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So-called ‘Comprehensive’ 2017 Coastal Master Plan is anything but

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Compare the coastal boundary depicted in the 2017 master plan with a deltaic 'footprint' from 2000.

Fig. 1a. (top map) shows the coastal boundary as depicted in the 2017 master plan (limited to the official coastal zone). Fig. 1b (bottom map) shows the actual ‘deltaic domain’ from a 2000 graphic that includes the Atchafalaya Basin.

by Len Bahr, Ph.D.

On December 10, 2016 the voters in Louisiana chose John N. Kennedy, a climate change denier, as its junior U.S. senator over his competitor Foster Campbell, who understands Louisiana’s existential vulnerability to global warming.

On December 19 the electoral college awarded the U.S. presidency to the invalid-dictorian of its class of 2016, a braggadocious real estate salesman with a conspiratorial bias against the ongoing and impending effects of climate change.

On January 2, 2017 the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) released its long-awaited draft of Louisiana’s comprehensive 2017 coastal master plan, which acknowledges anthropogenic climate change but understates its unequivocal significance to the potential success  of the plan.

This post represents my reflections about the plan, based on ten years as a practicing coastal scientist at LSU and almost three decades of experience with the coastal restoration program, both as a participant/supporter and observer/critic. Specific recommendations for modifying the draft plan are presented below, a list that will be submitted in final form to the CPRA before the March 26 deadline for public comments. My first recommendation will call for the addition of a disclaimer on page one of the plan stipulating to the legislators who must vote to approve the document that, absent significant global action to reduce carbon emissions within the coming decade, the plan will become moot.

What’s at stake

The 2017 draft master plan represents the third swing by the CPRA at producing a workable strategy to salvage at least a portion of the largest delta in N. America. The first two versions of this plan were released and approved respectively by the Louisiana legislature in 2007 and 2012. A great deal of hope has accompanied the approval of each version but now, after five more years of serious effort on the part of hundreds of planners, state and federal agency staffers, consultants, scientists, stakeholder representatives and environmental advocates, the two million residents of S. Louisiana have some reason to be hopeful – but a lot of room to be skeptical.

My view of the plan

IMHO the current draft plan is overly optimistic, simplistic, and largely bereft of context. Not included is the challenge of saving and sustaining the entire Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Delta Complex, the largest delta in North America. This delta complex represents the economic and ecological business end of a watershed occupying 41% of the lower 48 states and part of Canada. The above graphic illustrates the overly restricted domain, or footprint of the plan.

Whereas the plan should be user friendly, concise, clear and candid, in fact it is bureaucratic, jargon-rich, and full of spin. While chock a bloc with pretty pictures, the plan glosses over serious challenges, with substantive information, including modeling results, buried in appendices. For example, figure 3.2 on pp 58-59, a graphic titled 2017 Coastal Master Plan Development Process, is incomprehensible. In short, absent serious modification this draft plan is likely to be shelved unread, alongside its predecessors.

The huge Miss. R. watershed presents opportunities to build upriver partners, which are ignored in the current document. For example, the issue of gulf hypoxia is mentioned only like a footnote at the very end of Chapter 5. The all time record Baton Rouge Deluge during August 2016, likely a symptom of climate change, is ignored, presumably considered unrelated to coastal issues. The realistic potential to double land-building suspended sediments in the lower river by modifying a series of small dams on the lower Missouri River is also inexplicably ignored. As noted above, anthropogenic climate change, which should be emphasized as a fundamental challenge to all coastal projects, is basically buried in fine print.

The Atchafalaya River, one of the two distributaries of the river system, which carries 66% of the suspended sediment load, is not even mentioned except for a proposed project to divert Atchafalaya water flow into Terrebonne Parish wetlands near the gulf. Ignoring the Atchafalaya River Basin precludes any discussion of using the Old River Control Structure as a way to optimize water flow between the two distributaries. Finally, the executive summary insufficiently emphasizes sediment diversion projects, which should be the centerpiece of the entire restoration enterprise.

