Delta Dispatches: Reviewing Our Coastal Master Plan Projects
On today’s show, Simone & Jacques are talking about the new report from Restore the Mississippi River Delta “Recommendations for Coastal Restoration Projects and Programs in Louisiana.” To highlight some of the projects, they are joined by Alisha Renfro, Coastal Scientist at National Wildlife Federation and Erik Johnson, Director of The Bird Conservation at Audubon Louisiana.
Below is a transcript of this week’s Delta Dispatches Podcast. Subscribe to our feed in iTunes and Google Play.
Jacques: Hello. You are listening to Delta Dispatches. We’re discussing Louisiana’s Coast, its people, wildlife, and jobs, and why restoring it matters.
I’m Jacques Hebert with Audubon Louisiana.
Simone: I’m Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat.
Jacques: How’s it going, Simone?
Simone: How are you doing?
Jacques: Good, good. It’s been a busy week. You know we have a big event coming up this Saturday.
Simone: Right, right. Jacques won a field trip this week. Big surprise, and yeah-
Jacques: Uh oh. Simone is always giving me grief about the field trips.
Simone: Let’s talk about field trip first and then we’ll talk about Saturday.
Jacques: Yeah. So, on Monday a group of our coalition for the Mississippi River Delta took journalists out to the Maurepas Swamp to understand kind of the needs that exist there for restoration and highlight some of the projects from the state’s Coastal Master Plan to restore that critical swamp and maintain the Manchac Landbridge, which really it separates Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas. It also helps protects communities going up to Baton Rouge from storm surge.
It’s really critical and the Coastal Master Plan shows that without action we could actually lose that landbridge. Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas would become one big body of water, which would be terrifying. So, these three restoration projects would help prevent that. It actually shows that if we get these projects and constructed you maintain the landbridge, which is so crucial.
We started at the river north of Garyville. We showed where the sediment diversion would be built and then from there we went out and saw the transition from really healthy, beautiful lush swamp to kind of unhealthy swamp. Then we were also able to highlight a lot of the plantings that our partners Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana have done in that area. I think they’ve planted across the coast upwards of 30,000 trees. They even gave like 1,500 volunteers. So, really impressive effort and we’ve highlighted it before on the show, but a great way to get involved directly and restore the coast.
Simone: Yeah, definitely. It’s an area most people may be familiar with, but not really familiar with. They may have passed it on I-55 or even passed it on your way to Baton Rouge, right? Some of the channels leading out to Maurepas. They’ve been a hot topic this week. Did you see that in the paper they highlighted Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and there was a correction, “Well we’re not actually a lake. We’re an estuary.”
Jacques: It’s an estuary, yeah.
Simone: So, I thought that was a really cool piece highlighting. We can talk to some of our friends today about that estuary and some of the other basins.
Jacques: We did this all tied to a report that our coalition has put today about 17 priority restoration projects that need to be advanced from the Coastal Master Plan. You can go online. There’s a lot of coverage of the report, of the tour, but we were very happy with it. Of course, it was a beautiful day. November is a great time to be out.
Simone: Jacques out of the office on a nice beautiful day. We’ll start talking about the priority reports since we have our special guests with us today. Then we’ll end the week on a fun note too before the holiday week. You know we can talk about some fun things to do.
Alisha, you are a three-time guest?
Alisha: Oh, is that right? Three?
Simone: I think you are the first ever. Yes, yes congratulations.
Alisha: Yes, I’m winning.
Simone: Alisha Renfro is a staff scientist at the National Wildlife Federation. She’s a coastal scientist and she works on our Mississippi River Delta restoration campaign. She has lots of great experience. First and foremost, she’s a great friend to us. So, welcome to the show Alisha.
Alisha: Thank you. I’m glad to be back.
Simone: This week is climaxing to priority projects report.
Alisha: Yeah, I mean I went on the field trip early this week. So, that was a good start for the week.
Simone: Jacques has gotten you to also embrace that outside the office culture?
Alisha: I always appreciate a field trip.
Jacques: Alisha is my favorite person to take with me on field trips.
Simone: Yes, says the person who gets into my car. I have car seats and she’s like, “I have a corer in the back of mine.”
Jacques: It’s always a fun field trip when Alisha is just like, “Do I need to bring the sediment corer?”
Simone: Yes, the answer is always yes.
Alisha: Yeah, my car always smells slightly like marsh. Sorry.
Simone: So, tell us a little bit about what you’ve been working on so far?
Alisha: So, yeah today we released our priority project report. This from the 2017 Master Plan. 79 projects were selected in that plan. It was earlier this year, adopted by the Louisiana Legislature. So, 79 projects, that’s a lot of restoration projections. We’ve made a lot of progress, but we still have a lot of projects we need to do.
As part of that effort, the Mississippi River Delta campaign, we sat down and started thinking through what are the projects that need to go first. What are the projects that we think we need to prioritize that we can get down in the near term that can make a big difference and set us up for success further down the road.
We came up with this project prioritization process before we ever even saw what was actually going to be in the Master Plan and we had a couple of different things that we were looking at. We were looking at projects that we could build in the near term that we thought had the momentum to move forward. We looked at projects that were large in scale. We have a big problem and we need to do something big in order to address it.
Simone: Fair enough.
