Delta Dispatches: Building Land in Coastal Louisiana

On today’s show Mark Sickles from Weeks Marine joins the program to talk with Simone about all the wonderful work they are doing here in Louisiana and Dr. John Lopez, Director of Coastal Sustainability Program at Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation also joins the program to talk with Jacques about natural growth and plant development in the Louisiana marshes.

Below is a transcript of this week's Delta Dispatches Podcast. Listen to the full recording here or subscribe to our feed in iTunes and Google Play.

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Show Transcript

Jacques : Hello you are listening to Delta Dispatches. We are discussing Louisiana's coast, its people, wildlife, and jobs and why restoring it matters. This is Jacques Hebert with Audubon Louisiana.

Simone: You don't sound rusty at all.

Jacques : I know I almost forgot what to do behind the microphone yeah.

Simone: You knew where this place was.

Jacques : It's been a while since I've been in this chair. It's good to be back.

Simone: Welcome back. This is Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat, finally reunited.

Jacques : Reunited.

Simone: I wasn't going to be the one to sing. Welcome back Jacques. I'm happy to have you back.

Jacques : Thank you. I know you had some good shows while I was out, talking scoping.

Simone: Yeah, you missed a lot. Yes, yes.

Jacques : Updated land loss map.

Simone: Me and B.J. held our own over here, but we are happy to have you back. We also have a couple of exciting things to still talk about. We're going to talk about Mid-Barataria, something that our listeners can do on their end and then have some exciting guests already lined up.

Jacques : Yeah. If you listened to the last week's episode, the one before that as well, we were discussing, or Simone was discussing Mid-Barataria scoping process, which is basically through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The process where they get input on what they should consider as part of the Environmental Impact Statement. Those comments, you can submit your scoping comments now through September 5. And on our website,, you can go and actually give comments that'll go directly to the Corps.

Simone: Yeah, yeah. I think it's a very easy, helpful way. Folks have heard us. We've had Brad and Rudy on talking about the project. We actually talked about what scoping meant and those kinds of things. I feel like people have enough right now to know to be able to take that action.

Jacques : Yeah, they completed the third meeting last week, and I think the meetings were pretty well attended and really informative. Yeah, we're looking forward to the months ahead when we'll learn more about how to move this critical project forward.

Simone: Great, great. What are we talking about today?

Jacques : We're, you know, discussing land building in different ways. First we're going to have a leader with Weeks Marine who is a global company that has done a ton of really great work on the restoration side here in Louisiana, but also projects around the world. We're going to be talking to them about the work that they do here in Louisiana to actually build land, marsh creation, and other projects. Then we're going to have Dr. John Lopez with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation on to talk-

Simone: Previous guest.

Jacques : Previous guest, to talk a little bit about natural land building, so what happens in terms of the plants that grow and how does the marsh come back, essentially, after these projects are completed.

Simone: Yeah. I love the yin and yang of that. We have Mark on the line, so let's get started with him. Mark Sickles is with Weeks Marine. He's with corporate and government relations. He also was an elected official over in Virginia, and also had a role as Executive Director of Dredging Contractors of America. Welcome to the show Mark.

Mark: Hi Simone. Good to be with you.

Simone: Yes.

Mark: That DCA gig was a long time ago, but lots of good memories.

Simone: We like to remind everybody about all those things that they used to do in their past, good or bad. So Mark and I actually had a chance meeting at CPRA. Mark got up and gave just a little bitty public comment about their $60 million dredge that they're building and such.

Jacques : No big deal.

Simone: No big deal. So he had the luck of sitting next to me at lunch, and so I chatted him up.

Jacques : And here you are.

Simone: And here you are.

Mark: It's great to get some good Louisiana food and some St. Bernard tossed salad.

Simone: Yeah.

Mark: It was great to be there.

Simone: They had the spread.

Jacques : I heard they rolled out the red carpet.

Simone: Yes, definitely did. Mark why don't you tell us a little bit, you know, Weeks Marine is something very familiar to Restore or Retreat. Some of our folks, you've done a lot of projects that we follow. Why don't you tell us a little bit about Weeks's work in restoring the coast in some of these large-scale projects.

