Louisiana’s Vulnerable Coast
Building a Resilient Future

Leah Heher
Louisiana’s Coastal Timeline

Fregonese, John. “Land Loss in Coastal Louisiana”.
Web. 12 Nov. 2013.
How was Louisiana formed?

“What's At Stake”. Coastal Protection and
Restoration Authority. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.
Why is land loss happening?
What can we control?
• Levying of the Mississippi River
• Navigation channels and canals

• Co...
Complicating Factors
• Policies & subsidies
• NFIP issues
• Coastal homeowner tax breaks

Bagstad, Kenneth J., Kevin Stapl...
What is at risk?
Annual Flood Costs
Costs in billions
$25
$20
$15
$10
$5
$0
2011

2061
“Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master P...
Who is at risk?
Estimated Flood Depths in 50
years

“Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a
Sustainable Coast.” Coast...
Poverty and Flood Vulnerability

"Poverty." Map. Geographies of Power. Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. Web. 12 ...
Isle de Jean Charles

Continental America’s first environmental
refugees
Leah Savoy

“Leah Savoy: Isle de Jean Charles Coa...
The Next Generation in New
Orleans
“No one I know is really concerned about
it, at least not in my generation. No one who
...
Moving Forward
“The irreversible outcomes that may occur
when we cross critical ecological thresholds

mean that we must b...
Education

“New tool educates on wetlands loss”. WWLTV.com. Web. 18
Nov. 2013. <http://www.wwltv.com/news/New-tool-shows--
Changing Cost Perceptions
“While built capital is typically limited solely
by available human labor and construction
mater...
Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master
Plan for a Sustainable Coast
• Flood Protection
• Natural Processes
• Coastal Habitats

•...
What projects are in the Master
Plan?

“Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.” Coastal Protection...
Louisiana’s Resilient Future
Louisiana faces some real hurdles and
major projects to move towards a
resilient coast. But a...
Thank You!
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  • For my report I looked at land loss in coastal Louisiana; what’s causing it, what vulnerabilities it is creating, and how to solve the issue.
  • This animation shows what Louisiana’s coastline looked like in 1932, before the damage from the levee system had taken affect, what it looked like in 2000, the projected land loss by 2050, and the estimated loss if nothing is done by 2100. So, this is a real issue for the millions of people and the industries who called coastal Louisiana home.
  • Louisiana, and much of the central United States, was formed by sediment from the Mississippi River. As sediment grew, so did our country. Louisiana was actually growing by almost a square mile per year until the 1930s.
  • According to Sherwood Gagliano, a geologist who first raised the alarm about coastal land loss in the early 1970s, there are three major obstacles in preventing land loss in addition to hurricanes. The levying of the Mississippi River began in the 1930s after a devastating flood in 1927 forced over 1 million to flee from their homes and inundated more than 70,000 square kilometers. The levee protected against the spring floods, but trapped the sediment and nutrients that had been feeding the delta for thousands of years. The river had naturally sustained itself through this process, but the levees and dams stopped the flow.Navigation channels and canals are directly responsible for up to 30% of current land loss, and are indirectly responsible for even more. Coastal Louisiana is home to over 13,000 kilometers of canals, built primarily by the old and gas industry, and 9 major shipping lanes, making the state the nation’s leader in shipping tonnage. Driven by winds and tides, salt water forces its way into freshwater marshes, causing massive marsh die-offs.The third reason is concentrated margin gravity slumping, also called fault-induced sinking. The delta region is broken up by criss-crossing subsurface faults from east to west. As the seaward block slips southward, the Gulf of Mexico invades. This sinking may have caused as much as 60% of the land loss since the 1890s. However, this is not something we can change; and certainly not the reason for the recent acceleration of land loss.Storms are inevitable in the gulf coast, but there is benefit to recognizing what land loss is attributed to hurricanes vs. men. Hurricanes damage wetlands through erosional signatures, the creation and expansion of ponds in the marsh, new drainage patterns and channels, denuded marsh (conversion of densely vegetated wetlands to mud flats), wrack zones (broad bands of accumulated unattached organic debris and trash produced by wetland storm-surge erosion and transport), shoreline deposits and erosion, and marsh salinization among others. However, hurricanes can also help strengthen wetlands by depositing sediment. The important thing to know here is that “before the early 20th century, land-building processes of the Mississippi fluvial-deltaic system provided sufficient sediment supply and nutrients for partial or complete self-healing of the coastal wetlands after extreme-storm impacts, a capability that no longer exists. Future natural wetland losses in southern Louisiana will likely result from storm impacts in the context of losses associated with long-term coastal-plain submergence and saltwater intrusion.”-CLICK- So what can we control?How we levee the river and our navigation channels and canals
  • Other issues further complicating land loss include:Policies &amp; subsidies to industry have increased pollution, corporate profits and income disparity, leading to a downward spiral of rising poverty and concentration of political power. Louisiana has the highest per capita rate of perverse subsidies of all 50 states, at a level almost twice as high as the next state.National Flood Protection Insurance (NFIP) – in short, the program acts as a subsidy to encourage unsustainable development in high-risk areas, depleting natural capital and externalizing the inherent risks of building in flood zones. As an example, Grand Isle has been hit by 50 major storms in the past 130 years. According to Tulane’s Oliver Houck, the total federal spending in Grant Isle amounted to $439,00 per home. Subtracting the many vacation homes increases the subsidy to $1.28 million for each of it’s 622 year round residents. Houck concluded that the government is funding high-risk coastal development, and suggested ending this subsidy, buy up flood-prone area, and moving people back to low-risk zones. Of course this has implications for those who have made Grand Isle their home- there really doesn’t seem to be a perfect solution.Tax breaks for homeowners in coastal areas – Several tax breaks encourage residential development in coastal regions. A casualty loss deduction allows property owners to deduct the cost of uninsured damages from coastal disasters, providing a disincentive to buy flood insurance or maintain a proper level of coverage. Interest and property tax deductions are also provided for second homes, along with accelerated depreciation schedules for seasonal rental properties. Because second homes and rental properties comprise a large proportion of new coastal development, these programs provide a direct incentive for coastal development. These tax breaks are clearly regressive, their benefits accruing overwhelming to the wealthy, and the development they encourage leads to further taxpayer burden for future disaster relief.
  • The analysis from Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast shows if we do nothing more than we have done to date, our expected annual damages from flooding by 2061 would be almost ten times greater than they are today, from a coast wide total of approximately $2.4 billion to a coast wide total of $23.4 billion.These numbers don’t include the estimated $40 billion to handle the retreat of communities inland, the billion in increased energy costs, and billions from especially damaging future. storms.
  • This map is also from the Master Plan, and shows thegeneralized estimates of flood depths for a 100 year flood, 50 years from now, once the landscape has degraded and with no additional flood protection.Flooding to communities will increase substantially by Year 50. Some high risk communities could experience an average of nine feet of additional flooding with a 50 year storm event, resulting in flood depths of up to 15 feet in some communities. Some communities targeted for 100 year protection, like Houma, Lafitte, Lockport, Mandeville, or Morgan City, could experience an increase of up to four feet of flooding in a 100 year event by Year 50 under the moderate scenario.Associated flood depths for this event range up to 17 feet. A 500 year event today would cause substantial damage across the coast. In the Future Wihout Action by Year 50, a 500 year event would flood communities that currently do not flood, and some communities could expect up to 26 feet of inundation under the moderate scenario.
