Delta Dispatches Podcast – Introduction
In the the inaugural episode of Delta Dispatches, Jacques and Simone speak to Steve Cochran, Campaign Director of Restore the Mississippi Delta, and Alisha Renfro, Coastal Scientist for the National Wildlife Federation.
Below is a transcript of this week’s Delta Dispatches Podcast. Listen to the full recording or subscribe to our feed in iTunes and Google Play.
Jacques: Hi, this is Jacques Hebert.
Simone: I’m Simone Maloz.
Jacques: You’re listening to Delta Dispatches where we’re discussing Louisiana’s coast, its people, wildlife, and jobs and why restoring it matters. How’s it going Simone?
Simone: I’m doing all right. Are you ready for our first show?
Jacques: Yeah, I’m excited. We have a lot to talk about today and in the weeks ahead. We’re excited to be doing this show and bringing it to you every Thursday, 5 to 6 p.m. on 990 AM.
Simone: Good. We’ll get started by telling you a little bit about ourselves.
Jacques: That sounds good. I work as Communications Director with the National Audubon Society. We’re part of a coalition called Restore the Mississippi River Delta. It includes several different organizations. Two of whom you’re going to hear from today. We’re working on coast-wide solutions to restoring Louisiana’s coast.
Simone: I’m Simone Maloz. I’m the Executive Director of a regional advocacy group called Restore or Retreat that focuses on coastal restoration in the Barataria and Terrebonne Basins, two of the most rapidly eroding basins along our coast. We hope to talk more about our organizations as we go along with our show, but today we’re going to talk a little bit about the overall work that we do.
Jacques: Yeah. We’re really going to be setting the stage for why coastal restoration is an important issue. Why it should be one of the most important issues people in Louisiana focus on. We’re going to have a guest on to set the stage, talk a little bit about where we are in terms of our land loss crisis, and then we’re going to have another guest come in and talk about the solutions and what projects and what work has been done to address the crisis. It will hopefully set the stage for our show and give you a good introduction into the issues at hand.
Simone: Let’s get started. All right. We’re here with our first guest, Steve Cochran. Steve Cochran is the Campaign Director for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition. What does that even mean Steve? Why don’t you tell us a little bit about ourselves and the work that we do?
Steve: We have a coalition really, of five groups. Three that are national environmental organizations and that’s the Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, and then the Environmental Defense Fund. Then two local groups, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. We all work together. We have, I guess, among us probably close to 40 people focused on the whole range of coastal issues. It’s a great way to do it because we actually have all these people. Most of us share office space, so we’re all in the same place at the same time, all working the same direction. It’s really a lot of fun to do it that way.
Simone: You’re the campaign director, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about how the campaign even got started?
Steve: Really, a lot of different organizations were involved at some level in Louisiana on a range of environmental issues, particularly along the coast and so working individually, occasionally working together. Then the BP disaster came along and so it seemed clear that there was a better opportunity to try to work more collectively together that had gotten organized just a little bit before BP, but really took on I think, a head of steam, around the idea that it seemed pretty clear, pretty early, there were going to be civil fines. There were going to be criminal fines. There was going to be money that was going to be paid. The way it was organized, it was just under the existing law, that money would have just gone into the Federal Treasury almost for whatever. There were a couple of uses, but it would not have come back under any guarantee to really help with the coast.
A lot of the organization occurred around the idea that we should talk with Congress, talk with other gulf states, and try to make sure that as much money as possible would come back. We have a significant problem here. We need the resources to do it. There was the opportunity to be able to do it. It worked. 80% of the civil penalties that came from the BP disaster as well as a pretty large dedication of some of the criminal penalties are now available for Louisiana. Around 10 billion dollars-worth, that’s going to come to Louisiana from that source or those sources over the next 15 years. We really got a great opportunity to really put things to work and that’s where the organization is going to start.
Simone: mentioned the other Gulf coast states. You work with the other states along the Gulf and you also work with local partners like Restore or Retreat for example. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your partners that work with the campaign, maybe not formally and some formally? Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the network?
Steve: Yeah. It’s a series of concentric circles if you think about it. It’s just all across the board because we work on a range of issues. We work on economics for example. We look at the job creation opportunities associated with the restoration work. We do some of that work with Greater New Orleans Inc. (GNO Inc.) for example. A pure economic development organization where they’ve really taken on some of these issues. Restore or Retreat obviously is a really important player along the coast with a real strong economic base. We definitely want to focus on those areas and we have partnerships to do that.