The executive summary presents a shallow and misleading description of human vs. ‘natural’ causes for the 1,900 sq mi of coastal landscape that have become permanently flooded since the turn of the twentieth century. This paragraph omits two of the most destructive enterprises ever agreed to by the state: (1) damming off Bayou Lafourche from the river at Donaldsonville in 1904; and (2) dredging the infamous Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) in 1963.

Other views

On January 3 TheAdvocate.com published an article by Bob Marshall, based at least in part on having interviewed Bren Haase, assistant administrator of the CPRA, who plays a major technical and coordinating role in the formulation of this plan. Marshall’s article points up the fact that the 2017 plan projects a net loss of coastal landscape by the year 2050 under a best case scenario. This strongly contrasts with a net gain of landforms, as projected by the 2012 plan.

Also on January 3, Nola.com|TheTimes-Picayune published a complementary article about the plan by Mark Schleifstein, who focused more than Marshall on specific projects in the plan. Marshall and Schleifstein are Pulitzer Prize winning colleagues and arguably the most knowledgable reporters on the state of our coast.

On January 5, Bob Marshall supplemented his piece in The Advocate with an article in TheLensNola.org, which quotes two prominent coastal authorities, Tor Tornqvist, Tulane U. coastal geologist and expert on subsidence; and Donald Boesch, Louisiana native and president of the Univ. of Maryland Center for Environmental Studies. I was encouraged by the frank expression of the pivotal role of climate change on the potential success of the plan.

Also on January 5, NOLA.com | TheTimes-Picayune announced the formation of a coastal team led by Mark Schleifstein to report on the status of efforts to restore the coast. I hope that this reflects widespread recognition of the critical nature of the restoration program.

On January 6, LPB’s Louisiana The State We’re In featured an intervew  by Charlie Winham with Windell Curole and Bren Haase about the revised master plan, which was somewhat sardonically referred to as Louisiana’s Moon Shot. I would point out that Curole, who sits on the CPRA task force and  heads up the Lower Lafourche Levee Board, is a long time skeptic of numerical modeling (on which most projections of future flood risk are based).

On January 7 TheIndependent.com out of Lafayette carried another article by Bob Marshall, again focused on the dire predictions in the plan and the need to elevate homes at risk, a project category described in the plan as non-structural flood control.

On January 8 The Advocate published an editorial calling for the Louisiana delegation to speak with one voice re the need for federal support for the plan. I was gratified by the explicit acknowledgment in this editorial of climate change. On the same day The Advocate ran a refreshingly candid op/ed by Stephanie Grace calling for the GOP to take climate change seriously. Could this be a sign that the Louisiana business community, as shown, for example, by local TV meteorologists, will follow suit?

On January 12 NOLA.com|TheTimes-Picayune published an op/ed by Governor Jon Bel Edwards that amounted to an unequivocal endorsement of the plan.

The Jindal Legacy

It’s important to remember that the2017 draft master plan is being released in the aftermath of the ruinous policy shadow of the Jindal years. Here’s a quote from an article by Jamelle Bouie, published in Slate.com on January 6:

During his two terms, Jindal slashed taxes on the wealthy, cut social services, and borrowed to make up the difference. To deal with years of massive budget shortfalls—$1.6 billion in 2015, Jindal’s final year in office—Louisiana has cut funding from education, health care, and criminal defense services, including $800 million from Medicaid services for the elderly and $142 million in funding for hospitals. Students face tuition hikes, and the poor are set to lose more services and assistance.

Most of the contributors to the draft plan are veterans of the Jindal years and, in fairness to these classified employees, their cautious and optimistic language in the draft plan could be explained by having worked within a markedly vindictive administration.

Specific issues that need to be addressed and/or corrected

  1. In a plan that is ostensibly purported to describe the salvation of the largest delta in North America the word delta is hardly mentioned, and only in fine print…and what about the huge watershed of the river system, the condition of which is vital to the river sediments and nutrients that pass Morgan City and New Orleans?
  2. The Atchafalaya River Basin above the Intracoastal Waterway is curiously excluded from the overall footprint of the plan. This means that the Old River Control Structure, the largest water control structure in the entire delta system, which could be used to optimize river flows between the two largest distributaries, is not on the table. The Atchafalaya River caries 66% of the total sediment carried by the river system. Here’s a telling quote from the USGS:

    The Atchafalaya now carries ~84 x 106 metric tons of sediment annually (Allison et al., 2000), in comparison to the ~210 x 106 metric tons of sediment carried by the combined Mississippi–Red-Atchafalaya system (Milliman and Meade, 1983).