  • A study looking at elevation and housing value during Hurricane Katrina found no statistically significant correlation between the two. Median housing values were greatest along the river and lake shores, where residents tended to have higher incomes. However, results of the analysis between flood levels and median household income indicate low-income communities in the city did not experience more flooding than higher income communities. The analysis showed Hurricane Katrina caused severe flooding in the majority of New Orleans neighborhoods, regardless of income, elevation and other social factors. This city-wide vulnerability will only increase with the loss of the protection offered by the coastal wetlands.This is not to say that the poor did not suffer in other ways after Katrina than those with more resources. Another report that looked at the level of damage indicates that the poor may have suffered higher levels of damage, and a higher percentage of poor people lived in areas that sustained higher levels of damage than areas that experienced limited or no damage. Overall, 73% of New Orleans’ total population lived in areas that FEMA classified as moderate damage or worse. In areas that experienced moderate damage or worse, 29.2% of the population was poor; in areas that were undamaged or only had limited damage, 24.7% of the population was poor.The point here is that the poor in New Orleans do not necessarily live in the most vulnerable areas when you consider elevation or proximity to the river or lake. And, if the land loss in the wetlands continues, the entire city will be extremely vulnerable, irrespective of income.
  • Some are already experiencing this vulnerability. The community on Isle de Jean Charles will become America’s first environmental refugees. Leah Savoy, a former resident of the island, explains a little about the plight of her community.
  • For others, that reality still seems far away. One resident I spoke with about wetland loss and hurricane protection said “No one I know is really concerned about it, at least not in my generation. No one who should be worried about it.”
  • The irreversible outcomes that may occur when we cross critical ecological thresholds mean that we must be proactive in pushing our policies, not reactive.So what can we do?
  • We need to do moreto educate people about what is happening to the wetlands, and to change the perception that the loss of the wetlands is only a loss of bird refuge. The city is taking steps to do so. In fact, this latest effort hit the news on Nov 15th, 2013.
  • “While built capital is typically limited solely by available human labor and construction materials, natural capital recovery may be limited by natural processes, some of which can not be enhanced by investment”. Typical cost accounting ignores long-term costs to the region, reflecting the relatively short time period required to replace built capital. Incorporating residual or long-term costs is especially important when examining natural capital. For example, one impact on natural capital after Hurricane Katrina was the release of many toxic contaminants into Lake Pontchartrain and the nearby estuary. Although were no documented effects on aquatic life in of 2005, the costs to fisheries and ecosystem health could extend far into the future. Furthermore, impacts on agricultural production may also extend into the future.… More importantly, Hurricane Katrina would not have damaged New Orlean’s four capitals to the extent that it did if it was not for the ongoing human induced deterioration of the wetlands, which provide crucial ecosystem service. Instead, beach erosion (due to coastal development), wetland loss (due to development and natural as well as mineral extraction-based subsidence) combined with rising sea levels and increased sea surface temperatures create more powerful storms whose storm surges are less dampened by diminishing natural buffers. The $14 billion plan to restore the Gulf Coast wetlands was deemed too expensive before Hurricane Katrina, but investment in this form of natural capital could have led to significant savings in built, human, natural and social capital losses resulting from Hurricane Katrina. Each 3-4 miles of wetland would have reduced the storm surge by 1 foot, thus greatly reducing the impact on New Orleans and surrounding areas.
  • Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast reflects the key issues affecting people in and around Louisiana’s coast. The objectives seek to improve flood protection for families and businesses, recreate the natural processes that built Louisiana’s delta, and ensure that our coast continues to be both a home and hub for commerce and industry.Those objectives are:CLICK - Flood Protection – to reduce economic losses from storm surge based flooding to residential, public, industrial, and commercial infrastructure.CLICK - Natural Processes – to promote a sustainable coastal ecosystem by harnessing the natural processes of the systemCLICK - Coastal Habitats – to provide habitats suitable to support an array of commercial and recreational activities coast wideCLICK - Cultural Heritage – to sustain the unique cultural heritage of coastal Louisiana by protecting historic properties and traditional living cultures and their ties and relationships to the natural environment, and aCLICK - Working Coast – to promote a viable working coast to support regionally and nationally important businesses and industries
  • This is a map of projects planned for Southeast Louisiana. Projects are separated by type and include structural protection, bank stabilization, oyster barrier reef creation/protection, ridge restoration, shoreline protection, barrier island restoration, marsh creation, sediment diversion and hydrologic restoration.There are projects all along the Louisiana coast, and this is just a snapshot of our area. Projects were chosen by an unbiased analysis of the best information. 85% of the projects performed well under the future scenarios developed by the Master Plan, and satisfied multiple stakeholder preferences. All projects are backed up with data in the appendices of the report.They found that it was necessary to use levees and large diversions in the solution. They also found it was necessary to use a variety of project types in targeted locations. The projects in the plan represent the results of more than two years of exhaustive analysis in support of a resilient and secure future for Louisiana.However, with a $50 billion estimated price tag, how will these plans actually come to fruition? According to the Coastal Plan website:Recently the state has used surplus revenues to accelerate implementation of its priority projects for the coast. Projected revenues from the sale of mineral leases and royalty revenue from oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico have been dedicated to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Trust fund. However, larger revenue streams from these royalties will not become available until at least 2017. At the same time, the state is ramping up its coastal efforts and bringing more projects to construction. This will require more money in the short-term. There will, therefore, be a funding gap between now and 2017, when more royalty revenue will become available. The state is exploring ways to fill this gap in order to maintain momentum for the coastal program.
  • Presentation

