orleans District office, briefs reporters in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac. Mark Schleifstein, | The Times-Picayune

Outgoing Corps District Commander chides state officials for abandoning coastal projects

Mark Schleifstein reported today in on a disagreement between state officials and Col. Ed Fleming, former New Orleans District Commander of the Corps of Engineers, over coastal project priorities. The state has pulled the plug on cost sharing 11 of 16 projects included in the apparently now defunct Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) plan. Here are some key quotes, including two passages that I highlighted:

…Four of those projects were halted because of state objections to the cost of feasibility studies, and the rest were suspended because the corps plans for the projects no longer matched the requirements of the state’s Coastal Master Plan, according to state officials.

Projects on hold include modifying the Caernarvon and Davis Pond freshwater diversions to increase the flow of sediment and freshwater into interior wetlands; constructing a land bridge between Caillou Lake and the Gulf of Mexico; rebuilding the Gulf shoreline at Point Au Fer Island; modifying the Amite River diversion canal; restoring the shoreline along the Terrebonne Basin; and projects that would move Atchafalaya River water into the Terrebonne Basin.

…Garret Graves, chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said the state is “in the process of having a third party taking a fresh look at the stagnant LCA projects to see if there is a better path forward among the state, corps and other stakeholders.”

Two questions: (1) what projects were being considered to move Atchafalaya River Water into the Terrebonne Basin; and (2) who/what is the third party taking a fresh look at LCA projects; is it The Water Institute of the Gulf (TWIG)? There are so many Louisiana project lists on the table (including 39 that were announced at the CPRA meeting and 73 being considered by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council plan) that it has become virtually impossible to identify specific projects that remain under serious consideration.


Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council releases draft plan with 73 Louisiana projects

Mark Schleifstein reported today in that a draft initial comprehensive plan listing 73 Louisiana gulf coast projects for potential funding under the RESTORE Act was released yesterday by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

Quote from article:

Garret Graves, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s representative on the council, said he expects Louisiana to request that some of the RESTORE Act money be used to pay the costs of building the Morganza to the Gulf hurricane levee in the Houma area. Some of the money may also be used for hurricane risk-reduction projects that had been part of the Donaldsonville to the Gulf project recently rejected by the Army Corps of Engineers.

But Graves said the CPRA will focus its expenditures on projects recommended by the Coastal Master Plan, which was approved by the state Legislature in 2012. Beyond some money for levees and wetland-related dredging, the state is not interested in using RESTORE Act money for infrastructure projects, he said.

“We are talking about the impacts of the nation’s worst oil spill, the future of millions of Louisianans, our economy, our fishermen and our coast — politics has no place here,” Graves said in an email messsage. “To deviate at this point would be irresponsible,” he said. “These other types of projects may be aesthetically pleasing, but they don’t function well under 15 feet of hurricane storm surge.”

I would argue that both the Morganza to the Gulf and Donaldsonville to the Gulf projects carry huge political overtones and permitting issues in addition to huge costs, so to say that politics has no place here is somthing of an oxymoron.


Nucor plant

Check out a post published today seeking information about a river diversion project called West Maurepas. This project is being promoted by the state as one of 39 high priority coastal projects and I want to find out whether it is proposed for construction at the Nucor iron plant site near Convent.


Bobby Jindal stands proudly atop a sand berm. (Photo from

Coastal greed

As a former oyster biologist I’ve long been an advocate of using oyster reefs as a sustainable component of coastal ecosystem restoration. This would benefit the commercial oyster industry as well as the coastal cause, but there seems to be a general disinterest or even hostility toward the coastal program on the part of many oyster leaseholders.

Thus I took some pleasure in reading Mark Schleifstein’s report in today’s that two lawsuits by oyster growers have been dismissed in federal courts. The suits were brought against the state, the dredging industry and BP for damage to oyster leases supposedly resulting from construction of Bobby Jindal’s highly controversial BP sand berms.