  3. caption

    Figure 2 from Kemp,et. al. 2016. Note fine print from the published graphic.

    In terms of sediment delivery of the river system, the 2016 paper by Kemp, at al. is ignored. This despite its striking conclusion that suspended sediments in the lower river could be virtually doubled if Louisiana partnered with environmental interests to the north and west to modify a series of small dams on the lower Missouri River to allow trapped sediments to bypass the dams.

    Also, in terms of water quality, the plan hardly mentions gulf hypoxia, primarily a consequence of excess nitrogen applied to corn fields in the Ohio River valley. This issue, which involves a number of states and provides an opportunity for a cooperative interstate partnership, is relegated to the very end of Chapter 5.

  4. Relative sea level rise used in the plan, including subsidence, is significantly lower than the worst case scenario of 6.5 ft by the year 2100 for sea level only.                                                                                                     
  5. The highly contentious Morganza-to-the-Gulf project (MTTG) is listed for construction, despite its stupendous $8.4 billion cost and the damage it would do to existing coastal marshes. I have proposed that a hybrid version of the MTTG project should be explored as an alternative to MTTG, converting a massive seawall with expensive control structures into a series of parallel forested ridges designed to be overtopped during an extreme surge but dissipating most of the destructive energy. This could dramatically reduce cost and expand ecological benefits, while eliminating the strong scientific objections to the project.
  6. Neither the graphic showing restoration milestones and events on pp 30-31 nor the section titled progress made since 2007 on pp 34-35 includes the historic closure of MRGO in July 2009.
  7. On p51 reference is made to the LCA partnership with the Corps of Engineers. That partnership was summarily ended when Garret Graves, Bobby Jindal’s executive assistant for coastal activities, pulled the plug on it. Here’s a quote on p51 that doesn’t reflect the cancelation of the program:

The Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) program utilizes a systematic approach to coastal restoration and promotes critical near-term ecosystem restoration projects and large-scale studies and programs to restore natural features and ecosystem processes. CPRA and USACE are working on the LCA Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study, a $25.4 million study that assesses in-river processes and evaluates restoration opportunities in the adjacent basins. The project’s goal is to provide a decision-making framework for the management of a sustainable coastal ecosystem that integrates navigation, fisheries, flood control, land building, and the needs of coastal communities.

There you have it, some of my thoughts about the plan that need to be addressed by the CPRA to warrant the use of the adjective ‘comprehensive.’

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  1. Kelly M. Haggar says:

    Len, first take a bow for a gracious, thoughtful reply. Ditto Ed.

    Nonetheless, please permit me to observe yet again that the idea of global, supra-national gummit being some sort of magic problem-solving-ability bullet is simply nothing more than yet another value judgment dressed up as both true and as the thing all correct thinking people ought to get behind.

    Perhaps that’s because there’s an assumption – – insufficiently examined, IMHO – – that the system of law to be followed in such a globalist world will be some Western concept of “the rule of law” and that it will be administered by people along the lines of the “notorious RBG.” Or by “wise Latinas.” Or by a clone of Wm. O. Douglas. Think instead of the never-happened Hollywood party where Einstein supposedly replies to Marilyn Monroe, “But what if the children had MY beauty and YOUR brains?” What if that global governing system is instead run in accordance with Sharia, not the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights?

