Delta Dispatches Podcast – Master Plan
Thanks for listening to the second episode of Delta Dispatchers with hosts Simone Maloz & Jacques Hebert.
On today’s show Bren Haase & Dr. Denise Reed talk about the Master Plan.
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.
Listen to Episode 2 now!
Jacques: Hello, you’re listening to Delta Dispatches. We’re discussing Louisiana’s coast, its people, wildlife, and jobs, and why restoring it matters. I’m Jacques Hebert.
Simone: I’m Simone Maloz.
Jacques: How’s it going, Simone?
Simone: I’m good, I’m good. What happens when a Theriot and an Hebert walk into a radio station?
Jacques: I guess we’re about to find out. We’re excited to be here with you for episode two. As a reminder, if you want to catch what you missed in the first episode or just subscribe, you can go to MississippiRiverDelta.org/DeltaDispatches. You can subscribe to get past episodes of Delta Dispatches and listen every week on iTunes and Google Play, in addition to WGSO 990 AM.
Simone: We got tremendous feedback after our first session, so hopefully this one will go as well. We also had lots of people wanting to be our guest, so we have some great shows lined up for the future. We’ll have some of our friends and, as we mentioned last week, some of our foes, on to talk about important topics. Next week, I think we’re going to cover diversions. We’re going to talk about fisheries. We’re actually going to talk about the city of New Orleans …
Jacques: Yeah, and what are we talking about today?
Simone: We’re going to talk about the Master Plan. Every five years the state comes out with their Coastal Master Plan, and we have some of the best of the best of the Master Plan team lined up to talk to us today. We’re looking forward to talking to both of them. I’ll be with you in the first half, you’ll be there in the second, and then we’ll get back together again at the end.
Jacques: That sounds good. Well, enjoy your interview with your guest, and I will talk to you later in the show.
Simone: All right. Bye, Jacques. All right, so our first guest who will be joining us by phone is Bren Haasee. Bren is the chief of planning and research division at the CPRA, or the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the state entity that’s responsible for restoration and protection, and most importantly, what we’re going to talk about today, the master plan.
Bren, we’re going give listeners your resume. He holds degrees in marine biology and oceanography from Auburn and LSU. We’ll talk about that in a little bit, about how you can be a dual tiger. He also has over 20 years of experience in coastal wetlands, ecology, restoration, and regulation. Really, I’ve had the pleasure to work with Bren most recently, and in the past, in leading this master plan effort. So, welcome to the show, Bren.
Bren: Thanks, Simone. Good to be here with ya.
Simone: Yeah, thanks for being on. You’re our first state guest, so no pressure. Hopefully this goes well and we can have more of our CPRA friends on in the future. Let’s talk about this master plan. I am sure you are not tired of talking about it yet, but let’s tell everybody about why we have a master plan, and why we’re talking about it today.
Bren: Absolutely. I’m not tired of talking about it. It’s an extremely important issue for the state of Louisiana and indeed for the entire country. Hopefully, most of your listeners are aware, I know you are Simone, that Louisiana’s coastal crisis of epic proportions.
We’ve lost a tremendous amount of our coastline, almost 2,000 square miles over the last 80 or 90 years or so. If we don’t change the way we’re conducting our business, we anticipate that we’ll lose something along the order of about that much into the future. So, recognition of that problem, that crisis, is the first step. The coastal preservation restoration authority told us to go forth and develop a master plan to try to address those issues to help stem the tide of coastal wetland loss and protect our citizens from hurricane and storm damages.
Simone: So why now Bren? Tell us a little about the history about why you need another plan, or why do we need this update 5 years later?
Bren: Sure. The Louisiana coast is extremely dynamic place. It changes from day to day and certainly year to year. Much like a family’s needs might change, and it’s a good idea to assess insurance needs or something along those lines. That’s a pretty dry example but our needs change across our coast.
We have major events like hurricanes that can significantly impact our landscape and we’ve done a lot of work as well. And as we’re doing that work we’re learning more about how to implement the projects that we’re conducting in a better way. Technology certainly gets better, and as those things improve and we update the plan, we’re able to incorporate those improvements and lessons learned. The updated landscape for example, as we advance the plan and update the plan every 5 years.
It’s a way to keep ourselves in check and ensure that we’re doing the correct things do the most good that we can for our coast. And not just developing a plan and expecting it to be fresh and applicable and appropriate 20, 30, 40 years down the road.
