Coastal Resilience Solutions Discussed at New Orleans Conference

By Alisha Renfro, Staff Scientist for Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition

At the start of the 2014 hurricane season, risk reduction and coastal resilience – the ability of a coastal system to resist, recover and adapt to events like storm events – should be on everyone’s mind. Here in Louisiana, we’re facing land loss, rising sea levels and storms, which have severely diminished the natural resilience of the coast. That means increasing the resiliency of our coastal system will make all the difference for our communities’ survival.

Recently in New Orleans, the Conference on Coastal Resilience: The Environment, Infrastructure and Human Systems brought together people with science, engineering, federal, and private industry backgrounds. They explored the technical issues, obstacles and opportunities that exist in reducing risk and creating more resilient coastal communities and coastlines throughout the world.

The pathway forward to enhanced coastal resilience will vary from location to location. That being said, the main idea echoed by many presenters was a combination of simultaneous approaches:

Structural – engineered and constructed features, such as levees and surge barriers, that can reduce shoreline erosion, attenuate waves and storm surge, and reduce the likelihood of flooding

Non-Structural – flood proofing, elevation of homes and businesses, relocation, or restricted development that results from a product of policy, regulatory, or management practices that modify or avoid impacts from flooding.

Nature-Based – Planning and engineering that incorporates or restores the contribution of natural coastal processes and features, such as barrier islands, dunes, and wetlands, along with structural features to reduce risk and enhance coastal resilience.

Lopez, John A., 2006, The Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy to Sustain Coastal Louisiana, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Metairie, LA  January 2006.

Lopez, John A., 2006, The Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy to Sustain Coastal Louisiana, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Metairie, LA January 2006.

In the past, risk reduction and coastal resilience planning has focused on structural solutions. However, as sea level continues to rise and storm events occur throughout the world, regions relying on expensive structural measures threaten to stretch budgets to their breaking point. As presenters at the conference showed, the movement toward a multi-pronged approach to coastal resilience is even occurring in the Netherlands, a country long recognized as a cutting-edge innovator for engineered coastal resilience.

In Louisiana, we have a few unique challenges, but we also have a few unique opportunities. A combination of factors have led to the dramatic loss of nearly 1900 square miles of our natural protective wetlands and barrier islands. But we do have one advantage, one irreplaceable opportunity we can use to restore some of the natural resilience to our coastal system: the Mississippi River. Using dredged sediment to strategically create wetlands and restore barrier islands along with  reconnecting the sediment and fresh water from the river to build and nourish are essential lines of defense  for creating a more resilient coastline.

Rising sea levels and storm events threaten the resilience of coastal communities throughout the world. By pursuing innovation and a balance of structural, non-structural, and nature-based approaches, coastal communities can become more resilient. What that looks like may vary greatly from location to location, but it’s clear this opportunity can’t be squandered. In Louisiana, we  must take full advantage of the river’s sediment and fresh water to strategically rebuild our coast and create a more resilient future.