The science side, we’re always looking that we have our own scientists and we work with other institutions, academic institutions, the Water Institute, state others, to really dig in on some of these science issues to make sure that we’re doing this science based and not getting off track and following somebody’s ideology, but really staying true to the science and what we’re doing around restoration. We definitely look for that opportunity to partner. What we’ve learned in coalition is that we’re always stronger when we do this with more people. This is about the community. It’s not just about some environmental issue. This is about all of us. These partnerships actually come pretty easy and it’s been a great way to do work.
Simone: Steve, you’re no stranger to campaigns and coalitions and you have a long history here in Louisiana, right? Tell us a little bit about your background and how you even ended up in this place.
Steve: If you live long enough, you have all kinds of experience, right? That’s part of it.
Steve: I did grow up across the lake. I went to Mandeville High School. Really, we had it great growing up here. We would sneak out of high school, particularly in the springtime and go out to the rice paddies in Madisonville. There are homes there now. They were rice paddies then. We would catch a couple hundred pounds of crawfish.
Simone: Don’t date yourself Steve.
Steve: Whoever’s parents happened to be out of town that weekend would have the party from Friday afternoon school.
Simone: We’re finding out a lot about you Steve. A lot.
Steve: That’s right. Really, it was a great way to grow up. It’s home for me. I did move away. I’ve come back and forth to the state. I crammed four years into six and a half. I didn’t miss any Fall seasons and so that all worked out just fine. I moved to DC in 1992 and stayed there until really just last year. There was an opportunity to come back home to really do this work. It just couldn’t have been better for me to be able to do that and so here I am.
Simone: All right. Well, we’re going to keep talking to Steve a little bit longer. We want to make it a little fun, right? Steve, favorite Louisiana cocktail?
Simone: Let’s close out this segment. We’ll come back to you and talk a little bit more about the opportunities and challenges that we face in coastal Louisiana, but did you ever, when you were in DC or when you away from Louisiana, did you ever an ah-ha Louisiana moment where you really missed it? You’ve worked on issues that really cross the globe. Was there ever one real Louisiana moment that you had where you’re just like, yeah, I miss home and I need to go back and work on it there?
Steve: Well, these are the hard parts. You can’t live away from home and then see something happen and not feel that you should be there. Katrina was certainly that. BP was that. There have been too many of those here that have really directly impacted. I, like a lot of people, came home as quickly as possible just to be here after that, but being away, seeing those things happen, not being directly involved right away? That’s the hardest thing to do. That’s why it’s great to be here now.
Simone: Great, great. We’re going to take a little break right now and we’re going to come back with Steve and talk a little bit more about the issues that we face and hopefully some of the opportunities that we have in the future.
Coastal Restoration and the Economy
Simone: Welcome back everybody we’re so glad that you stayed with us, stayed with us through the first segment of our new show Delta Dispatches. I’m Simone Maloz, I am with Restore a Retreat. We’re also here with the restore the Mississippi delta campaign, talking about coastal. We’ll be here every week on Thursdays at 5 PM and we’ll have some of our favorite coastal experts and friends too to talk about coastal. Right now we’re back with the southerner of the year, Steve Cochran. Wow! Tell us a little bit about that honor from Southern Living.
Steve: I will tell you though that I grew up in a house where Southern Living was on the coffee table. That was how my mother rolled, that’s what we did.
Simone: You were raised right, Steve.
Steve: She passed away a while ago but somewhere she was smiling, I guarantee you that. I’m going to go with that and leave it there.
Simone: Steve was one of only a handful of folks recognized for the importance of his work in a place that means so much to him. Steve we work on these issues every day. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the challenges that we face in coastal Louisiana and certainly some of the opportunities. I think you and I are both probably optimistic people so we like to focus on some of the solutions and the opportunities that we have at hand.
Let’s talk about opportunities. You know you do a lot of work in the economic development space. Most people probably wouldn’t relate coastal to economic development and those kind of activities. Why don’t you tell some folks some of the positive bright things that we can look forward to in coastal Louisiana.
Steve: We have this, it’s really a unique kind of setting. There’s a huge amount of work to be done. Large scale projects, and when you step back from it, that makes sense. We just haven’t typically thought about it that way. Somebody has to do that work. It’s construction work, it’s design, it’s engineering. We don’t always think about coastal restoration projects that way, but in this case we not only have, it’s really kind of the best sort of an economic driver that you can have.