Simone: So Bren, let’s talk specifics. What is specifically different about this plan than the 2012 plan? I know that you’ve had improvements to modeling and some changes to some conditions on the ground, those kinds of things. Let’s talk about what’s the real difference between 2012 and 2017?
Bren: Yeah, a few of those. You hit on a couple of them and I did as well in terms of lessons learned and we incorporate some of that stuff into our new planning process. And we have been able to improve on the technical side of things, which is the science and engineering is really the bedrock of our planning. It’s what has enabled us to be the envy of much of the country in fact in terms of how we plan for our coast.
We evaluate our projects, and evaluate the plan and develop the plan through some pretty heady stuff. As you mentioned technical models and estimates of what the coastal landscape looks like and stuff. And so we really weren’t there with the 2012 plan, and we asked ourselves, what are some things that we think we can do better? How can we improve these, whether it’s additional data collection, refined grids and models, tapping different experts in different fields and so forth. And so we’re able to do that as part of the 2017 update and improve those analytical tools that we’ve used to help evaluate the projects and plan what we’ll ultimately develop.
We don’t think we have all the answers. We don’t think we know everything at CPRA in terms of what the right projects are. So we went to the public and said, what are the projects you guys want us to consider? What are the things that y’all are interested in us doing along our coast? What are the projects that need to be evaluated? So we put two calls out about the 2014 time frame to request some of those ideas and ask folks to provide those to us so that we could evaluate those as part of this planned development process and certainly we did that. Some of those projects are incorporated as part of the draft plan.
But there’s an increased emphasis on communities as part of this plan. Obviously the reason we want to restore our coast in the first place is for our people. Coastal Louisiana is home to over 2 million people and as I alluded to before, it supports the entire state region, and indeed the nation, with a lot of important functions.
Anyway the reason we obviously want to restore the coast in the first place is for those folks that live along the coast and others. There’s an increased discussion in terms of how coastal issues really impact our coastal communities, impact our people in terms of things like how they might insure their homes and issues like that that certainly are near and dear and hit close to home as well.
We have further developed our nonstructural program, which is a form of risk reduction, hurricane protection. That’s a little different from what we typically think of. Structural features like levees and floodgates and so forth. Nonstructural program involves things like elevating homes or flood-proofing businesses or voluntary acquisition when those might seem to be necessary.
In 2012 we discussed that a little bit but it was really conceptual. We didn’t have a very good estimate of what that might look like, or what the program might actually look like. And so we’ve put a lot more meat on the bones in terms of estimates of cost and mitigation measures for various structures, and what that program might look like this go-around.
So those are some of the major differences. I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t say and Simone, you and your group took part in this, in helping really kind of us beef up our outreach and engagement I think, and our communications as it related to developing this plan as well. I think we’ve done a much better job this go-around than we did last time.
Simone: So Bren, give us the Cliff Notes version of the draft plan that’s on the street right now. How many projects, how much money, any cool short version of what it took you 5 years to come up with and what over 6,000 pages of appendices. Just give us the short and sweet version of that.
Bren: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a 50 year, 50 billion dollar plan. And when I say 50 billion dollars, I have to make sure people understand that not an aspirational budget or something that we’re shooting for. That’s a constraint. That’s essentially the amount we think is plausible that might come to the state over the next 50 years or so. Certainly if we had more money, or if we felt like we were going to get more money we could in fact do some more.
It involves roughly 120 projects. There are 76 restoration projects. Those are things like diversions, barrier islands, restoration projects, ridge restoration projects, hydrologic restoration projects, and so forth. There are 32 non-structural projects that have been identified. Those are all across the coast in various geographical areas along the coast. And then 20 structural protection projects are part of this plan.
Simone: So Bren, I do want to talk to you a little bit more about nonstructural and of course want to talk about me a little bit more. And that outreach work. So if that’s okay with you, we still have a lot more to cover, talking more details about specific components of the master plan. But we always like to end on a fun note. So Bren, whiskey or bourbon.
Bren: Oh, Bourbon.
Simone: I think I knew that. All right we’ll talk a little bit more about you and your work and the master plan when we come up after the break.
Simone: All right, we’re back. This Simone Maloz, I’m the executive director of Restore or Retreat. And we’re on Delta Dispatches is our show to discuss Louisiana’s Coast, it’s our show to discuss Louisiana’s coast it’s people, wildlife, and jobs, and why restoring it matters.