Mark: Well Weeks is a family-owned company. We're based in New Jersey. In 1998, we purchased most of the marine assets of a Louisiana company called T.L. James. T.L. James was the largest contractor in the Gulf of Mexico at the time, so we kept all the Louisiana folks, and our company is about half dredging. We have about 850 employees in the dredging division. About 500 of them live in Louisiana. We watch closely what happens at CPRA. We're really thankful for all the work that you do, and the fact that your elected leadership in Louisiana is committed to making sure the funds from both the oil spill and the funds that will be coming in from GOMESA are spent in their intended manner. Based on that, we've done a lot of investment in the last few years, and as you mentioned, done a lot of projects. We have a lot of friends over at CPRA and wish them the best as they take on this challenging role that they have.

Simone: Yeah, we're very proud of them, very proud of them and the work that they do, and that they're a leader in that space, certainly putting their money where their mouth is too. Right? Spending those post-spill dollars and dollars that come into the state and saying that this is important to us and making that a priority. You've been with Weeks since 2005. Right? Pre or post Katrina?

Mark: Yes. Yes. Right.

Simone: Yeah. Did you come before or after Katrina?

Mark: I think I came around the same time. Our construction division was involved in building the surge barrier as well. We drove most of those piles over there. We have a couple of marine yards in Louisiana.

Simone: Yeah, y'all have a regional office in Covington, too. Right Mark?

Mark: Yep.

Mark: The Covington is our national headquarters for our dredging division.

Simone: Oh, very cool.

Mark: Our Senior Vice President is the namesake for the new dredge. Steve Chatry is in charge over there of our dredging division. Our construction office, we have some construction folks there, but also in Houston and in New Jersey where we're headquartered up in the New York Metropolitan area.

Simone: Yeah, and you're based out of D.C. Mark?

Mark: I am. I live in Virginia, as you mentioned. My side job is to be a member of the general assembly.

Simone: Are y'all like Louisiana, and their side job turns into a couple extra special sessions and turns into a full-time job for most of them.

Mark: It really is. It's like having two full-time jobs. I'm on the Appropriations Committee, and that keeps us real busy trying to figure out how to spend our limited resources. I am a missionary for Louisiana up there though because your issues are national issues, and I love to tell people what these projects are like. They just have their jaws hang down, that we're rebuilding barrier islands where there are no houses, 45 miles from the end of the road.

Simone: Right, right. Where people don't live, right.

Mark: Exactly.

Simone: Yeah, that's so interesting. I love the fact that you have that perspective of law-making, and what it takes to get something funded. I love that aspect of that. Let's talk a little bit about the work. We talk about words like dredging and marsh creation a lot, but to the average person that doesn't mean a lot. Can you tell them what that means in layman's term? Just for an example, what one of your jobs here might entail.

Mark: Well, when this kind of work started, it was coming out of the CWPPRA process, what used to be called the Breaux Bill.

Simone: Right.

Mark: It started out mostly, it would be either a barrier island job or a straight wetlands or marsh creation and restoration. Then in the last number of years, those two elements have been combined a lot of times. It happens that we're doing a couple of marsh restoration jobs in Louisiana right now that do not include a barrier island, and they're hundreds of acres. The engineers will lay out a back dike where you can. Where you can pump the less dense material and not the sandy material. You can build up the marsh that way behind the dike. The dike goes in first according to the plan that's laid out. Then if you can find the best sand, you put that on the beach in the front, and because there's not-

Simone: And you're essentially digging for the sand right?

Mark: Yeah. It's underwater. It's harder to find material that can be used to stabilize these barrier islands. The Bayou Dupont job is where the … Excuse me the Caminada job involved bringing material from Ship Shoal 30 miles away to pump out on that beach there. That turned out to be a good use of that sand. People have talked about it for years and years using it, and this is one of the first uses of it.

Simone: Yeah, absolutely. Right? We talk about that project a lot.

Mark: Right. Sometimes it was harder, like after the oil spill happened, and people wanted to build a barrier to the oil coming on shore. It wasn't obvious where the sand was. It's always been our position that some exploration should be going on all the time to find out where a deposit of sand had been made hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Usually it's under 10, 8, 6 feet of mud that has to be taken off the top that you use in the marsh side. Then you get to the material that will stabilize the beach itself.

Simone: Yeah. We would love to talk to you more about how many people it takes to do something like that. Then we really want to get to the showstopper about the new dredge. So Mark, will you hang on with us through the break?

Mark: Okay. Thank Simone. I appreciate it.