We not only have an ongoing need and that means the work is necessary. Also in this case, we have a steady flow of funds for the next 15 years that frankly can only be spent on these things. The combination of that really sets up well for investment, for the kinds of companies that want stable opportunities and for the job creation associated with it. The net results of that, if you go back a little bit and look at the rebuilding of the levies around New Orleans that took place after Katrina and then you build in the work that’s going forward now with a range of projects that CPRA is managing across the coast, what you find out is that the leading job creator in south Louisiana is coastal restoration and protection. That’s the amazing thing about this.
We actually get to create the jobs that are going to save us, that are going to help us economically but they are also building the projects that we need to be able to exist here. That’s about as much of a win-win as you can get.
Simone: Steve, most of these are mid-level skilled jobs, right? Good paying jobs?
Steve: If you look at the breakdown in groups like GNO Inc. have looked at this. They also are looking at the training aspects of it, how do you make sure that as many people as possible can be able to take advantage of this? If you look at the data center’s look around the coast, lots of good documentation about the opportunities. The salary level is on average, $69,000 a year. Across the coast that’s a very nice steady salary that you can expect, if you go into these.
It’s everything from basic administrative and construction work, all the way up to high level design and engineering and everything in between. I think the numbers that we’re looking at right now are some 44,000 jobs have been created across the coast, looking at what they call it the water management sector. That’s really what this is about. It’s a huge economic driver for us and a very stable one. In a state which has a one of commodity driven employment, something as stable as that really does matter. It’s a great opportunity for all of us.
Simone: Yeah. I will say from Restore or Retreat‘s perspective, that’s probably the number one, one of the number one questions we get asked. How can we participate in this coastal work and how can we be more involved? Restore or Retreat, it really is located in the heart of that working coast. A lot of these folks work in oil and gas so they’re used to working in coastal environments. For many of them it’s maybe just one or two changes to a skill that they already know for them to be able to adapt from oil and gas into this water management sector. That’s really important for us. I come from a place that when things are bad, they’re really bad. If there is some kind of way that we can find a silver lining to somebody who’s already trained in this particular area that maybe can take that skills coastal. We certainly want to be able to support that.
We’ve had the support of many other industries too. Like you said, other partners that maybe usually wouldn’t come to the table. GNO Inc. and we’ve had some industries come to support us too. Even the community colleges want to know how they can ramp up their efforts to train some of these employees so that they can work in a coastal environment. Whether it be water management, or oil and gas. For us, that’s a really important thing for like you said, the makeup of an organization that we are as well.
2017 Master Plan
Simone: Okay Steve, let’s talk a little bit about this Master Plan that we have out on the street. We’re actually going to focus a future show all on the details of why the state has a coastal Master Plan and what’s in this iteration of the Master Plan. Overall Steve, can you maybe talk about how important it is for Louisiana to have that science based document to shop around to people? Do you think that was important in securing RESTORE Act funds or those kinds of things?
Steve: Having a plan is always the right way to approach something. In this case where there are lots of different ways you could go about this, really looking hard at the science. What does the science tell you about the problem? Then what does it tell you about the solutions? Building that in from the beginning is absolutely the way to do it because it means that one, you’re likely to make the very best decisions and two, you’re able to actually demonstrate to others who you’re going to need over time. Whether that’s within the state, taxpayers. Whether it’s outside of the state with federal funds. You’re doing it right. The state has done a remarkable job of doing that. Of building a plan based on science, of holding to it, being able to explain to people why decisions are being made the way they are and being it based on the science is absolutely critical and it creates that basic level of credibility that is essential for any external audiences.
To be honest, I lived in Washington for a long time. There’s skepticism there about whether Louisiana would handle this kind of money well. What would they spend it on? Would they be boondoggles and things like that? Some of that could be fair criticism, some of it maybe not. Regardless, making sure that we do this right, adhere to the science and make sure it really makes a difference in our ability to continue to build this as we go forward.
Simone: Steve, the campaign itself is helping to get the word out about the Master Plan. Maybe just talk briefly about some of the involvement that Restore the Mississippi River Delta, what they’re doing to help even get the word out about the Master Plan.
Steve: The other piece that really matters is that these are decisions that are being made about protecting our coast, how it’s going to be done, what kind of projects we’re going to do. Even ultimately where people will be able to live over time. People need to be involved in that, this is our community not some decision that should be made in Baton Rouge or in Washington or anything else. It ought to be based on what people here believe is necessary for their communities.