According to the article the plaintiffs had already been reimbursed by BP for oil pollution damage to their oysters, so the lawsuits were a transparent attempt to double dip. This greed on the part of the oyster growers provides an ironic counterpoint to the ill conceived $260 million sand berms, which did nothing to keep oil out of the coast.


Louisiana Coast: Last Call the Master Plan (parts five and six)

Part five of Bob Marshall’s radio broadcast/podcast on the state of the coast discusses the Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a sustainable coast, published in 2012.

The Master Plan reflects a lot more science and numerical modeling than previous plans but there is still a huge component of uncertainty built into the plan, such as an incomplete riverine sediment budget.

Part six of the series discusses the potential for massive sediment diversions to rebuild parts of the coast. Three opponents of this strategy, which is the virtual keystone of the Master Plan, are interviewed by Marshall. These interviewees include a coastal program manager (Kerry St. Pé) a scientist (Gene Turner) who represents a small minority of the scientific community, and a representative of commercial fishers (Robert Campo).

None of these folks offer a realistic and affordable alternative to river diversions. Here’s a quote from Dr. Turner that I believe reflects an erroneous view of the goal of river diversions:

“…the land gain over 7000 years has been on the order of a square mile, square mile and a half per year. All those diversions are supposed to — if they’re successful over 50 years — it’s going to bring in 23, 25 times more land than we had for the whole coast for 7000 years.”

Proponents of river diversions are not so naïve as to imagine that over fifty years such projects will recreate the 2,000 square miles of lost landscape that formerly contributed to a 10,000 square mile delta complex.

Note that Bob Marshall, who reports on the environment for, will host a live chat about the fate of the coast today at 1:00 PM CDT.


Louisiana Coast: Last Call (part four)

'Laciest' coastal map to date.

Bob Marshall’s radio broadcast/podcast on the state of the coast continues today with a discussion on current expectations re the odds of success in saving the coast. Marshall interviewed the following impressive list of folks for part four: Virginia Burkett,* Garret Graves, Oliver Houck, David Muth, Ryan Lambert, Tim Osborn, Don Boesch, Denise Reed, Aaron Viles, John Barry and Kerry St. Pé,

I recommend listening to and or reading this piece and complementing it with Marshall’s latest coastal post in that focuses on river management.

*I’ve known Virginia Burkett for many years and unless I’m sadly mistaken, her notable accomplishments do not include a Nobel prize.

Two public coastal panel discussions in New Orleans this week (May 22 and May 23)

1) Loyola University School of Mass Communication May 22 (6 PM).

The WWNO-FM series by The Lens’ Coastal Desk reporter Bob Marshall reveals this sobering consensus from coastal scientists and state officials:  If the master plan for the coast isn’t completed over the next 40 years, most of southeast Louisiana will be under water before the end of the century.

Join Bob as he moderates a panel discussion of experts to see if they agree and take your questions on this vital issue: John Barry, author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America, David Muth, head of the National Wildlife Federation’s Louisiana Coastal Project; Anne Rolfes, founder of Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Kerry St. Pé, head of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program and Aaron Viles, deputy director at the Gulf Restoration Network.

The event is free and open to the public. Donations are appreciated.

2) Louisiana State Library at Jackson Square (6 PM)*

The Louisiana State Museum is hosting a panel discussion on coastal restoration efforts along the Gulf Coast and implementation of the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan on May 23 at 6 p.m.

The panel will feature Garret Graves, chairman of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and executive assistant for coastal activities to Gov. Bobby Jindal; David Muth, Louisiana state director for the National Wildlife Foundation;and Charles Allen III, director of coastal and environmental affairs for the city of New Orleans.

The panel will be at the Presbytere on Jackson Square in New Orleans, and is free to the public. The panel is part of the museum’s “Coastal Conversations” series, which focuses on environmental issues raised in the exhibition, “Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond.”

Refreshments will be provided, courtesy of the Friends of the Cabildo.