Simone: Okay. Thank you.

Simone: Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. I'm Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat. We're here every Thursday on 990 WGSO and online through our new podcast. We were talking with Mark Sickles of Weeks Marine before the break, and we wanted to come back with him because we still have a lot to talk about. Welcome back Mark.

Mark: Good to be here. Thanks.

Simone: I remember we used to follow the Caminada project pretty closely, and I remember at one point I think somebody told us that there might have been 80 guys working on the dredges in that project. Is that typical of a project like that? I think you mentioned that it sounds like the projects are getting to be more complex. That must mean more manpower.

Mark: Absolutely. That's what it takes, and we're operating 24/7. The people who work for us, when they leave home, they don't come home for maybe two weeks or three weeks, depending on the kind of shift they have. It's common to be three weeks on and three weeks off. We have dedicated people out there. It's not for everybody, but it's a good family waits job.

Simone: Yeah, yeah. Also, I hear there's steak night and soft serve ice cream. I'm just kidding.

Mark: The food's pretty good.

Simone: Yeah well they work pretty hard. They work long shifts, and they work really hard. That was truly a really impressive operation. Let's get to the good stuff. Let's talk about the new dredge. Y'all made a quiet announcement at CPRA quite a few weeks ago. I guess a couple of weeks ago now, but then I saw that it hit some of the headlines too. I know it was featured in our local paper in Houma, so tell us all about the announcement.

Mark: Right. Well we wanted a place to announce it that would make a difference for people because dredging is not a subject that people talk about in their day-to-day life, normally.

Simone: What? Why not?

Mark: Well maybe at Restore or Retreat.

Simone: Yeah, yeah.

Mark: But across America. But anyway, this was a good opportunity. This dredge had been underway. It had been quiet, you know, and we decided to formally announce it. It is going to be a big one for a cut or suction dredge. This type of dredge moves material directly from the cut or where you take it from to the place you're pumping it to in a slurry. They're generally talked about in inches and if it's a 30-inch dredge, that means that the pipeline is a 30-inch diameter. Those are the biggest ones, and we have hundreds of mile of pipe now because these projects, the source of the material is further and further from the beach. This dredge will have more capability to pump further. It's got the newest tier four EPA diesel electric engines in it. It's got over 23,000 total installed horse power on it. It can work offshore on wires in the open gulf, or it can work inland on the spud carriage. It has an ability to house 52 people at one time.

Simone: Wow.

Mark: Yeah. So it's going to be our biggest one, and-

Simone: Where's it being built, Mark? Right here, right?

Mark: Right here, yeah in Belle Chase, Louisiana at C&C Marine, so happy about that. It's going to take a while to build it. It is going to look a lot like the one that we christened five years ago.

Simone: In Houma.

Mark: In Houma. That's the C.R. McCaskill. That's turned out to be a great investment for the company because it's worked almost continuously from the day it went to work. But our big news, and I did not mention this at CPRA meeting because I just wanted to make sure they focused on this new thing, and it's going to be a year or so before it's done. In a few months, we're christening the Magdalen, which is a hopper dredge, which is a self-propelled ship is going to be our third hopper dredge.

When the material becomes further and further away, hopper dredging is oftentimes the most efficient way to handle the material. So it's not a continuous process. You fill the hopper, when it's filled, you stop dredging. You sail back to near shore, and you hook yourself up into a-

Simone: So that was more like a Caminada operation. Right Mark?

Mark: Yeah, well in Caminada, we unloaded scows with big hopper barges.

Simone: Right. That's right. That's right.

Mark: Those aren't self-propelling. They were towed there to be unloaded. It is that same theory. There's a rotation, but with the hopper dredge, you quit dredging, and you actually dredge with a hopper or a barge as a self-contained unit. It has the ability to pump out. The Magdalen's going to be the most powerful, most fuel efficient pumping-out dredge, we think, in the United States. That's what the hope is anyway. It's being finished right now. It's in the water over in Panama City, Florida. It's being fitted out.

Simone: Do you need me and Jacques to come check that out, and just make sure that it works correctly? That the ice-cream machine works correctly on it.

Mark: Well you're invited, and I think I have enough authority to invite you to the christening, which is likely to be in New York City though.

Simone: I like it. Oh we can … Oh man. We can, yeah. I think we can make that.