We’ve tried very hard wanting to make sure people know about the plan and it’s going forward. Two, that they have the opportunities that the state is already providing to be able to engage and know what’s in the plan and be able to comment on it. We’ve expanded those opportunities so that more people could be more involved and more aware as this process goes forward.
This is an ongoing process, it’s part of what it means to live in South Louisiana, to be a part of this. To really engage in helping make sure that the decisions not only are science based but are community based as well. That’s really at the heart at trying to do this right. Making sure that everybody has the chance as they want to participate and really get these decisions made that way.
Simone: All right, great. Thanks Steve. I think Jacques going to talk a little bit more, or Jacques and I are going to talk at the end more about how we can get access to some of that information. How then get more information from the campaign. For right now you can follow Steve on Twitter at @SCCT. He likes to post about Mardi Gras. Speaking of Mardi Gras Steve, one last question. Do you give anything up for lent?
Steve: King cake.
Simone: All right, thanks Steve. Thanks for coming in. We very much appreciate your work and for being with us today.
Steve: Thanks Simone.
Interview with Alisha Renfro
Jacques: We’re back. This is Jacques Herbert, and you’re listening to Delta Dispatches. We’re discussing Louisiana’s coast, its people, wildlife, and jobs, and why restoring it matters.
Earlier you heard from Steve Cochran, campaign director with Restore the Mississippi River Delta, who provided information on this grouping of organizations, and discussed Louisiana’s land loss crisis, and why restoring the coast must be a top priority for everyone. It is indeed a priority. A recent poll by the Restore the Mississippi River Delta found that 95 percent of Louisianans said Louisiana’s coastal areas and wetlands are personally important to them, and 93 percent of Louisianans state wide said that restoring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands needs attention.
At the same time, since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost 1900 square miles of land. That’s equivalent to the size of Delaware. This is land that’s not only crucial wildlife and fisheries habitat, but it’s important to protecting our communities and industries from hurricanes, storm surge, and other threats. Without action, Louisiana could lose an additional 2200 square miles of land over the next 50 years.
We often hear these big numbers. We see the red maps of land loss across our coast. But today we’re going to talk about the solutions. Here to give us some insight into the specific tools in our restoration toolkit is Alisha Renfro. When she’s not out in coastal wetlands collecting sediment cores, Alisha is a staff scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, working in New Orleans.
Hi, Alisha. Welcome to the show. How was your Mardi Gras?
Alisha: It was good. I’m recovering from my various hot glue gun burns now.
Jacques: Yeah, a lot of glue, a lot of glitter.
We’re back at work hard, working to restore the coast. I’ve been out in the field with you, and you’ve taken sediment cores from various wetland areas. Can you tell our listeners, what exactly is a sediment core, and what does it tell you?
Alisha: A sediment core is a scientific tool that actually is kind of a time machine for us. It gives us a glimpse back into the history of a certain place. From that you can look and tell things like river floods or hurricane events, or even when something dramatic changed within the system.
Jacques: That’s great. You basically stick it in the ground, pull it out, and then you can see the different layers of earth that have built up over time, and tell how that land has formed.
Alisha: Yep, exactly.
Jacques: That’s crucial in Louisiana, because the land on which we’re living was basically built by the Mississippi River over thousands of years, correct?
Alisha: Yep, that’s correct.
Jacques: Alisha, you are not originally from New Orleans. You’ve lived here for about five years in your current role, and you got your PhD from Stony Brook University in New York. I know you did a lot of research near Manhattan and the other boroughs on the coast there. Are there similarities between what’s happening around New York City, and here in Louisiana?
Alisha: Certainly they do have sea level rise in those areas. Not quite as high as the sea level rise we have here in Louisiana, because we have not only sea level rise, but the land is subsiding beneath us. They do have issues, particularly in one location I worked in, where the marshes are disappearing. They were trying to figure out why that was happening, and look for solutions to that.
Really what happened was, a partnership between the Army Corps of Engineers and the Parks Service used sediment dredged from the Hudson River to build new marshes. Similar to some of the projects that we have here in Louisiana.