*Notice by Mark Schleifstein in


Water management in New Orleans

Mark Davis

Kari Dequine Harden reported in The Advocate yesterday on a conference on water management that was held on Wednesday in New Orleans. Here are the opening paragraphs:

The current tactic of moving storm water out of the city as quickly as possible needs to change, and now is the time to change it, according to three experts who spoke at a workshop Wednesday devoted to exploring how other U.S. cities are turning water challenges into water assets.

Jeff Thomas

The workshop was the first in a series of five focused on strategies in urban water management hosted by the Greater New Orleans Foundation in partnership with the Urban Institute and more than 30 other organizations.

The three speakers included Mark Davis, director of the Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy at the Tulane University Law School; Jeff Thomas, principal of Thomas Strategies, LLC and a lawyer in New Orleans; and Noah Garrison, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. It’s interesting that these three experts are all attorneys, not hydrologists or civil engineers or urban planners. This is not meant to disparage their collective insights on urban water management, however, which are quite impressive.

Noah Garrison

The artificial drawdown of the water table in the New Orleans ‘bowl’ is a primary reason that it is a bowl, for which ‘urban runoff’ is an oxymoron. Here are some quotes on that subject:

“We built the bowl,” Davis said, by drawing too much water out of the city. “Every new pump structure creates tomorrow’s subsidence and tomorrow’s risk,” he said.

…(Jeff) Thomas described storm water management, and drainage, as the third line of defense, behind levees, the second, and coastal restoration, the first. Allowing water to be absorbed into the spongy ground mitigates subsidence, he said.

Had I been in attendance I would have posed the following question: Pumping water out of the bowl not only accelerates subsidence and increases flood risk, it also increases the risk of fires that smolder each year, causing breathing problems and automobile crashes. Why is the water table artificially maintained at such a low level, even in sparsely populated former swamp forest areas such as New Orleans East?


Coastal highways turn into waterways.

Bob Marshall’s coastal podcast, Part Three

Bob Marshall’s ongoing series of radio broadcasts and podcasts on the history, current state and likely future fate of the coast continued today with part three: Last Call — Rising seas and sinking land. In part one the 6,000 year growth of the Mississippi River delta was described, as were the human changes to the natural ‘plumbing’ that initiated its decline. Part two described the damaging effects of canals, primarily related to oil and gas production.

Part three describes the effect of subsidence and accelerated sea level as a result of climate change, which is not acknowledged by the governor and the GOP members of our delegation. This is ironic for many reasons, including the fact that the state’s $50 billion 50 year Master Plan to protect and restore the coast does acknowledge sea level rise (without ascribing its human roots) although the plan does not consider the worst case projections of relative sea level that are discussed in part three.


Bob Marshall coastal radio podcast, Part Two

These parallel canals could be fifty years old. Credit Dr. Terry McTigue / NOAA

Yesterday, Bob Marshall’s series of coastal radio broadcasts and podcasts on NPR continued with part two: Last Call — How We Got This Way: Canal Dredging. This picks up where the discussion in Part one (below) left off…a description of the huge impacts of the effects of oil and gas production in the Mississippi River delta, largely from the direct and indirect impacts of dredging canals.

The physical impacts of oil and gas production began in the fifties, picked up during the sixties and seventies and then declined as production moved offshore, although the progressive impacts of existing canals continues unabated. In addition to listening to the show I strongly recommend reviewing the visua aids, including animations of land loss.

I would point out that the estimate of total land loss (1,900 square miles) is conservative in that it doesn’t include the increasing inundation and gradual loss of coastal forests, which aren’t usually included in land loss projections.

Rich Campanella



Bob Marshall radio series on the Louisiana coast: Part one

Larry Powell








I call your attention to an informative series of coastal radio broadcasts conceived and produced by Bob Marshall, former Outdoors Editor with the Times-Picayune, now environmental reporter for The series, which is being broadcast (and podcast) on New Orleans NPR affiliate WWNO 89.9 FM, is based on interviews with a wide variety of coastal authorities with contrasting perspectives on the many coastal issues that characterize the largest delta in North America. 