Mark: You can make that? That's great. We're going to go straight to work on a bunch of beaches in New Jersey that are still recovering from-

Simone: Yeah, right. Something that we have in common. Right? We actually have in common with the Northeast.

Mark: Exactly. Exactly.

Simone: So Mark, clearly you need people to work on these dredges. Right? Do y'all have job openings here in Louisiana? Or anywhere in the Northeast even?

Mark: Absolutely. Yeah. I think if you're willing to work hard. They hire young engineers all the time. We have recently contributed to a technical school to help prepare people for jobs that don't require a college education.

Simone: Yeah, right.

Mark: We always have opportunities to start out in surveying, hydrographic surveying. That's a good, entry-level job for someone who has education. So there are a lot of ways to get in. It requires someone to, like I say, be willing and able to leave home and of course, you have to be drug-free and that type of thing. We are just looking for people who want to work hard.

Simone: Where can people go who might be interested to learn more about those positions and apply?

Mark: Our job openings are found on our website, That's our website, and if that doesn't work, then you can call 985-875-2500 right in Covington, Louisiana.

Simone: Yeah. Very good. Yeah, that sounds interesting. We talk a lot about the water management sector here in Louisiana, and the jobs that that could create. Certainly those mid to skilled jobs that you don't need a college degree for, but you certainly need some training. A lot of folks, if you're willing and dedicated, they're willing to train you if you put some blood and sweat in in the beginning. Right?

Mark: Absolutely.

Simone: So like you said, even people who start out in surveying and want to work their way up.

Mark: Simone, we also have a lot of heavy equipment operators that we hire.

Simone: Yes. We talk about that too.

Mark: We have crew boat operators. People that can operate a back hoe. Things like that. Drive an airboat.

Simone: Yeah. I wish I knew how to drive an airboat. I say that all the time. That's actually an excellent point too. We do talk about that a lot because certainly lots of folks who work in oil and gas here, they work in that coastal environment, and they may be heavy equipment operators and certainly people who need CDLs and heavy trucks, those things. We want to make sure that people understand that what we talk about here every day is real money, but it's also real jobs too that could come to our state.

Mark: Absolutely.

Simone: We are so proud to feature Weeks Marine Investment here on Delta Dispatches, Mark. Thank you for joining us.

Mark: Thank you.

Simone: Yeah. Thank you Mark for being on. We also want to thank you for supporting all of our campaign efforts. Weeks has been a really big supporter of the Master Plan and GOMESA when we've tried to rally businesses here, so thank you for that too.

Mark: Happy to do it. Thanks for all you do.

Simone: Thanks for joining Delta Dispatches. We'll be back after the break.

Jacques : Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. We're discussing Louisiana's coast, it's people, wildlife, and jobs, and why restoring it matters. This is Jacques Hebert with Audubon Louisiana.

Simone: Welcome back Jacques.

Jacques : Welcome back. That was a great first segment. Simone we were talking about land building with Mark Sickles of Weeks Marine, really informative.

Simone: Yeah, yeah. Really got into the kind of mechanics of what kind of vessel and vehicle does those kinds of things. He's worked on a ton of projects here in Louisiana, so we'd love to have him back. Now I think we're going to talk a little bit about the natural side.

Jacques : Yeah natural side of land building, so what happens to these marshes after they're kind of placed, and then also where are we seeing growth just naturally along the river. We're really excited to have back, a good friend of ours and the show, Dr. John Lopez with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. Welcome back John. How are things in the Pontchartrain Basin since we last spoke?

Simone: I think he's outside of the Pontchartrain Basin.

John: At the moment I'm sitting in the middle of the Atchafalaya Swamp.

Simone: They let you out?

John: Things are great in the Pontchartrain Basin. It's great to be back on the show.

Jacques : Awesome. Well we were talking about marsh creation, and of course, we focused a lot around the opportunity to build land using the river and the freshwater and sediment of the river. Tell us a little bit, you were mentioning the other day that we're kind of in the growing season for deltas, so what does that mean exactly?

John: Yeah, we of course, we think of a growing season, we think of plants and like our vegetable garden and things like that and summertime. There's something similar, but a little bit more kind of tuned to the kind of ecosystem we have in South Louisiana. That is basically deltas and deltas, how they work. What that means is that in the spring, when actually plants should be starting to really grow, and they do, but that's also when you have high water in the river.