So Bren, we have a real serious question moving forward. We want to know how do you get from an LSU tiger to an Auburn tiger. Explain.
Bren: That’s a good question and it’s not the first time I’ve been asked that.
Simone: You should have a good answer by now, hopefully.
Bren: I grew up in Baton Rouge, and everybody I knew was going to LSU and I kind of wanted to do a little something different. Maybe get out of town for a bit, so that’s what I did. Ended up going to Auburn.
Simone: You corrected yourself though, yes.
Bren: I did, I came back. I couldn’t stay away too long, and ended up getting a degree from LSU too. And I’ve lived here ever since. Haven’t looked back.
Simone: You’re an outdoors guy, right? You like to hunt and fish. Your sons too right? So, favorite season? Deer, duck, crawfish, or snowball? There’s only one right answer for that.
Bren: You know, I’d have to say duck season. I’m a bird hunter at heart. I like to chase those ducks and doves and woodcock and so forth.
Simone: Good, good you certainly have the outdoors experience and you’ve worked in coastal Louisiana a long time. We’ll talk about that a little bit more.
Let’s talk about the master plan that’s on the streets right now in a draft form. It is open to public comment until March 26. There’s various different ways that you can comment. If you go on the state’s website. Coastal.la.gov. There’s an easy way where you can click on a single button and express your support or concerns about the plan itself. It also certainly is where you can find the plan, all of the appendices. It’s also available in 4 different languages, right Bren?
Bren: That’s right, that’s right. Thank you very much Simone.
Simone: Yes, you have some crafty outreach folks. Let’s talk about that a little bit. Restore or Retreat was grateful to have the support of the Greater New Orleans Foundation to assist with some of their outreach efforts. One of them was to translate the parts of the executive summary and document into French, Spanish, Vietnamese and of course, it’s English.
You know we want to help you guys expand your each, because those are all certainly stakeholders in Louisiana’s coast, but this is really an international plan. There’s lots of folks watching that. To speak to that international point, something that comes up a lot in what we do is resilience. And part of resiliency also includes nonstructural measures, like flood proofing, home elevations and of course voluntary acquisitions.
So I have to tell you Bren, I think that’s the part where I think y’all have done some of the greatest work for talking about the nonstructural programs. So do you want to hit on that just a little bit, about why nonstructural is this piece along with restoration and protection and some of the work that y’all have done to advance that particular area?
Bren: Sure, absolutely. And I’d have to agree with you in terms of advancement between 2012 and 2017, that’s really where some of the big differences is. I guess the first question might be why do we need a non-structural program? Why don’t we just build levies everywhere and floodgates everywhere. The real answer to that, and it’s a hard answer, it’s not one that we like to give is that we simply can’t do that in all places. Louisiana’s geography doesn’t necessarily lend itself to that in all places and as I mentioned earlier, we have a real funding constraint in terms of what projects we can actually implement and pay for.
And so the harsh reality that is part of the master plan, and indeed is part of most of our lives in terms of how we make decisions, is that generally our budget, our paycheck affects how we make those decisions. And so it does with part of the master plan as well.
One of the alternatives to some of the structural protection features that might not be feasible or appropriate in certain areas is to do the nonstructural. Where we can go in and the idea would be to work very closely of course with the locals who have much more experience with this, frankly, than the state does at this point in time.
And develop a program where for people that are interested, have their homes elevated and hopefully elevate it to a degree where they’re out of the risk of flooding as a result of some coastal flooding. Or in the case of businesses or larger structures, they could potentially be flood-proofed. And again in really high repetitive loss type structures, if folks are interested in this option, there’s always the option for acquisition on some of those properties.
There’s a lot of information and I’ll go ahead and give the flood appendix E of the master plan for folks who want to know …
Simone: Oh I read that. I read all of it.
Bren: That can be found at our website of course. A tremendous amount of information that discusses what the program might look like and how we came up with cost estimates and that kind of thing.
Simone: So Bren I think like I said, I had the pleasure of working with you for quite a while now, but one of the most recent engagement opportunities that we had started with something that the CPRA developed called the flood risk and resiliency viewer.
Bren: That’s right.
Simone: Which is this amazing tool. Do you want to talk about that, or do you want me to?