Part 1, which was aired on May 14, is titled The Louisiana Coast: Last Call — How We Got This Way: The Mississippi River. The inaugural broadcast focuses on the prehistoric development of the Mississippi River delta, followed by the initial settlement of New Orleans, followed by the progressive and obsessive strangling of the river by flood levees. As described in the piece, the fateful decision to depend on levees only, rather than floodways and other nonstructural means to reduce flood risk was largely made by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers General Andrew Humphries.

Part 1 is largely based on interviews with †wo well-known Tulane University faculty members, geographer Richard Campanella and history professor Larry Powell.


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  3. Kenneth Ragas says:

    Could our only hope be another Younger Dryas period? That would reduce rising sea level.

  4. ed bodker says:

    Len, the book you reference about self deception and climate change deniers does bring up some interesting points. I truly admire your willingness to weigh in on controversy about science, religion and the motives of those who deny climate change. There seems to me to be a curious contradiction even among many in this state who want to save the coast, but don’t place much emphasis on global warming as the cause of sea level rise and wetland loss. I couldn’t agree with you more that we need good science, but we also need good ethical and religious discussions because coastal decisions and decisions about climate change are inseparable from the moral issues of natural resources and their exploitation. I don’t advocate getting into discussions about religious dogma or political affiliation, but the response to climate change and even coastal restoration raises the moral question of who we are and how we relate to the environment.

    The dire projections showing coastal Louisiana disappearing rightfully raises concern for wanting to save “out coast.” And we want national funding to remedy our plight. We build a case for how important the Louisiana coast is for the rest of the nation. But these same projections of diminishing wetlands do not elicit concern among us, which should be even greater regarding the public and political will necessary to address climate change. Where is the discussion and commitment within Louisiana for reducing greenhouse gases and making climate change a top priority? How much of the state’s master plan is openly dedicated to climate change issues? The disconnect here becomes a moral issue.

    I hope we are friends enough to disagree, but I don’t think it’s a matter of education or ignorance behind the pervasive attitude of climate change deniers. I suspect it has to do with the denial of deep rooted moral values advocating unlimited resource exploitation and excessive consumption.

    There is a current TV commercial of a grow man sitting down with a group of small children. The man asks the children the question, “Is it better to have more than less?” The children enthusiastically wave their hands and respond, “More! More! We want more!” And that is the heart of the issue with climate change deniers and most of us who insatiably want or have more than we need, use, or can appreciate.


  5. Don Boesch says:


    Virginia Burkett was one of the contributing authors to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment. For this work the IPCC was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with former Vice President Al Gore.


    • Thanks for clearing that up, Don.
      Sorry for my skepticism, Virginia.

      • Anonymous says:


        No PERSON can claim to be a Nobel winner for being a member of an organization which has been awarded a Nobel. Unless your name is on the award certificate you have not been given a Nobel. That point came up a few months ago in Mann’s libel suit against some right wing groups denying global warming. They obtained a statement from the Nobel committee that Mann could not claim to be a winner.

        If Ms. Burkett has ever claimed to be a winner herself then she is mistaken. If she has only said she is member of an organization which has won the prize then that is perfectly accurate and acceptable.

  6. Anonymous says:


    Is the Nucor steel diversion still important to you? Then see the latest plan from the Pontchartrain Levee District

    Page 15 is the locally preferred levee. Compare to your view of MTG and Nucor.


    • Anonymous says:

      Yes the Nucor diversion is still important to me as it appears to be the ideal site to reconnect the river to the Maurepas swamp. Among 39 projects announced by the CPRA, one is labeled ‘West Maurepas diversion 001.D1.29,’ which could be the Nucor site.
      The parish flood levee will be problematic but I assume that a conveyance channel could be designed to flow past it.

      • Anonymous says:

        If leaky levees are problematic for MTG why isn’t this levee also a problem? The only ways to flow past a levee are to through it with a gate or over it by siphon or pump.

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