    Forget gays being hung in public squares from the booms of long reach construction equipment or getting tossed off 4 story roofs, both simply for the status of being gay. Go mundane and consider, say, custody disputes after divorces. As in:

    U.S. Department of State: Marriage to Saudis
    Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003, pp. 74-81
    http://www.meforum.org/520/us-department-of-state-marriage-to-saudis

    Now let’s climb the other end of the ladder, say, trials for murder where life imprisonment could happen, and consider a few lines from Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1 (1957), at pg 6: “When the Government reaches out to punish a citizen who is abroad, the shield which the Bill of Rights and other parts of the Constitution provide to protect his life and liberty should not be stripped away just because he happens to be in another land. This is not a novel concept. To the contrary, it is as old as government. It was recognized long before Paul successfully invoked his right as a Roman citizen to be tried in strict accordance with Roman law.”

    The first thing a modern reader ought to notice, before doing any thinking about the merits, is that the Bible is being cited in a US Supreme Court opinion, and as support for a legal conclusion. Second, notice there’s neither a footnote nor any reference within the body of the opinion to the source of Paul’s claim – – much less who this fellow “Paul” was or why anyone should care about him. Justice Hugo Black just took it for granted that literate citizens would instantly know and understand the Paul/Rome incident being mentioned.

    But the larger question here, especially for modern readers, is the interplay between domestic law and international law, particularly (a) the domestic effects of treaties, and (b) whether treaties are self-executing or instead require enabling legislation by each state ratifying any given treaty. (Reid struck down parts of “status of forces” agreements with the UK and Japan.) These issues were a big deal in the early 50s, where Ike needed a lot of Democratic help to kill a series of amendments by a Repub Sen from Ohio (John W. Bricker), especially since Bricker was supported by the Amer Bar Assn. Bricker was concerned mainly about two things; self-executing treaties and executive agreements that need not be ratified by the Senate. LBJ helped Ike take a lot of wind out of those sails before Reid in 1957 finished off the last serious attempt to curtail a treaty having domestic effects.

    Today, however, the wind is running the opposite way. Brexit, the Italian ads x 4 failing, Le Pen leading in the latest poll, Merkel having to backpedal, and, of course, Hillary not just losing, but losing to Trump . . . how would Bricker fare today? No idea, but I’m certain (a) these are NOT simple or obviously answered questions (b) globalism is NOT any sort of drawback-free solution. Given the current players, and the trajectory of the EU, I’m not the least bit interested in having Brussels out rank our GS-12s.

    • Ken Teague says:

      Good Lord, dude. Where did you dredge up all this nonsense? Breitbart.com? Stick to the subject or post your agenda somewhere its more relevant.

      • Kelly M. Haggar says:

        Ken,

        If you can find an error in the law I cited, by all means point it out. As for relevance, scroll down to Len’s comments urging globalism.

        I was responding to them. If you think Len’s agenda has no relevance here, take that up with him.

  2. Kelly M. Haggar says:

    START
    2017 Master Plan rewrite gets mostly favorable reception in N.O.
    By Mark Schleifstein, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
    on January 18, 2017 at 9:48 PM
    http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2017/01/2017_master_plan_rewrite_gets.html#incart_river_index

    John Lopez, senior scientist for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, was one of several commenters who warned that nature is outstripping the state’s ability to move forward with construction of projects included in the Master Plan. “Next year is the 300th anniversary of New Orleans,” Lopez said. “Right now, it’s not clear there will be a 400th-year anniversary of New Orleans.”

    Greg Gasperecz, a New Orleans environmental engineer who was assistant secretary of the state Department of Environmental Quality in the 1980s, warned both during the hearing and during an earlier meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority in Baton Rouge that state officials must begin to address the causes of climate change that — human-caused increases in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere — are driving sea level rise.
    STOP

    We’ve had several elections. The best “cap and trade” “cap and tax” [pick one] ever did was pass just the House in 2010. Never made it out of committee in the Senate. Most of its House Dem supporters lost, and that bill contributed a lot to the Rs taking back the House that year. Obama was not on the ballot in 2016, “but my [his] agenda is.” And it was rejected. Len clearly sees there are deniers all over our state gummit. Ignoring the CPRA’s lack of either authority or ability to do anything to slow, stop, or reverse climate changing sea levels, it should be “intuitively obvious to the most casual observer” that no meaningful fraction of what its proponents claim are the minimum essential elements of a climate change response program is ever going to be enacted.

