MS Oct. 2014 Columns

Seeing clearly

Turbidity negatively affects fisheries. It reduces light penetration and, thus, reduces the production of algae that is the foundation of the food web. Eventually the fine silt particles that make water turbid settle out smothering organisms that live on the bottom, turning hard bottom areas into soft muck, and eventually filling in reservoirs.

Last July I wrote about my hope for the Louisiana coast, which seems to be melting away like so much candle wax, because of projects funded by the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act. Finally, instead of studying the problem of coastal erosion to death, things were getting done to help shore up what is left of our marshlands.

I wanted to believe that we were finally going to get ahead of the processes that were tearing our coast apart. I really did.

Then I clicked on an e-mailed link, and up popped a story that stunned me: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has discovered that sea-level rise is greater along the Louisiana coast than anywhere in the world.

And that added to the subsidence rates of our marshes points to a quickening of marsh loss.

“(T)he southeast corner of Louisiana looks likely to be under at least 4.3 feet of Gulf water by the end of the century,” long-time New Orleans Times-Picayune outdoor editor Bob Marshall wrote in the story that appears on page 12.


The highest point of Grand Isle was 5 feet above sea level in 2010, according to NOAA documents. Lafitte just south of New Orleans is 2 to 3 feet above sea level, depending on the source of information. Portions of New Orleans are already 8 feet below sea level.

What all this means, according to veteran federal researchers, is that the state’s Master Plan for coastal restoration is inadequate — that the state  has “projects designed to last 50 years at one level of relative sea-level rise, when they should be building projects that can function for several generations as sea level rises twice as high, if not higher.”

Garrett Graves — head of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority — took exception, saying that CWPPRA projects are working.

What Graves didn’t say was that the data presented by NOAA are wrong. In fact, the pages of the very plan he defends includes a concession that rates of sea-level rise “exceed what had been the plan’s worst-case scenario.”

So the roller-coaster ride continues. One minute there seems to be hope for the future of the Louisiana coast, and then the bottom drops out and we learn our efforts are sorely lacking.

And all the while, little bits of our coastal marshes wash away with each wave, with each passing storm, with every tidal cycle.

What is so worrisome is that NOAA’s latest findings are indicative of the problem plaguing coastal restoration efforts for years: Restoration work is planned based on studies that are out of date almost as soon as the ink dries, which means more studies have to be done to find new solutions that are outdated before work begins. It’s a devastating cycle that the coast can ill afford.

What is the solution? I honestly don’t know.

What I do know is that my grandchildren might never experience the richness of Venice, Delacroix and Cocodrie.