Bren: I’m happy to talk about it, and you can fill in the gaps on the other things.
Simone: I get paid by the word, so it’d probably be better if you talked about it.
Bren: Well certainly the way that tool started and much credit goes to you on helping us get that developed and delivered to us,
You can type in your address if you live in the coastal zone and you’ll be taken to a map, essentially to your home, to your business, whatever the address may be. It will let you know what your flood risk is. For example what it might be if you’re 25 or if you’re 50, both without implementing the master plan or with implementing the master plan.
That’s been expanded to include the information in the 2017 master plan, expanded and updated to include the information in the 2017 draft master plan. So you can still assess your flood risk in the way I just described. But you can also get project specific information by clicking on polygons. Or if you’re interested in a particular project, or looking at a particular area and see what projects might be there.
It’s a really neat tool. Again it’s interactive and it’s visual. It’s a good way for somebody who’s interested, particularly in one or just maybe two parts of the coast. To really be able to drill down into some of the important information that’s available and online there.
Simone: Yeah and I can’t say enough great things about the flood risk viewer. It’s an amazing tool. It’s the way people like to get their information in terms of. They can go to a computer, it looks like Google. They can type their address in and they can find out their flood risk. The fact that it’s been updated for 2017 makes it very transparent in the data that you use. So I encourage people to check that out.
So Bren, sadly our time is up. So yeah, we’re going to kick it over to Denise Reed to talk about how this is a science based plan. But I am so grateful to you and your time, but most importantly your leadership that you’ve shown on the master plan and this issue. It is a very, very tough job and I have seen you navigate it with grace and dignity. So there’s a lot to be said about that. Thank you Bren for being on.
Bren: Thank you Simone.
Simone: All right we’ll come back with Dr. Denise Reed and my counterpart Jacques.
Jacques: Welcome back. This is Jacques Hebert and you’re listening to Delta Dispatches. We’re discussing Louisiana’s coast. It’s people, wildlife and jobs, and why restoring it matters. We’re so excited to have our next guest on today’s show. Dr. Denise Reed, chief scientist with the Water Institute of the Gulf.
Dr. Reed is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in coastal marsh sustainability and the role of human activities in modifying coastal systems. She has studied coastal issues in the United States and around the world for over 30 years. Dr. Reed has worked closely with the Louisiana state government in developing coastal restoration plans, including the 2012 and 2017 coastal master plans.
Her experience includes field research in the responsive coastal wetlands to sea level rise, ecosystem restoration, and planning in the California Bay Delta and review and advisory roles on a number of federal water resource planning issues including post-Sandy work in the north east and restoration planning in Puget Sound. Welcome to the show Dr. Reed, we’re happy to have you on and the state of Louisiana is lucky to have you working on this issue.
Denise: Well, thank you very much Jacques.
Jacques: So for folks who may not be familiar, can you tell us a little bit about the Water Institute of the Gulf and what your mission is?
Denise: Yeah, the Water Institute of the Gulf is relatively new, we’ve only been around for about five years. We’re an independent not-for-profit research organization based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And we do applied research. We do take science information, knowledge that we know about different kinds of systems and we apply it in ways that people can use.
It’s really very much about helping folks like the CPRA go through and utilize the great breadth of scientific knowledge that there is about a system like coastal Louisiana. Our job is to put it in way that CPRA can use it and help understand what their need is so that we can make sure they get science that they need.
Jacques: And you all have been really busy over the last several years especially working on this master plan. So, can you tell us a little bit about what your involvement has been particularly in the 2017 draft master plan that Simone and Bren were speaking about earlier?
Denise: Yes, so the draft plan we worked closely with CPRA to coordinate a large team of experts who came together in different ways, different teams to develop and apply a set of models, a set of numerical models that help CPRA understand what the effects of different restoration projects and different risk reduction projects are. In terms of how much land is on the coast, and how deep the water is during storm surge flooding.
It’s a very complex set of models, and what it is essentially is a set of computer code that we give certain assumptions, we tell it what the project looks like and then it plays out over a 50 year timeframe. It shows how the landscape will change as sea level rises, shows how the habitat patterns will change, the pattern of salinity and land and barrier islands changes over time.