Jacques: That’s great. A lot of people say this, and we see it every day, but Louisiana really is at the forefront of this crisis, but also of the technologies and the planning and solutions that we’re working to deal with, to deal with our land loss crisis. To deal with sea level rise, threats from hurricanes. I know particularly after Sandy in New York, there was a lot of conversation between folks in New York and here in New Orleans about what we’ve learned, and what could be applied more broadly.
Alisha: Definitely. When I lived there, hurricanes were something they thought about, but it was never a reality. Then they had Irene and Sandy almost back to back. They’re kind of waking up and figuring out, looking to Louisiana to help inform what they should do to help better protect themselves.
Jacques: You and I were recently up on a plane flying over the Barataria and Terrebonne Basins, and then into the Atchafalaya Basin, and the Wax Lake Delta. The Wax Lake Delta is actually one of the few places across our coast that’s gaining land as opposed to losing land. Can you give our listeners a little bit of a recap of what we saw, and what the significance of that was?
Alisha: We flew over, first Barataria Bay which is just west of the Mississippi River. It’s a basin that doesn’t get a lot of sediment anymore from the Mississippi River even though it’s right next to it. It does get a little bit of fresh water, but not much. We got to see a variety of different types of restoration projects in that basin, including things like Davis Pond, which is a fresh water diversion that’s actually built a little land. There’s a little delta that’s being built there.
We also saw barrier island projects like the Caminada Headland Marsh Creation projects, and some shoreline protection projects.
Then as you fly over to Terrebonne, you’re moving away from the Mississippi, and also you’re far away from the Atchafalaya. While there are restoration projects being done, the marsh there is in pretty bad shape. In fact, since 1932, Terrebonne itself is the area of largest land loss; 500 square miles since 1932. It’s pretty remarkable.
Then you fly a little bit farther west, over to the Atchafalaya Basin, and you see the Atchafalaya Delta, which is the delta that’s being built by sediments from the Atchafalaya, as well as some dredge material placed by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Then finally to the Wax Lake Delta. This was a delta that’s grown out of the Wax Lake outlet, which was dredged in 1941. It’s completely natural, no one does any dredging. But you see this growing thriving delta.
Jacques: The contrast there between a place where we’re gaining land in Louisiana, and where there’s land that’s just being lost so rapidly, is because there is that replenishing from the Atchafalaya River of fresh water and sediment that’s building up over time?
Alisha: Yeah, definitely. You can even see it as you switch over, not necessarily to the Atchafalaya or Wax Lake deltas, but even the marshes near those two deltas are solid looking marshes, versus the very fragmented Swiss cheese look of the Terrebonne marshes.
Jacques: Clearly all of us are interested in how we can build more land across coastal Louisiana. Both to protect our communities, our industries. For critical wildlife and fisheries habitat. There are so many reasons why our wetlands are so important. Even here in New Orleans, we see how close we are to the Gulf of Mexico. How close we are to storm surge. We need those wetlands to protect us.
How do we go about gaining more land and building more land across Louisiana that’s so critically important? What are some of the main projects that are seeking to restore our coastal wetlands?
Alisha: We want to do two things. We want to gain new land, but we also want to maintain the land that we currently have. You can do that with things like shoreline protection, using rocks or even living shorelines like oyster reefs, to help protect a marsh from erosion. You can also use things like hydrologic restoration, restoring the fresh water flows into an area, or keeping salt water out of an area.
You also have things like barrier island restoration, actually restoring the barrier islands which are that critical first line of defense against storm surge. Then you have marsh creation projects where you can use sediment dredged from either the basin or from the river to restore marshes in shallow water areas.
Then finally you have the sediment diversion projects, which are these controlled structures that would be built into the levies, that would capture all that sediment that the mighty Mississippi River still carries today.
Jacques: We’re going to talk a little bit about the plan that the state has, the coastal master plan that outlines these projects and priorities. I think one of the things that’s really important is, there really is no one size fits all to restoring our coast or addressing our land loss crisis. You need all these projects working together. You can’t just dredge sediment. You can’t just divert. You need the projects working in tandem. Is that correct?
Alisha: Yeah. There’s no one project type that’s going to be the right type of project in every location. There are places like Terrebonne where you’re far away from both of the rivers, and so you are going to rely on fresh water flows and marsh creation. But we also need to think very strategically. We can spend a lot of money and do a lot of restoration, and not have a lot to show for it at the end of the day. We have to think about how these projects can work together so that the benefits of the projects together are greater than the benefits from any single project.
Jacques: Also, similarly with risk reduction or protection projects, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina, levies alone are not enough.
