State plans to restore the coastline are trying to mimic the way the Mississippi built the coast. Thousands of years ago the river dumped sediment from the plains upriver into the marsh. But some fishermen are worried the plans will displace the saltwater fish they catch to make a living.
Restoring the Gulf Coast is also a critical business issue, as R. King Milling, chairman of the governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection and Restoration and the former president of Whitney Bank, explains.
Bob Marshall: What is your association with coastal issues in Louisiana?
After interviewing nearly 20 people involved in the coastal restoration process and program — from scientists and engineers, to public officials leading agencies — one of the surprising findings was the consensus among them that people living inside these levees — who live in the most threatened spot in North America due to sea level rise, subsidence and coastal land loss — don’t seem to be fully engaged or aware of just how precarious their situation is.
If there is one underlying justification for Louisiana’s $50 billion Master Plan for coastal restoration, it’s this: We actually have a chance to prevent Southeast Louisiana from drowning in the Gulf, because the Mississippi River carries the sediment necessary to keep pace with sea level rise.
Let’s imagine it is the Spring of 2025, and Louisiana is preparing to open three diversions on the lower Mississippi so fresh water and sediment can reach wetlands struggling to stay ahead of sea level rise.
It’s almost impossible to find anyone in coastal Louisiana opposed to the idea of “coastal restoration.” Storms like Katrina, Gustav and Isaac have shown everyone the value of the marshes and swamps that once stood between them and the Gulf.
But when “restore” means turning things back to the way they once were, problems can arise.
The best-known example of that is the conflict over using river diversions.
If you’ve been listening and reading along this week, by now you know the consensus among coastal experts is that New Orleans and southeast Louisiana are headed for an early grave before the end of the century.
Because of river levees and damage from oil and gas canals, the wetlands that once protected this city from the Gulf have been reduced by more than half. And now what’s left of this landmass is sinking, at the same time the Gulf is rising due to global warming.
These days when fishing guide Ryan Lambert motors away from the boat launch in Buras, he’s fishing in the what locals call “the land of used-to-bes.”
As in, that used to be Yellow Cotton Bay, or Drake Bay, or English Bay… and dozens more. It’s all one big open body of water now because the marshes, cypress swamps and ridges that separated these water bodies for most of his life are gone.