So if you have an outlet, a diversion for instance, like West Bay is an outlet that was made a few years ago. The water that flows out of the river flows into the marsh, and the water elevations in the marsh tend to be elevated somewhat. That's good because that allows the sediment to move out of the river and across mud flats and be deposited. But it also means that you're creating new land that at that point there's no vegetation on it.

Then the river subsides, you know, in say late spring or in the summer, and then you have these bare mudflats. Then that's the opportunity for the plants, when the plants start to spread out on these mudflats and start to convert what was water to what we consider land now because it's got rooted vegetation, emerging vegetation on what was formerly water, then a mudflat, then what we would consider wetland.

That's what I was referring to as the growing season because that's exactly what's happening right now. The river flood ended about a month ago, and so at various locations where you do have these outlets where you have fresh sediment, and the water level is down now, so the plants are really blossoming and taking off. That's just great to see.

Jacques : That's so interesting and a great description of kind of what's happening along certain parts that are getting input from the river and building land. Tell us a little bit about kind of the progression of these areas over time. I mean you mentioned mudflats, and then kind of more rooted plants will take place. At what point, over the course of like years, what do you see in terms of other plants, developing trees, that sort of thing?

John: Right. Yeah, I mean there is a progression. It's a general progression. It's not always the same, but really the first thing that happens when you have the water become shallow enough, before you even have like exposed mudflats, when you have shallow water ponds and lagoons. You'll have grass beds develop, and often when this is related to a diversion, this is really dense grass beds, which is really good. It's really thick, lush. It's a lot of habitat just from that. But as the delta continues to grow actually, it'll start to bury those grass beds. Then you have other emergent plants, generally they'll call them pioneer species. These are plants that-

Jacques : I like that.

John: Right. It sounds great. It is, and these are the plants that can kind of spread quickly, take advantage of that open space. Often these are not necessarily tall plants. These are the things like elephant ear and some maybe giant sawgrass, things that can grow quickly and kind of look like grasses. So they quickly colonize, but over time the big boys start to come in. You start to have shrubs and small trees, and what we commonly see in this situation is black willow, which is a native species, and it is a tree, but it's a rapidly growing tree. So in some areas, we see where new land that's less than 10 years old literally has trees on it that are over 30 foot tall. These are trees, but they're rapidly growing trees, and that's not an accident. Those plants are attuned to the delta cycle, and they know the delta's dynamic, so those trees come in and take off and grow quickly in that environment.

Now one thing that does not happen on the natural sequence of development, unfortunately now, is cypress, which is really the most important swamp species we have in the state for a number of reasons. It's the state tree. It's kind of iconic. It's a beautiful tree. It's long-living. All these has great qualities. It reduces storm surge, but unfortunately the cypress trees in the current conditions don't propagate by themselves, and the reason is because of our old friend the nutria. Basically if you have a small sapling tree, there's a very good chance that a nutria's going to come and eat the tree or at least eat enough of it to damage it so that the tree is killed.

That's why in areas where you have good conditions, and you see this succession, and you have new land. LPBF and many other partners like the coalition and other people involved with this Mississippi River Delta Campaign, we've been planting cypress trees. They're doing really well in these areas. That's artificially helping the succession, but all this other stuff happens first. The grass beds, the grasses, the black willow, and that's really important because the ecosystem mostly does the work itself. That's great, but we think that what they call the keystone species should be cypress. That's why we're also adding cypress to the system.

Jacques : That's great, and I know, I mean when you think of the kind of iconic Louisiana wetland and swamp, it's hard to think of that without thinking about the cypress tree. I know Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation had a study that recently came out about kind of some of the marsh plantings you all did in Manchac. I want to get into that, but I imagine as you see this land grow and develop, I mean you mentioned nutria, right, their efforts to mitigate the impact of the nutria, but on the positive side, I'm sure you see other wildlife come in as well to these areas.

John: Oh yeah, yeah. In fact, it's kind of almost shocking frankly, that some areas like at Caernarvon that 10 or 15 years ago were an open pond, and basically all you could do is maybe duck hunt and probably not very good duck hunting because there was virtually no other vegetation around. The land in the Big Mar Pond that is being filled by the Caernarvon Diversion is so high that actually you have deer and other mammals that are now occupying that ecosystem. So a land manager maybe 15 years ago was selling duck leases in three feet of water. He's now selling maybe deer leases on two foot of land. It's an amazing transition, and you know, there are still resources there, and people can still take advantage of it. It's good to see the system adjusting and that people adjust with it.