Jacques: We need that buffer to protect our levies, and the storm surge barriers, and the other investments that have been made to better protect our communities.
Alisha: Yep. Restoring that natural system is critical to protecting our protection features.
Jacques: We’re going to talk to Alisha a little bit more about the Coastal Master Plan, as well as the multiple lines of defense strategy, when we return. You are listening to Delta Dispatches on WGSO 990 AM.
Multiple Lines of Defense
Jacques: Hi everyone. This is Jacques Hebert. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches on WGSO990 AM. We’re discussing solutions to deal with Louisiana’s land loss crisis. We’re back with Alicia Renfro, staff scientist with the National Wildlife Federation. Alicia, there are many reasons why we need to restore the coast of Louisiana but perhaps none is more important than to restore the crucial buffer our wetlands provide, our cities like New Orleans, and other places. Can you talk a little bit about how wetlands serve as a crucial buffer and give us a little overview of the multiple lines of defense strategy that people often talk about?
Alicia: Yeah, so the wetlands outside of our cities can help slow down storm surge and help decrease the storm surge before it actually gets to the city and gets to the levees that surround our cities. That’s a really crucial thing. Once we lose that the storm surge that our levee see it is much higher. There is a much more likely chance they’ll be over-topped or could fail.
Jacques: Great, and so the multiple lines of defense strategy, it really looks at exactly that. There are multiple lines between us and the Gulf of Mexico, between us and storm surge from hurricanes, that will reduce flooding and hopefully reduce stress on our levees. Can you walk us through what are some of the other lines of defense? I know barrier islands are often thought of as the first line of defense.
Alicia: Right, so you have things like barrier islands. You have shallow water bay systems. You have land bridges, marsh land bridges, as well as ridges which are these natural levees that exist alongside of old bayou channels that help distribute water and slow things down. Then you also have the natural levee of the river which is the high-ground area that people in New Orleans are going to be familiar with because that’s where a lot of our houses exist on today.
Jacques: Right, and so the thought there is as much as you have outside of the levee to protect your homes, protect your business from flooding, the less likely and the less strain there will be on the levee itself, making sure it’s going to be more successful over time. People really, even though they are in New Orleans, they are living within the levee system, they should care about what’s happening across the coast and then in terms of coastal restoration. Is that correct?
Alicia: Oh, definitely. Once you get up into the air you see how much of a coastal city New Orleans really is. It’s really important to keep that buffer intact.
Jacques: Yeah, I remember the first time I went out on flyover. You leave from the lakefront airport. Then really quickly you’re over the lower Ninth Ward, and then before too long you’re literally at the Gulf of Mexico.
Alicia: Yeah, it’s right there. It’s right there. It was really after Hurricane Katrina that the state sort of changed its line of thinking. They had thought about protection and restoration as separate things. After Hurricane Katrina they realized they really had to think about these things together. That is the multiple lines of defense.
Jacques: Great, and that resulted in the state creating the Coastal Protection Restoration Authority, issuing its first Coastal Master Plan which was in 2007 and really outlined priorities for both protecting and restoring our area. Can you talk a little bit about some of the progress that’s been made since 2007. We often hear why can’t people, why can’t the state, why can’t others, move more quickly? Why can’t they address this problem? In fact, there has been a lot of work that’s been done with various investments coming in, a lot more in the pipeline as a result of funding from the BP Settlement. They have an updated Coastal Master Plan which we’re going to talk a little bit about. What are some of the major points of progress that the state has achieved in terms of addressing our land loss crisis?
Alicia: Yeah, and we have made a lot of progress. I feel like we don’t crow about it near enough as we should. Since 2007, CPRA has completed or funded a 135 different projects. This included 31,000 acres of land that have been benefited from these projects, 275 miles of levee improvements, and over 50 miles of barrier islands and berms that are either have been constructed or are under construction.
Jacques: Yeah, it really is impressive when you see, from the air or otherwise, the work that’s been done. I know there’s the large scale Barataria Marsh Creation Project which pumps sediment I believe from the Mississippi-
Alicia: From the Mississippi River over into Barataria Bay, yeah.
Jacques: They’ve created I think hundreds if not more acres in that area.
Alicia: It’s probably more in the thousands range now. They’ve made a lot of progress with that project, yeah.
