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September 2013 Coastal Scuttlebutt (cont).


Editor’s Note:

I apologize for the recent spotty coverage of coastal news, which reflects my decision to undergo a daily medical treatment regimen for a highly distracting urological problem. This process will presumably be completed at the end of October, by which time I hope to be able to devote more time to Time will tell.

Graphic from


Surprise, surprise. IPCC Report concludes that humans caused global warning

Phil Plait, astronomer and climate change expert for, reported on the newest  United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that was released in summary form on Friday September 28 and that came out in complete form today (September 30). Karl Ritter posted a piece in TalkingPointsMemo ( on this report, which includes the most unambiguous exposition of the role of our species in creating climate change…the report asserts a 95% certainty that we’re to blame.

Ritter’s post lists the following summary points:

— Global warming is “unequivocal,” and since the 1950’s it’s “extremely likely” that human activities have been the dominant cause of the temperature rise.

— Concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased to levels that are unprecedented in at least 800,000 years. The burning of fossil fuels is the main reason behind a 40 percent increase in C02 concentrations since the industrial revolution.

— Global temperatures are likely to rise by 0.3 to 4.8 degrees C, or 0.5-8.6 F, by the end of the century depending on how much governments control carbon emissions.

— Most aspects of climate change will continue for many centuries even if CO2 emissions are stopped.

— Sea levels are expected to rise a further 10-32 inches (26-82 centimeters) by the end of the century.

— The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass over the past two decades. Glaciers have continued to melt almost all over the world. Arctic sea ice has shrunk and spring snow cover has continued to decrease, and it is “very likely” that this will continue.

— It’s “virtually certain” that the upper ocean has warmed from 1971 to 2010. The ocean will continue to warm this century, with heat penetrating from the surface to the deep ocean.

Seasoned AP environmental reporter Seth Borenstein wrote another, particularly clear exposition of the IPCC report, which includes his interpretation of the significance of the term 95% certainty of human causation. This was posted in Commonsense Canadian.


More on the politics of levee board appointments

On September 27, Times-Picayune published an op/ed column by Sandy Rosenthal, founder of, on the appointment of two new members of the Southeast Louisiana Flood protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E). The issue arose when Governor Jindal decided not to accept the applications by Tim Doody and John M. Barry, President and VP, respectively, to extend their tenures on the board.

Replacing Doody and Barry, who have both distinguished themselves on the board, came from a pique of anger on Jindal’s part from the lawsuit brought by the SLFPA-E gainst 97 oil and gas companies to require payment for decades of coastal damage resulting from energy production activities. In her column, Rosenthal pleas for the governor not to hijack the nomination process. This plea will likely fall on deaf ears in that the governor appears intent on squashing the lawsuit by any means possible, despite the transparent weakness of his arguments against the suit.


Sediment diversion ‘controversy’

Mark Schleifstein wrote a feature article for the September 18 Times-Picayune on the ongoing discussion of projects to divert river water and sediments from the Mississippi River to recreate lost deltaic landscape. The article contains a link to a videotaped interview with Gov. Jindal’s coastal advisor Garret Graves, with whom I frequently disagree. In this case I concur with most of Graves’ statements, especially the fact that dredging and pumping coastal sediments to recreate landscape is cost prohibitive…especially compared to diversion projects.

Schleifstein noted that an expert panel of river diversion projects from out of state has been appointed by The Water Institute of the Gulf. This group is expected to convene several times a year to help steer the construction of up to ten diversion projects.

Swampforests can absorb excess nutrients from sewage treatment effluent

David J. Mitchell reported on September 24 in The Advocate that the coastal community of Vacherie will use a tract of coastal forest in St James Parish to ‘polish’ treated sewage wastewater, while nourishing the swampforest. This concept was pioneered by John W. Day, Ph.D. professor emeritus of LSU.

EPA ruling on agricultural runoff may be coming

On September 24 The Advocate published an AP story by Janet McConnaughy on a victory for coastal advocates re a local judicial ruling that requires EPA to consider establishing maximum nutrient standards for watersheds within the Mississippi River basin under the Clean Water Act. Such standards would help to offset coastal eutrophication with nitrogen runoff from corn production that causes the Gulf hypoxic zone. Here’s a key quote:

Judge Jay Zainey, in his ruling Friday, gave the agency six months to decide whether to set Clean Water Act standards for the nutrients in all U.S. waterways or explain why they’re not needed.

“If they step up to the plate and do the right thing, agreeing to promulgate federal standards where states have failed, the impact on waters throughout the nation could be hugely positive,” said Ann Alexander, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of nine environmental groups including the Gulf Restoration Network, the Sierra Club and the Prairie Rivers Network.


Major sediment diversion project finally about to happen?

On September 19 The Advocate reporter Amy Wold described a presentation at the September meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) of the possible construction during 2015 of a $40.4 million project at north of Head of Passes. This is the long-awaited Myrtle Grove sediment diversion project planned to release up to 75,000 cu ft. sec. of river water and sediment so as to recreate 50 sq mi of coastal wetlands during coming decades. Wold described the project, the most extensively studied and vetted restoration project in history, as controversial. That’s because during recent years opposition to river diversion projects has been organized by commercial fishing interests.

Myrtle Grove project

The not for profit Water Institute of the Gulf has been commissioned to create a team of out of state experts to weigh in on the project, presumably to provide objective science-based information and credibility. As we all know, science-based information carries little political sway in Louisiana.


What if the Mississippi River turns alkaline?

Gwynns Falls runs beneath Interstate 95 at Carroll Park in Baltimore. The chemistry of this river, like many across the country, is changing. (photo from NPR)

When I was in grad school in the 70s studying to be a coastal ecologist I learned the name Gene Likens, a 1963 Ph.D. alumnus of the University of Wisconsin who was already an expert on what made forested ecosystems tick. Likens did the research that showed why and how these ecosystems were important…and how they were negatively impacted by acid rain, by clear cutting and by other human-caused influences.

