White House issues road map for Gulf Coast restoration and resilience
The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) recently unveiled the Obama administration's 18-month plan to expedite construction of near-term projects while creating a long-term vision and governance structure for restoring coastal wetlands in Louisiana. Last month, President Obama requested more than $40 million in his budget for multiple agencies to restore wetlands in Louisiana. The CEQ work plan will ensure this funding and all future funding are utilized as effectively and efficiently as possible.
CEQ and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) are leading an interagency working group created by President Obama last August to step up the federal response to the catastrophic wetlands loss in the Gulf Coast region that worsened the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. The working group's proposals will put this program into gear with strong new leadership, better science and improved coordination among federal and state partners to restore the Mississippi River Delta, as well as to create safe and resilient communities.
Six local and national conservation organizations – the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Environmental Defense Fund, Gulf Restoration Network, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, National Audubon Society and National Wildlife Federation – pledged to work with federal and state partners to develop the long-term vision outlined in the plan.
"The working group is addressing exactly the right questions: 1) how do we make sure existing wetland restoration projects are built as soon as possible; and 2) how do we plan for an effective, coordinated and comprehensive restoration program moving forward," the six groups said. "By including a multiple lines of defense strategy, the CEQ working group has connected the dots between coastal restoration and flood protection, which is precisely what is needed.”
U.S. State of the Birds report underscores threats to Louisiana birds, habitats
David J. Ringer
National Audubon Society
On Mar. 11, Audubon joined Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and other members of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative in unveiling the 2010 U.S. State of the Birds report. The report reveals that birds of oceans, islands, coasts and wetlands are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
"This report really underscores the threats to coastal and wetland birds in Louisiana," says Melanie Driscoll, Audubon's director of bird conservation in Louisiana. Birds such as the American Oystercatcher and Mottled Duck are almost totally dependent on beach and coastal marsh habitat and face extinction or dramatic population declines as these habitats decline.
"We know Louisiana is already losing these habitats, and predicted sea level rise could make them disappear even faster," Driscoll warns.
Sea level rise could make a bad situation even worse in Louisiana, but Audubon's coastal scientist Dr. Paul Kemp notes that Louisiana does have a unique advantage.
"Unlike some coastal areas threatened with inundation, Louisiana has a secret weapon: a tool that’s powerful enough to sustain and even rebuild wetlands in the face of sea level rise," he says. "I’m talking about the Mississippi River. Unsustainable management of this tremendous natural resource already has destroyed 2,300 square miles of our wetlands. Now, as sea levels rise, even more of Louisiana’s wetlands will be lost unless we take bold and decisive steps to use the power of the river."
"What’s good for birds is good for people," concludes Driscoll. "The things we need to do to help Louisiana's birds are the same things we need to do to help ourselves."
Louisiana birds at risk:
- American Oystercatcher, Royal Tern and Sandwich Tern are at risk of extinction if their barrier island and beach habitats erode and disappear.
- Mottled Duck, Clapper Rail, Seaside Sparrow and other saltmarsh dwellers are at risk of significant population declines if marshes continue sinking into the Gulf.
- Northern Pintail, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Blackpoll Warbler and other long-distance migrants face changes on their northern breeding grounds and will be further threatened if their Louisiana stopover and wintering habitats decline.
- Swallow-tailed Kite, Prothonotary Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush and other forest birds will need extensive areas of high-quality habitat, including the Atchafalaya Basin, to adapt to a changing climate.
Photo courtesy of Bill Stripling
Significant coastal Louisiana flood protection resources still available
Environmental Defense Fund
The majority of Louisiana Recovery Authority’s (LRA) Elevation and Hazard Mitigation Program funds from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita still are available for Louisiana homeowners affected by the Hurricanes on a first-come, first-served basis until they run out.
To date, the LRA has awarded just $7 million dollars of the $750 million in available funds.
Homeowners can use the funds to elevate homes ($750 million potentially could elevate between 7,500 and 15,000 homes) or to make small-scale improvements to protect homes in the event of future storms. Examples of the small-scale improvements include: strengthening doors, protecting windows (including installing storm shutters) and bolting roofs to walls and walls to foundations.
Utilizing these available Elevation and Hazard Mitigation Program funds enables individuals and communities to take control of reducing their own flood risk and provides immediate results toward creating more resilient homes and businesses.
To learn more about this program, contact the program toll free at 1-877-824-8312 or email email@example.com.
Analysis shows correlation between climate change and stronger hurricanes
National Wildlife Federation
After Hurricane Katrina, a flurry of scientific papers and media reports debated whether climate change was affecting the number and intensity of hurricanes. This February, scientists from both sides of the debate jointly reviewed direct observations and state-of-the-art simulations of hurricanes worldwide (Knutson et al. 2010, Nature Geoscience).
The team concluded that our warming climate is unlikely to increase the number of storms. On the other hand, the evidence clearly points to an increase in hurricane strength, with higher maximum wind speed and more rain. Intense storms—representing just 24 percent of the landfalls—have historically caused 85 percent of the hurricane damage in the United States.
Louisiana’s vulnerability to stronger storms is compounded by sinking land and rising seas, but we can prepare for this double whammy now.
First, we should incorporate climate change projections in the plans for all coastal projects.
Second, we should take full advantage of risk reduction measures flexible enough to respond to changing conditions. For example, healthy wetlands naturally can build up in response to gradual sea level rise.
Finally, we should help communities become more resilient by providing non-structural options—such as evacuation or home elevation—that can be implemented quickly and at relatively low cost.
Learn more about hurricane preparedness on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's website.
Photo courtesy of NOAA
Restoring the Central Wetlands Unit could generate 100+ jobs
Environmental Defense Fund
The Central Wetlands Unit (CWU) has garnered a lot of attention because of its proximity to the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) canal and downtown New Orleans. It could become a great example for wetland restoration in Louisiana when this work begins.
Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) new blog Restoration and Resilience has begun a series of posts that examine the impact of wetlands restoration on job creation in the communities near the CWU. Using data from government agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as consultations with engineering firms and wetland specialists, EDF is studying the employment effects of restoration for southern Louisiana.
In the first two posts on the CWU, we explore the direct, indirect and induced job creation from dredging and site preparation in the basin, estimating that a $3.71 million project could create more than 100 jobs in Louisiana. This job creation is just one of the many economic benefits of a concerted program to restore the wetlands of coastal Louisiana.
Read Part I and Part II of the CWU series for more details.