    Railing about deniers and settled science will only have the people who disagree with Len – – I believe that’s a majority of both the state and the country – – dig in further. Name calling has never changed a mind. I doubt it ever will. The climate folks have lost the debate, and they lost it from cost-benefit, not because they couldn’t sell the science. Virtually no one – – not even in Calif (Field poll, 2014) – – is willing to pay the costs and change life style enough to meet what the Lens of this country say is required. Not. Gonna. Happen.

    Besides, since places such as Eugene Island are sinking about 4 times as fast as the sea is rising, CO2 isn’t even the major problem. If the rate of rise triples, that land will only be sinking 1.5 times as fast as the water is climbing.

    Accepting as 100% correct every science point which Len, John, and Greg have ever made, I submit that the most rational responses to the climate change they all forecast are:

    1. retreat north

    2. spend the BP money beefing up the levees around the high density/high dollar places (Metry and N.O.)

    • Edward Bodker says:

      Kelly,

      You cut to the quick with your comments, raising two very poignant questions.

      1. Has the hope to address the causes of climate change been lost?

      2. Will the future be a simple response to a coming inundation or will there be many weather, social and cultural changes with thousands of implications requiring a multitude of responses?

      You may be right in your assessment, but the loss of hope for addressing climate is also connected to the loss of hope that civilization can learn to put long term interest above short term convenience. I’m reluctant to give up that hope, in that I never thought years ago smoking would become universally recognized as a health hazard.

      This raises the question of whether or not the effects of climate change will be a simple matter of rearranging coastal populations around the world or if it will set into motion, a cascade of effects that could destabilize weather patterns, food production, stress global finances, undermine political stability, and basically set into motion more than we are capable of addressing in an acceptable fashion? I agree that much of coastal Louisiana will be inevitably lost and that more resources should be directed towards relocating people in our retreating back yard. And I also agree that subsidence and other factors play an important role. But it is also too late to be nationalistic with this issue. Cultural globalization has already occurred. And this will become a global problem.

      Regardless of the other political issues in the current political debate, this idea of returning to national self-interest at the expense of global welfare is a courtship with disaster. It’s not only climate change denial, it’s a denial of cultural limits and global interdependency. It’s a fantasy return to a simplicity that no longer exists, a wish to make policies and expenditures to put pie-in- the-sky. It’s a denial that has prevented a significant cultural and social examination of climate change implications by relegating such concerns to a chicken-little attitude.

      For me it raises the issue of whether or not we will slid quietly into the dark despair behind wishful thinking or own up to reality and work hard for a hopeful and possible future.

      • Kelly and Ed-
        I tend to agree in general with both of your thoughtful but gloomy sets of comments but I strongly disagree with Kelly’s assertion that the cost of effective action on global carbon emissions would exceed the cost of inaction.
        The fact that on inauguration day the White House staff scrubbed their web page of any mention of climate change could represent the final nail in the coffin known as the Sixth Extinction.
        On the other hand, maybe I have yet to awaken from my Trumpian nightmare.
        Len

        • Edward Bodker says:

          At the risk of sounding optimistic, it just may be that Trump is necessary to awaken the left out of lethargy.

          • Kelly M. Haggar says:

            I simply cannot imagine how the left could possibly be more awake than they are now, and have been since Hillary lost. For your side of the aisle, the key question is how the left can be more effective. And the Senate seats Ds have to defend in 2018 do not look good.

            • Edward Bodker says:

              It’s really not about which side of the isle is in power. It’s about perceived values that each side represents. Resolving slavery required a violent civil war, with the republicans being the progressive party for human rights, while southern democrats fight to keep slavery the way it was. Had Lincoln lived, the South wouldn’t have been humiliated or punished further after loosing, but we were humiliated and resentment festered with black people catching its brunt until civil rights was fought for and won. But then resentment started again causing many party members to switched sides. Humiliation and resentment basically remained smoldering coals until Obama was elected. But the race fire flared, not directly because Obama is black but more so because his election was a symbol of a long history of feeling humiliated in defeat, a non-partisan feeling.