And then you can also say, okay, what does a project do? How does a project, a sediment diversion, a marsh creation project, a barrier item restoration, how does it steer the coast in a different direction? We do the same thing for risk reduction projects. The things like levies and flood walls. Storm surges come in, they move across the coastal landscape in the model. And then there are barriers in the way or not, and that alters the pattern of flooding and where the water goes.
And CPRA uses that information to evaluate one project versus another project versus another project. And to determine which one should be in the plan.
Jacques: And I’m sure that technology and that modeling is incredibly important. Anyone who has spent time on the coast, lived on the coast, studied the coast can tell you just how dynamic it is in terms of it being a system. Can you talk a little bit about those models. Particularly I know that for this master plan the 2017 master plan is based on 3 distinct scenarios of future environmental change. So they’re looking at land loss subsidence, sea level rise, precipitation, storm frequency, and storm intensity.
So why are there 3 different scenarios, and how have those scenarios impacted what’s included in the draft master plan?
Denise: Yeah, this is a really important point because what we do. The reason why we have to have these computer models to do this is if we’re thinking about the future and we don’t really know what the future holds for us. We don’t know what the rivers going to do in the future exactly, we don’t know how fast sea level is going to rise, we’re not quite sure when the storms are going to come, how many there are going to be. How intense they’re going to be.
And so what we do in the modeling is we take what we know about the coast, how it’s changed in the past, and we construct these models that kind of can reflect that, they can put all the processes together and show how the landscape changed and how the storm surge moves differently. But then we have to play it out into the future. And so rather than just throwing our hands up in the air and saying, oh, nobody knows what that future’s going to hold. We say, okay, well, what if it was this? What if it was that? What if it was the other?
And essentially fairly early in the process for the 2017 master plan, we scoured the new scientific literature that had been done. What were the latest predictions about sea level rise? Did we know anything more about subsidence than we did for the 2012 plan? What was the current thinking about changes in storm intensity and frequency?
We scoured that knowledge and came up with these what we call scenarios and they basically set three different sets of conditions that we tested the projects against. We call them the low, the medium, and the high. And essentially, there’s a set of conditions that results in lower land loss and lower storm surge flooding, medium, and then a higher one. The higher one is not the worst case scenario by any means, but it is pretty kind of toward the top end of what people are thinking about now for say 21st century sea level rise.
So, having decided on those scenarios, and CPRA was very involved in the identification selection of the values that we used. We then take a project, and in the model, we say okay. What would it do under the low scenario? What would it do under the medium scenario? What would it do under the high scenario?
And CPRA takes all that information and there’s another piece of computer code. We call it the planning tool, basically, you have a huge amount of information when you evaluate all these different projects over 50 years into the future, across all of these scenarios. It all kind of goes into the hopper.
And then CPRA can ask questions, okay saying if I was going to spend 20 billion dollars on restoration, which set of projects give me the most land under the low scenario? Which set of projects give me the most land under the medium scenario? Which set of projects give me the most land under the high scenario? All the same kind of questions for water debt during storm surges for instance.
And then that is how they sift through to the set of projects that essentially becomes the ones in the plan. There’s an approach which is laid out in the plan, which shows that if you assume that the high scenario is going to occur, and you pick the set of projects under that high scenario, then even if that doesn’t play out, you’re in a better situation than if you pick the ones that did best under the low scenario and the higher conditions actually came about.
I know this is a little bit confusing but it’s about kind of … One way of putting it is planning for the worst but hoping for the best. Nobody wants those high conditions, that high level of sea level rise and subsidence to actually occur. We don’t know whether it’s going to occur or not. But having projects that are going to do well even if it does is the best kind of way of thinking about the future.
Jacques: Right, and that approach is really important in terms of making sure that we’re getting the necessary protections and wetland buffers and that sort of thing for the future. Even though CPRA has this … and with the Water Institute has this incredible model and planning tool that really looks out over 50 years. And as you mentioned, folks can go to the master plan and see these maps for the low, medium, and high scenarios and learn more about them.
But even though you’re looking out over 50 years, there’s still shorter periods of implementation, right? And implementation period is 10 years. So, your actually doing some planning from a more near-term perspective in terms of what projects are going to be on the ground sooner, is that correct?
Denise: Yeah, yeah. It’s not just about how much land you get at the end of 50 years. Often, in the plan and often in presentations we focus on what the coast looks like 50 years into the future. But one of the things that we do is there’s 50 billion dollars is the amount of money that constrains the projects in the plan. But it’s not evenly spaced out over time.