I had assumed that Dr. Likens had long since hung up his research shingle and become a retiree. Au contraire. On September 13 Christopher Joyce produced a feature story on Likens’ current research on NPR’s Morning Edition. This scientist and his colleagues have now identified a massive shift in the biogeochemistry of his beloved forests and rivers.

After decades of relentless acid precipitation, the streams and rivers that comprise these east coast watersheds are becoming not more acidic but more alkaline. This is largely the result of decades of dissolution by acid rain of limestone all along the east coast.

Here’s a quote:

Acid rain is largely behind the phenomenon, the scientists say. It’s been eating away chunks of rock, especially limestone rock, and the runoff produces carbonates that flow into rivers. “We’re basically dissolving the surface of the Earth,” says Kaushal. “It’s ending up in our water. It’s like rivers on Rolaids. There’s a natural antacid in these watersheds.”

The area that is described in the piece is from my old stomping ground including a small stream in the middle of Baltimore, which is becoming steadily more alkaline.

Only at the end of the piece did I appreciate the widespread nature of this phenomenon.  The largest watershed in North America is now becoming more caustic. The Mississippi River is now affected, perhaps as much by applications of agricultural lime as by acid rain dissolving soli carbonates.

Now I’m intrigued by implications of this phenomenon on the critical issues on which the sustainability of south Louisiana depends. Most basically this includes the effectiveness of delta restoration via river diversions. It also includes the reduction of gulf hypoxia and Gulf water acidification that threatens oyster production.

What say you, experts on biogeochemistry?


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  14. Anonymous, Len is correct, he is my friend and we do disagree on this point.

    Wastewater assimilation in natural wetlands is very complex and not a simple matter of fertilizer making plants grow more. The concept is severely flawed for many reasons, but it’s been promoted so much that people think it’s a wonderful cure-all. Because it’s touted as a win-win solution and because it appeals to wishful thinking, many are unwilling to follow the the science to it’s logical conclusion. The fear is that, if the liabilities of wastewater assimilation becomes obvious then it might have a negative impact on diversion acceptance and funding. This has made the details of scientific discourse unpopular and subject to political maneuvering. And this seems to become more evident as green groups (not all) loose their identity by turning into “eco-lambs” and crawling into bed with “disaster capitalists.”

    Natural wetlands cannot be managed like constructed wetlands, which are part of the permitted, treatment process before discharge. Natural wetlands are not a part of the pre-dischage treatment process. They are the locations of the discharge after treatment, just as streams are. To consider them a polishing process and part of treatment is an incorrect extrapolation taken from the success of constructed wetlands. This has led to much confusion, some of which, I think was intentional because it’s been repeated so many times. It’s like saying streams serve as part of the treatment process because they dilute and further treat constituent levels by natural processes. Most successful constructed wetlands have a life span of less than 20 yrs. before decaying organic matter recycles constituents back into the water, making it necessary to physically remove the organic build-up before treatment efficiency can be restored. This is not practical in natural wetlands where nutrients continue to build, facilitate decomposition and a continual flow keeps water depth elevated, often between 20-30 cm. above pre-discharge levels. This in turn, generally, causes the organic build-up to turn into the texture of soup…ripe for hurricanes and sediment export. I have hundreds of photos of the Hammond site before and after each hurricane that shows dramatic impacts that are limited to just the area of the marsh receiving the discharge.

    Yes, vegetation will grow and respond to the fertilizer effect, but it selects for floating plants with few roots, and a high labile content and they are of little use to wetland stability. The emergent species of plants, which remain are those with the highest ability to adapt to adverse conditions. Contrary to many declarations here in Louisiana, most scientific papers on the subject suggest that nutrient enrichment minimizes biodiversity. Often the reason given is because nutrient enrichment leads to low-density tissue production (aerenchyma/tissue-porisoty) that causes above ground mechanical weakness and a liability during plant succession.

    Besides the obvious failures and degradation at the Hammond site, I’m philosophically opposed to wastewater assimilation in natural wetlands because it fosters the acceptance of relaxed regulations that have needed strengthening for at least thirty years. Tertiary treatment of domestic sewage is practical and reasonable, and it would have a very large and positive impact, if it became the required standard of treatment prior to discharge…not likely. Nonetheless, the city of Orlando’s Iron Bridge treatment facility treats its sewage to tertiary levels prior to discharge and the people of that city have accepted the user fees and seem very proud of their environmental stewardship.

    I’ll be giving a short presentation at the Basics of the Basin conference this year, if anyone is interested.

  15. Surely this will draw a comment from Ed B since it’s working so well south of Hammond?

    Vacherie area swamps to help with sewage treatment
    by David J. Mitchell
    September 23, 2013

    St. James Parish government has agreed to make the final land purchase below south Vacherie for a regional sewer system relying on Louisiana swamp lands to do part of the water cleansing work.

    The Parish Council has been accumulating property off La. 20 for the past two years and is close to amassing 951 acres for the project, parish officials said.

    The property will be used to build a 1 million gallon per day facility that will send treated sewage effluent into the swamp and also will serve as the area to receive the treated effluent.

    Called wetlands assimilation, the method relies on the swamp to draw up the nutrients remaining in the treated effluent discharged by sewer plants.

    Often a water quality problem when sent directly into streams and bayous, these nutrients are food to freshwater swamps, which in turn finishes cleaning the effluent water.

    Hammond and other communities in the state have used the treatment method.

    • Anonymous-
      I posted a link to an article describing this project. My friend Ed Bodker and I disagree about the efficacy of this technique.

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