              It’s not about racism directly, nor is it about other issues including climate change, which is likely the largest and should be considered by science apart from party politics, but mostly it’s about reacting to being humiliated and the desire to humiliate back. Now the humiliated are dishing out humiliation, creating a new cycle. Resentment is dressing up in party uniforms riding horses of ideology into a new fight over reality and truth.

              There’s enough blame for everyone and It could get very ugly.

              • Kelly M. Haggar says:

                None of us has 20-20 foresight, but Ed, I think you have incorrectly read Trump’s voters. See if this article from 2010 isn’t a better read of why 2016 turned out as it did, especially the first half, and why Trump’s inaugural came out as it did:

                https://spectator.org/39326_americas-ruling-class-and-perils-revolution/

                If Codevilla is correct, and of course I think he is, Obama’s race was totally irrelevant to Dem losses of so many seats in his 8 years, and of Hillary’s loss.

                See also Peggy Noonan last Fri;

                http://www.wsj.com/articles/president-trump-declares-independence-1484956174

                Obviously an unlimited supply of peers reviewing unassailable data will not suffice to alter the future Codevilla saw and Noonan sees. We’re way past science. This is pure “consent of the governed” territory. The climate advocates never had it, have even less of it tonight, and I predict they can’t get enough of it to put their policies into effect.

                • Kelly M. Haggar says:

                  especially the first half,

                  I meant “of the Codevilla article,” not the 1st half of 2016. My bad – – poorly worded

                  • Edward Bodker says:

                    Kelly,

                    Climate change is an important issue to me. I don’t fault you for having a different view and can appreciate the challenge you raise. I would like to address these challenges, but it’s difficult to do in this format and it’s almost impossible to stay on topic without appealing to a fundamental appreciation for truth and reality as a guiding principle. That guiding principle for truth has been put into question by Trump as I see it and this is an extraordinary deviation from typical political spin. We can’t resolve this but I’m saddened that so few others are willing to try to respectfully participate in such a discussion.

                    I’ve probably said more than I should and I need to focus on other things so I’ll let it rest.

                    • Kelly M. Haggar says:

                      No objection from me. Our exchange did not draw Ken’s attention so you’re twice blessed. Best wishes.

  3. Edward Bodker says:

    Len,

    You make some interesting points. What do you think it would take to shift the focus more towards the centrality of climate change issues here in coastal LA? CPRA does a good job recognizing land loss and educating citizens to the significance of that growing problem. There is much recognition that levees and other causes are to blame, but there is little recognition that C.C. plays a significant role. This seems to be a denial of basic reality. Why should the rest of the nation financially support restoration plans, if we can’t see the connection between sea level rise and climate change?

    • Ed-
      I think the CPRA folks who put the master plan together, like Bren Haase, believe that ACC is a critical issue but they’re afraid to call attention to it because they’re seeking plan approval by legislators who are deniers, like Trump and most of the GOP. Thus the subject is not given the prominence it needs.
      This is where the national green groups (NWF, EDF and Audubon) should demand that the plan emphasize global warming, e.g., today’s announcement by NOAA that 2016 was the hottest year on record. The trouble is that these silent ecolambs are afraid to jeopardize their funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which eschews controversy.
      There will be heavy pressure on our legislators to sign off on the master plan and they should be forced to acknowledge that reducing flood risk is contingent on reducing global carbon emissions.
      Len

      • Edward Bodker says:

        Len,

        I suspect you are correct. This reluctance to push for truth for fear of jeopardizing funding comes with an additional cost, the undermining of public confidence that there is a fundamental reality. It’s deeply disturbing that truth and reality are now so capitalistic and politically partisan that scientific discourse is loosing its footing. There can be no path to common good, if vested interest succeed in framing reality away from integrity. This regression is very dangerous and has far reaching consequences.

        Thanks for raising this concern.

        Ed

        • Kelly M. Haggar says:

          Don’t forget that geology counts as science as well . . . and it doesn’t look good for many of the projects in either the 2012 or 2017 plans.

  4. Mike Robichaux says:

    Dear Lynn:

    I failed to receive any information from you for a few years. It is nice to see you back in action.
    Keep up the great work.

    Mike

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