And so the idea is that you say okay, what are the best projects to get on the ground in the next 10 years? And you focus on finding the best projects from all the different options that you have and getting those on the ground in the plan in the first 10 years. And hopefully on the ground, obviously, so that those benefits can then play out over a longer period of time.
And then the playing field says okay, well that was the amount of money that we have in the first 10 years, now the next 20 years. Okay what’s the next set of projects that should be done between year 11 and year 20. And then the same thing for year 31 to 50.
And so the projects play out over time. And what that does is it allows you to kind of adapt as you go along. There will be more plans in the future. I think Bren mentioned how the CPRA’s required to update the master plan every 5 years. So say, 10 years into the future when we’re looking at the 2027 plan, we’ll have an idea of how those projects that we did first, how they played out. We’ll also have an idea of which one of these scenarios is starting to be realized on the ground. And so then the set of projects that goes from there can be steered a little bit one way or the other, depending on how things are playing out.
We kind of call that adaptive management. The plan is set in that kind of framework. The idea that you have a path that should be followed, and that’s the way things are going to go. But you keep checking it and you keep touching it and every 5 years, as we have to update the master plan, there’s a great kind of cycle. To say, okay, are these still the right set of projects. Do we know anything more now that we didn’t know 5 years ago?
And so this is all going to play out over time. All of those projects a list is in the plan. The idea is not to build them all tomorrow. It’s not. Nobody has that much cash available now.
We know that’s unrealistic.
Jacques: And, you know, we’re about to head into a break, and we have much more to talk about with Dr. Reed when we come back. This is all fascinating. One thing I will note is that even though we are talking about a plan, CPRA has been doing a lot of work on the ground to date. And we talked about that in our last episode, but we’re looking forward to have Dr. Reed back to talk a little bit more about this specific plan and some of the scientific elements.
So, we’ll talk to you right after the break.
Jacques: And we’re back you’re listening to Delta Dispatches, where we’re talking about Louisiana’s coast, it’s people, wildlife and jobs and why restoring it matters. We’re here with Dr. Denise Reed, who is chief scientist of the Water Institute of the Gulf. So, Dr. Reed, you’re a resident of Montague, is that right?
Denise: That’s right.
Jacques: So you live on the coast and you know it, and you work on it. So I’m curious, have you seen changes in your community. We’ve talked a little bit about what people see firsthand on the ground in terms of land loss. Have you seen your community and the wetlands around it change since being there?
Denise: Well, yes. Certainly. I spent the first 10 years or so after I came to Louisiana in the mid-1980s working in Cocodrie down at the LUMCON Lab and you can really see the shoreline erode there, almost on a day-to-day basis. Certainly year-to-year. And took a lot of measurements of that.
In Montague it’s been very interesting being there through a number of storms. Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Hurricane Lily in I believe 2002. And then Gustov and actually I can read and Hurricane Katrina, we were on the good side of the storm, if there is such a thing as that. And so the water level didn’t rise, but one thing that we did experience there was when Rita, and particularly Ike a few years later came through, very very big storms actually hit the western part of Louisiana. But the water level was rising in Montague.
We know a lot of people who’ve been flooded and cleaned out, flooded and cleaned out and flooded and cleaned out. And a lot of people who’ve moved up the Bayou just because they just don’t want to do that anymore. It just gets really old really quickly and they want to live closer to where things are happening and there’s not much keeping them there.
In Montague I will say that the grocery store just burned down through an accident. And it’s not going to be rebuilt. And once you start losing things like the grocery store, then your community starts to become really less viable. Now we’re lucky we still have a middle school and an elementary school, and a post office in Montague, and a church. And so I’m sure that will keep the community going for a while, but it really has changed. There were a lot more stores when I first moved there in the late 1980s.
Jacques: And it is so hard to see those elements that are a fabric of the community start to disappear and certainly, we hear a lot about what happened with Katrina and with Rita, but really across the coast you’ve had Gustov, Ike, Isaac, you know that have just devastated so many communities and they’re struggling still to come back and so …
And you certainly are working really hard day in and day out to really help restore as much of the land as we can and maintain as much as we can into the future. I remember seeing recently a CBS morning piece that interviewed you about what impact this land loss crisis is having on our archeological record. And losing historical sites. And I was actually surprised, I mean the hosts Gail King and others were kind of shocked and moved by the piece. They said they had no idea that this was happening. Why do you think more people across the country either aren’t aware or moved to do something about it?