Jacques : Absolutely. In fact, I actually grew up in Braithwaite right in front of the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion outfall area, and I've been multiple times with Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation on airboat tours there. You're right. You just see a ton of willow trees, and you really have seen the land build up, and you can see on Google Earth in fact, where almost that whole Big Mar has filled in. So it is interesting, and then I know you do a lot of work further down south on the East Bank on the river, and you're also seeing other areas where similar deltas are forming. Is that correct?

John: Yeah. You know just on Friday, I flew over the river and flew over the outfall area from Mardi Gras Pass, and there's an area called Uhlan Bay, and we've been watching this for the last year too, this Uhlan Bay is becoming shallower and shallower. It's filling up with mud, and when I flew over it Friday because we're in this growing season, the water levels are down. We've still got a long day and hot temperatures so the plants there they're doing great. So this mudflat is rapidly getting covered with vegetation.

I also saw the same thing. There's a terracing project in Bay [Benet 00:32:16], which is in the outflow area of a breach of a river called Fort St. Phillips. Bay Benet, these terraces, for a while we were seeing just little patches of wetlands on the individual terraces, but now we're starting to see where they're kind of connecting together into a larger area. And finally, one other area, I flew over West Bay and basically a similar pattern. We see the expansion of these what were little isolated islands of wetlands expanding into larger clusters.

Jacques : Okay, and you know, we want to get into the specific studies that you all just released around tree plantings as well as kind of salinity measures. We'll do that when we get back from the break. You're listening to Delta Dispatches on WGSO 990 AM.

Jacques : All right, you're listening to Delta Dispatches. This is Jacques Hebert, and we are back with Dr. John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. Welcome back John.

John: Thanks Jacques.

Jacques : All right, so let's get into … I know Lake Pontchartrain Basin released two studies recently. One is actually really relevant to the topic we were discussing before the break. Land building. I know you all have done a lot of work out on the Manchac Swamp and Land Bridge areas as well as in Caernarvon around cypress planting. Tell us a little bit about what you found in doing that and what the study says.

John: Okay. First of all, we've been planting trees in Caernarvon area and also on the Maurepas area between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain. Altogether we planted probably about 50,000 trees. We've been monitoring Caernarvon for about five years, but we've only been monitoring Maurepas since we've been planting there, only for about two or three years. So we're a little short on record, but we just did release a report on the Maurepas, and it is very interesting already. First of all, the good news is that the survival rate is still very good, similar to Caernarvon basically. Survival rate of the trees is 70-80%, which is very good.

Jacques : Wow.

John: So you know, that will probably come down a little bit as we've seen elsewhere, but after three or four years at Caernarvon, we still had something like 70-80% survival, so it's still very good. The thing that's interesting though, is that we also measure the height and the diameter of the trees, how big the trees are, and that gives you basically a growth rate. What we're finding is that the growth rates in Maurepas are substantially less than what we see in the Caernarvon area.

We have a couple of theories on that. One of course is that the trees at Caernarvon are growing faster because of the influence of the Caernarvon Diversion. That is probably the most likely or most significant contributing factor. That would argue that the diversions have been pros by the state Master Plan to influence Maurepas area would help the Maurepas trees. I mean they're surviving, but you would like to see them grow faster. Maybe we'll see them change over time, but like I said, it's just the first years of data.

But the other problem could be, or contributing factor is that the Maurepas area, the water's a little deeper, and the trees are in the water probably more than they should be optimally. That frankly, could be alleviated still somewhat by the diversion because the reason the trees don't like to be in the water too much is because they tend to have low oxygen. If you have a freshwater source like a diversion, that tends to bring in water that has oxygen in it. So that also addresses somewhat, the flooding problem.

Anyway, it's kind of premature, but frankly, it's not too surprising that an area without the influence of the river, which is what naturally it should have, is not doing as well as the area that does have the influence of the river.

Jacques : Wow, and 50,000 trees. We should commend Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and all the partners and volunteers that helped contribute to that effort because that's a huge undertaking. And clearly we talk about the cypress tree and how important it is to the landscape, of course storm surge protection. It's our state's official tree. Tell us a little bit about the diversion that's being proposed in the Maurepas area, and how that might help with some of those cypress plantings and just maintaining land in that area.