    1. 1. Louisiana’s Vulnerable Coast Building a Resilient Future Leah Heher
    2. 2. Louisiana’s Coastal Timeline Fregonese, John. “Land Loss in Coastal Louisiana”. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.
    3. 3. How was Louisiana formed? “What's At Stake”. Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.
    4. 4. Why is land loss happening? What can we control? • Levying of the Mississippi River • Navigation channels and canals • Concentrated margin gravity slumping • Hurricanes Bourne, Joel. “Louisiana’s Vanishing Wetlands: Going, Going…” Science 289.5486 (2000): 1860-1863.Professional Development Collection. Web. 2 Oct. 2013. Morton, Robert A., John A. Barras. “Hurricane Impacts on Coastal Wetlands: A HalfCentury Record of Storm-Generated Features from Southern Louisiana.” Journal of
    5. 5. Complicating Factors • Policies & subsidies • NFIP issues • Coastal homeowner tax breaks Bagstad, Kenneth J., Kevin Stapleton, John R. D’Agostino. ”Taxes, subsidies, and insurance as drivers of United States coastal development." Ecological Economics 63
    6. 6. What is at risk? Annual Flood Costs Costs in billions $25 $20 $15 $10 $5 $0 2011 2061 “Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.” Coastal Protection & Restoration
    7. 7. Who is at risk? Estimated Flood Depths in 50 years “Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.” Coastal Protection & Restoration
    8. 8. Poverty and Flood Vulnerability "Poverty." Map. Geographies of Power. Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://www.gnocdc.org/NeighborhoodData/Maps/index.html>. "Aug. 31, 2005." Map. Hurricane Katrina Flooding and Spill Maps. NOAA. Web. 13 Nov. 2013. <http://www.katrina.noaa.gov/maps/maps.html>.
    9. 9. Isle de Jean Charles Continental America’s first environmental refugees Leah Savoy “Leah Savoy: Isle de Jean Charles Coastal Land Loss”. Bridge the Gulf Project. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.
    10. 10. The Next Generation in New Orleans “No one I know is really concerned about it, at least not in my generation. No one who should be worried about it.” -Male, 23, New Orleans resident
    11. 11. Moving Forward “The irreversible outcomes that may occur when we cross critical ecological thresholds mean that we must be proactive in pushing our policies, not reactive.” Farley, Joshua, Daniel Baker, David Batker, Christopher Koliba, Richard Matteson, Russell Mills, and James Pittman. "Opening the Policy Window for Ecological Economics: Katrina as a Focusing Event." Ecological
    12. 12. Education “New tool educates on wetlands loss”. WWLTV.com. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. <http://www.wwltv.com/news/New-tool-shows--
    13. 13. Changing Cost Perceptions “While built capital is typically limited solely by available human labor and construction materials, natural capital recovery may be limited by natural processes, some of which can not be enhanced by investment.” Gaddis, Erica Brown, Brian Miles, Stephanie Morse, Debby Lewis. “Full-cost accounting of coastal disasters in the United States: Implications for planning and preparedness." Ecological Economics
    14. 14. Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast • Flood Protection • Natural Processes • Coastal Habitats • Cultural Heritage • Working Coast “Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.” Coastal Protection & Restoration
    15. 15. What projects are in the Master Plan? “Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.” Coastal Protection & Restoration Act. 131-132. 2012. 2 Oct. 2013. “Frequently Asked Questions: 2012 Coastal Master Plan Overview”. Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Web. 19
    16. 16. Louisiana’s Resilient Future Louisiana faces some real hurdles and major projects to move towards a resilient coast. But ask anyone who lives here, and they’ll agree it’s worth the effort.
    17. 17. Thank You!
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