Jacques: That’s great. Folks, it’s not always easy to see some of these projects because you can’t always get to a barrier island. You can’t always get to interior marshes. We’ve tried to document those. You can go on our website, MississippiRiverDelta.org and look at some of the projects, look at some of the photos and images that showcase the work that’s been done. Of course more is needed. That’s what we’re working on. Can you tell us a little bit about what you work on day to day and how you work to advance some of these restoration projects?
Alicia: Yeah, so the main part of my job is really doing advocacy to make sure that science is the foundation for our coastal restoration plans. That can take a variety in forms. That’s keeping up on the latest science, what’s happening, checking in and monitoring the progress of our restoration projects, doing presentations to the public, and even writing the occasional blog post about the progress that we’re making.
Jacques: Yeah, I mean these are really complicated issues. That’s the thing, a lot of this science has been studied extensively. Some of these projects have been studied extensively for decades. I think a lot of what you try to do and what we need to do is just translate what are the issues at stake and how can people learn more?
Jacques: The state, as we mentioned, is in the process. They’ve released their draft 2017 Coastal Master Plan which is a blueprint for how they’re going to prioritize restoration and protection projects across the coast, really for the next 50 years, even though they have shorter time periods of 10 years where they’re looking at actually implementing some of these projects. Can you give us a little overview of the Coastal Master Plan and tell people where they can go to learn more?
Alicia: Yeah, so the Coastal Master Plan, as Jacques said, is a blueprint for our coastal restoration and protection for the next 50 years. It’s a $50 billion 50-year plan. It is currently out for comment. You can go to LA.coastal.gov to read the plan itself and public comment is open until March 26th so get those comments in.
Jacques: Yeah, and in fact we’re going to have experts from CPRA and potentially the Water Institute of the Gulf on our next episode, next week, to discuss the Coastal Master Plan in greater detail. Our whole episode will focus on the Coastal Master Plan. Definitely go to LA.coastal.gov and you can read the plan for yourself. You can see what projects are in your area and in fact CPRA has an amazing interactive online tool where you can enter your address and see what’s my risk? What are the projects in my area both in terms of restoration and risk reduction and how can you learn more?
Highly encourage you to go on and learn more and then give feedback if you have it. You have until March 26th. All right well thank you so much Alicia. It was great having you on the show. Be sure, if you want, you can follow Alicia on Twitter at Alicia Renfro, R-E-N-F-R-O, for my of her analysis and insight into the coastal restoration work that’s going on. Thanks for coming on the show. We’ll hope to have you back soon.
Alicia: All right, thank you.
Simone: Hey, Jacques I’m back.
Jacques: Hey Simone, it’s great to be back with you. How was your guest?
Simone: He was great. How was Alicia?
Jacques: Alicia was great as always.
Simone: Great, we hope to have more excellent guests, informative guests, on deck for you in the future. We do want you to check out our website: MississippiRiverDelta.org. It’s a brand new, beautiful website, really easy to navigate, right Jacques? Even the mobile, easy to look on your phone too. Don’t do it while you’re driving though. Also find the campaign on Facebook and Twitter, Restore or Retreat also has our website, RestoreOrRetreat.org. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter. We hope that you’ll join us next Thursday at the same time. Until then, Jacques, what do we have on deck?
Jacques: Yeah, so each week we’re going to try to highlight different events happening across the coast that relate to our issue. Of course a lot of folks are still coming down from Mardi Gras so we don’t have too much on deck yet. March 11th, actually, here in New Orleans, at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, Chef Isaac Toups, you might know him from the show Top Chef, he also has two great restaurants in New Orleans, Toups Eatery and Toups South.
Jacques: Meatery, that’s right.
Jacques: Yeah, he’s going to be doing an alligator cooking demo at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, again from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on March 11th. There’s also going to be some discussion about the Coastal Master Plan so definitely check that out.
Simone: Yeah, Isaac has been a great advocate for coastal Louisiana. He likes to hunt and fish. He grew up here. He’s been a great advocate for us. Hopefully maybe one day we can have him on this show and talk about his Louisiana experiences and maybe share one of those alligator recipes.
Jacques: Yeah, I’m interested. I think they’re going to be handing them out at the event too in addition to having tastings.
Simone: I’m sure they’ll be cocktails too knowing Isaac too.
Jacques: Of course, yeah.
Simone: All right, we loved being here today. We look forward to continuing to be with you in the future. We’ll see you next week.
Jacques: Yup, this has been Delta Dispatches on WGSO990 AM.