Denise Reed: Race for Coastal Resources and Priorities Is On

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Dr. Denise Reed Chief Scientist The Water Institute of the Gulf
Dr. Denise Reed
Chief Scientist
The Water Institute of the Gulf

In some ways, thanks to decades of study and research on our rapidly disappearing coastal wetlands, the easy work has been done. Enough projects have been tried and enough study has been done to provide scientists like Dr. Denise Reed of The Water Institute of the Gulf some solid footing about how to pursue the effort to save and restore our wetlands.

That earlier work provides a solid basis for understanding our coastal wetlands even as change in the wetlands and in the climate accelerates.

The hard part will be prioritizing the work.

The 2012 Coastal Master Plan carried an official price tag of $50 Billion over 50 years. The legally mandated update now underway will likely stick to that spending range Bren Haase of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority said when he appeared on Where The Alligators Roam earlier this summer.

The problem is that the latest reports and projections on sea level rise keep increasing. Bob Marshall of The Lens reported back in May that the CPRA and its scientists are working with sea level rise projections of three to six feet within the lifespan of the new master plan — 50 years. It’s a certainty that some of Louisiana is going to get inundated.

The changes in our wetlands and in the climate are accelerating just as our work to restore our coast is just getting started. Reed describes it as a rapidly moving target.

The money coming to coastal restoration efforts from the BP Gulf Gusher amounts to about 20% of the official cost of the 2012 plan. While that’s a solid base to start from, it leaves a yawning gap in funding down the road, even as some new resources come on line.

The combination of more rapid sea level rise, continued subsidence along portions of the coast, and limited resources to address the problem mean that tough decisions await us down on the coast. Priorities will have to be set. And, ultimately, decisions made about what portions of our broad coast we will be able to afford to save — and what we cannot.

It is within this broader context of the challenges confronting us and the current lack of resources to meet them that Governor John Bel Edwards’ effort to convince the oil and gas to pay for their share of the damage their work inflicted on our coast must be viewed. A $50 Billion plan might make everyone feel good, but if we end up being able to do something less that some people and communities are going to get left out. Even if we can fund it all, the accelerating rate of climate change may make $50 Billion an inadequate amount.

Reed says there are difficult choices ahead of us. The good news is that she and others know what will work. The bad news is that we will not be able to pay for everything that needs to be done.

Cyndi Lauper famously sang that Money Changes Everything. On the coast, money — or the lack of it — certainly will.

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