Denise: Well, I think it’s so remote from most people in the United States. This is a very large system. Wetlands and open water and a great ecosystem like this, it’s just difficult for people to imagine.
It’s actually very difficult for a lot of people in coastal Louisiana to imagine. Because you can’t get to it very easily. There aren’t many roads. You and I know that the best way to see it is to fly over it. But not everybody can do that. And so you see what you can see from the road and you don’t really appreciate that there’s 10s of miles of it beyond what you can immediately see.
So I think that kind of scale is very difficult for people to appreciate and get their arms around really. And then the fact that the land is being lost. Land loss, what does that really mean? Land changing to open water. I think we’re a little more used in this country to the idea of no net wetland loss being about let’s not turn this wetland into a golf course or a grocery store. Not let’s make sure that the land and the wetland doesn’t actually turn into open water and dissolve into the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s just a very difficult thing if you’re not down here doing it every day, to imagine.
Jacques: Right, and we talked a little bit about this on our last show. And we’re certainly going to talk about it on the next one when we have some folks from CPRA on to talk about sediment diversions. But part of what the master plan proposes is a return to natural systems. A return to a sustainable system that can help actually maintain some of that land.
In that regard, sediment diversions are a project type that receive a lot of attention and are important. So can you talk a little bit about sediment diversions, why they’re important, both in their own right and in terms of supporting other both risk reduction and restoration projects?
Denise: Well using the Mississippi River to restore the vitality of the coast has been a lynch pin of coastal restoration plans for Louisiana ever since I’ve been here. Form the late 1980s on, and even before that. I’m just thinking of the ones that I actually saw myself or worked on. So it’s a lynch pin issue, it’s about the river created the coast and the river has to be part of recreating the coast, if you like.
Sediment diversions mimic a process called crevasse splay where under natural circumstances we think that a breaks opened up in the river levy bank and the water started to come through. Not the whole river, but just a part of the river would flow through and deposit sediment and really build land. That’s not quite the same thing as regular over bank flooding that would flood a very large area.
It’s the way that we know geologically that a lot of this coast was built. It’s just kind of a no-brainer for that to be one of the tools in our toolbox. But the important thing about them is that not just can they build land in the area that the water flows into. But the finer sediment, the clays and the muds can spread out over a much larger area. And actually nourish marshes that are still there and help them keep their head above the water in the face of sea level rise.
They can also help marshes that we create ourselves with dredge material. So we can build a marsh platform with the dredge. We’re actually pretty good at that. There’s an awful lot of that planned in the coastal master plan. But if you build it with a dredge and it sits there and the water starts to rise because of sea level rise and the land starts to sink because of subsidence, then you’ve gotta maintain the elevation. You’ve gotta help that marsh keep its head above the water.
And that fine sediment, that mud that travels a long way away from the diversion location, can be a really important part of that. So they can build land directly, fill in open water areas. They can help maintain the wetlands that we still have, and they can sustain new wetlands that we build with dredge material. So it’s a threefer.
Jacques: And that is a great promotion for our next episode where we’re going to have Rudy Simoneaux and Brad Barth with CPRA to talk all about sediment diversions. And surprisingly that’s all the time we have today, but Dr. Reed, thank you so much for this incredibly informative interview. And hopefully we can have you on back.
Denise: Well, thank you so much Jacques, I’d be pleased to any time.
Jacques: Thank you.
Simone: And I’m back too. Hi Dr. Reed.
Denise: Hi Simone.
Simone: Dr. Reed has been a very important person in my coastal life as executive director of Restore or Retreat and she’s somebody I really respect and admire. I’m sorry I didn’t get to interview you, I’d have some more fun stories.
Jacques: We’ll have to get into them next time.
Denise: Next time.
Simone: Next time. As we wrap up, we just want to remind you that there’s still opportunities to comment on the master plan and check out that viewer on coastal.la.gov.
Jacques: Be sure to go online at MississippiRiverDelta.org/DeltaDispatches, where you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and Google Play and get this episode an the previous one. And we will talk to you next week on sediment diversions.
Simone: Another fun one under the belt, huh?
Jacques: Yeah, it was great.
Simone: All right, thanks everybody.
Jacques: Have a good day.