John: Sure, absolutely. And let me say as I recall, you helped plant some of those trees yourself. A lot of people-

Jacques : It was a muddy Saturday, but it's really worth the effort and a lot of fun, so I highly recommend go to and find some volunteer opportunities to get muddy, and it's a good time.

Simone: Sweat equity. I like it. I like it.

John: The diversions that have been proposed by the state, or I should say they are in the 2017 Master Plan, that would influence the Maurepas area are three diversions basically. Now one of them has been approved many times, and has been basically in all the plans for decades literally, and that's what they're calling now the Maurepas Diversion. At one point it was called, I think they called it the East Maurepas Diversion. At one point it was called the Hope Canal Diversion. This is would be a diversion basically located at Garyville, Louisiana. It would divert about 2,000 CFS, which is small in terms of the big scheme of things, but still a critical amount. That would have a canal that would flow northward toward Lake Maurepas.

That one is probably the one that would be built first, but there are two others at least in this area. One, they're calling it the Manchac Land Bridge Diversion, I believe. Basically this is a diversion that would be on the west side of the Bonnet Carré Spillway. This would allow water to flow from the river, through the spillway, and across what's called the guide levee, into the adjacent swamp and toward the Manchac Land Bridge. That one, I believe, is maybe 2,500 CFS.

Then there was another diversion upriver, far upriver, if people know the area, it's actually a little upriver, what would be the Blind River Basin, and that's the Union Diversion. That is a larger diversion. They were proposing 25,000 CFS. That one is the first time this has been in the plan so it's a relatively new concept, so it's in an earlier phase of analysis. That one's probably a ways out, but that would also flow into the surrounding swamps around Lake Maurepas.

Some folks might be a little shocked at that, but they should consider this. That what we've seen over time with our coast disintegrating, is that storm surge is moving further westward toward Baton Rouge. And Baton Rouge has been sprawling and moving further eastward. So really, even the greater capital area is now increasingly at risk from hurricanes and basically the issues of sea level rise and so forth. That Union diversion would basically bolster that system that ultimately would help protect the Baton Rouge area. So you could see why even though it's an early concept, in the long term it could be a very important project.

Jacques : Right, and I believe the study that you published says a lot about how important the Manchac Land Bridge is in maintaining that to really shielding a lot of the greater Baton Rouge area from storm surge. Is that correct?

John: Yes. Absolutely, yes. I mean if we somehow … And I say somehow. If we let it go, and eventually it would that the Land Bridge would disappear between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain, everyone is probably familiar with this idea of how the surge sloshes around Lake Pontchartrain with a hurricane. Basically, if you have one lake that's Maurepas and Pontchartrain, that sloshing is just amplified. It puts all the communities around the lakes at higher risk, including the greater Baton Rouge area.

Jacques : Right, I mean that's such an important reason why we need to get these projects advanced quickly. You know, keep building on the progress that's been done through the state's Master Plan. You can go to to learn more about these specific projects, the ones that John referenced. John I really wanted to talk to you about the other study that you all had about oyster habitat and salinity through your report.

Simone: Another time. We flew through this show.

Jacques : But yeah, time is rapidly evading us, and I don't think we can do it justice in this segment. But we'll have you back on soon. For now though, where can people go to learn more about and see these studies themselves?

John: Yeah. We have on our website of course, our website is, and if you go to the coastal program under that dropdown menu, there's a tab called "technical reports". Basically we have, it's a little overwhelming, but we have probably over 100 reports there. But it's all organized, so if you are looking for the Maurepas report just look for cypress planting, and you should find it there. The other report that we can talk about later is the Oyster Suitability report we just did for the Biloxi Marsh area. That's also on the technical report page.

Jacques : All right, well check that out.

Simone: Thank you John.

Jacques : Thank you so much John. Safe travels coming back to the best basin. Uh-oh, Simone's looking at me. The Pontchartrain Basin. We'll have you back on soon. Dr. John Lopez with Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. That is another show.

Simone: That's it. That flew by.

Jacques : We reunited. I think I forgot how quickly it goes. But anyway, that's it for this week. Delta Dispatches, thanks for listening, and we'll be back next week.

Simone: All new show. Thanks guys._