Losing South Louisiana to the Gulf

The days of pretending are over. The effects of manmade climate change are too pronounced to ignore. Sea levels are rising faster today than they were five years ago and the pace is projected to continue to grow. Wetlands loss is accelerating as storms and canals cut to open areas for oil and gas exploration continue to break the fragile networks that held those wetlands together. Canals for transportation – like the Intracoastal Waterway – have cut the natural flow of water and sediment to the coast from rivers and bayous in the state. The levees along the Mississippi River that have protected communities and industries from the ravages of flooding have also cut the wetlands off from their natural source of replenishment.

As is required by law, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority this week released the draft of its 2017 Coastal Master Plan. Like the 2012 plan that preceded it, it calls for the state to spend $50 Billion over the next 50 years in the fight to save our coast and the people, communities and culture that live on it.

Like the 2012 plan, $50 Billion is not enough to get the job done.

Like the 2012 plan, the state does not have the money to get the job done, nor does it have the prospect of getting the money any time soon.

Unlike the 2012 plan, the 2017 plan is based on climate change science that is decidedly grim. The worst case scenario from 2012 is considered the best case scenario in 2017.

Johanna deGraffenreid of the Gulf Restoration Network and Dr. Ezra Boyd of DisasterMap.net. Boyd created the Resettlement Zone maps that GRN is using to drive home the reality of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands losses and the future of communities on the coast.

In meetings last year, it was revealed that the CPRA had $140 billion in projects under consideration. The $50 Billion price tag imposed on this plan is completely arbitrary. It is also unrealistic. Louisiana does not have the money to fund $50 Billion in coastal projects over the next 50 years.

Governor John Bel Edwards’ decision to join and/or lead Coastal Zone parishes in lawsuits against the oil and gas industry for damage their projects inflicted on the coast is the logical outgrowth of the recognition that, without the industry paying its share, the coast cannot be saved. If the coast cannot be saved, homes will be lost, families will be forced to move, businesses will have to relocated. Significant parts of south Louisiana will have to be abandoned.

You could see this coming.

The Gulf Restoration Network did. Last year, they commissioned geographer/cartographer Dr. Ezra Boyd of DisasterMaps.net to develop what they called Resettlement Zone maps of Louisiana’s coast. Those are areas where people live but where sea level rise and storm surge projections show that constructing storm barriers to protect them would not be practical or cost effective. On the other hand, the 2012 plan provided nothing in the means of helping the people in those zones evaluate their situations and make informed choices about whether they would leave or stay. If they stayed, there were no resources allocated to help them. And, there were no resources allocated to help them relocate.

The images in the maps are striking. The red areas (based on census tract maps and flood data) show areas already considered beyond saving. The orange areas, though, are the areas that could be lost in the next 50 years (the life of the new master plan) unless effective steps are taken to protect communities and structures from what is coming.

Johanna deGraffenreid of the Gulf Restoration Network joined me by phone to discuss the maps and their implications. Dr. Boyd was scheduled to join me in the studio but had to cancel due to his father’s health.

The interview and the maps, combined with the 2017 Coastal Master Plan are wakeup calls. If we are going to save our coast, we must act now.

The oil and gas industry’s refusal to own its damage to the coast is telling south Louisiana residents: “Just Drown.” The federal government’s executive and legislative branches are under the control of climate change deniers. Add them to the “Just Drown” chorus.

What are you prepared to do?