Alisha: We also look projects that actually worked together in a group. You could have a project over here that does something and a project over there that does something, but unless they actually work together you’re not going to see the maximum benefits. We also looked at projects that created kind of diverse habitat and habitat that could serve as storm surge risk production for communities. I’m blanking what’s our other one? Let’s see.
Jacques: Ecosystem, right?
Alisha: Well, that was the ecosystem services one.
Simone: So, Alisha while you’re thinking about that some. You went across all the basins in the Delta, right?
Alisha: Yes. So, the last one was projects that are actually sustainable in the face of climate change. Sea level rise. We’ve had land loss. We’re going to continue to have land loss. What are the projects that we can put in place that are actually resistant, resilient in the face of things like sea level rises in storms. You don’t want to have a project that you continue to go back in and rebuild and rebuild and rebuild. What can we put in place that will be there tomorrow?
Jacques: So, tell us a little about the … I know this isn’t the first time our coalition has put out a report like this. Obviously the last one was based on the 2012 Master Plan and with the updated 2017 Master Plan we wanted to update our report as well. What is the overall purpose that our group is hoping to accomplish by putting something out like this?
Alisha: I think the big thing that we want to accomplish is to just put it out there like what are the projects that we think are really teed up for success for the future and to give us guidelines of what we need to push going into the future. Who we need to talk at this stage? How do we figure out how these projects move forward? What are the projects that we need to think about for all the funding sources that are available? We do have some funding sources now. It’s not enough to enact the entirety of the Master Plan, but it’s enough to do a lot of good.
Jacques: Is part of it too that these are critical projects that they should be advanced soon so that they can have a maximum benefit over the long time, right?
Alisha: Oh, definitely yeah. Because these projects are mostly largely in scale they’re going to take a little time to go forward, a little time to build. They’re projects that don’t just build in the here and now, but have benefits that accrue all the way into the future. So, we’ve got to get that started.
Simone: Without talking about specific projects they’re probably just diverse, right? It’s probably some barrier islands, some are creations, some diversions. So, y’all went across the board?
Alisha: Yeah. We did look at, depending on how you to count it, six to seven project types in the Coastal Master Plan. You have things like sediment diversion, which divert sediment and fresh water from the Mississippi River to build land and sustain existing land. You also have fresh water diversions in places where you can get a lot of sediment.
Simone: Like the Maurepas, right?
Alisha: Yeah, the Maurepas diversions, where you can’t get a lot of sediment, but a lot of fresh water will do good.
Simone: It’s still needed.
Alisha: Yeah, it will help you sustain that land. Marsh creation projects using dredge material to build land. Ridge restoration projects destroy those natural ridges that help decide where water flows and how it flows. Of course our barrier islands restoration projects. A lot of that we’ve seen progress from 2012 to 2017, a lot of barrier island system, has been rebuilt.
Then we have hydrologic restoration projects, which are projects that usually are trying to keep saltwater out of a freshwater system.
Simone: So, the Houma Navigational Canal Lock would be an example of that, right?
Alisha: Right. Exactly.
Jacques: You mentioned it earlier, but the projects really extend across the coast, right?
Alisha: Yeah, I mean although we’re called Mississippi River Delta Coalition, the Delta and the river itself built most of our coast. Even though the Chenier Plain was not build directly by the river, the sediment drifted across. So we do across the coast what’s best for Louisiana.
Simone: They’re friends of the Delta.
Alisha: Yeah, they’re Delta adjacent.
Simone: I’ve heard you say this before Alisha, but I think one of the key points is that clearly there is no one cause to our land loss crisis and similarly I think you’ll find in the report there’s no one silver bullet solution to address it.
Alisha: Right. Right, that’s true. There’s many things that underlie why we’ve lost land and there’s not one single project or even project type that’s going to work for every place along the coast. We have to figure out what works where and how we get that done.
Simone: I was on a panel this morning. I was lucky enough to be a part of the New Orleans Regional Leadership Initiative in their Emerging Leaders Class, but we actually went out to Michoud. Y’all are jealous of my NASA bag.
Jacques: I hear you have some astronaut ice cream.
Simone: Ice cream that can sit in my car. So, we had a panel of folks and some friends who have been on the show, Scott Kirkpatrick and Steve Cochran, and one of the things that we said, there’s two things. There’s no status quo in Louisiana and there is no one size fits all in Louisiana. So, that goes to your point is that you have to know what the area make up is to be able to kind of apply the right solution to that.
Jacques: Yeah, I think one of the things that I we hit on with our journalists that were part of our telepress conference earlier was that this is a really a critical moment in Louisiana’s history. I mean the State Legislature unanimously passed the Master Plan. We have public political will behind it. We have science, and now we have funding. It’s important to get this done.
We’re going to talk more with Alisha after the break. You can go to mississippiriverdelta.org/priorityprojects to see the report and our interactive map and other resources.
You’re listening to Delta Dispatches.
Simone: Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. I’m Simone Maloz and with me is?
Jacques: Jacques Hebert.
Simone: Thank you. We’re here every Thursday on 990WGSO and online through our podcast. You can check out us through the Mississippi River Delta and more Facebook pages, Twitter, Instagram … Do we have Instagram?
Jacques: We’re on Instagram?
Simone: So are we. Thanks, Victoria.
Jacques: We like each other.
Simone: Yeah, right we just like each other’s stuff. So are we joined by Alisha Renfro.
Alisha: Staff scientist.
Simone: At National Wildlife Federation and we’re talking about our project priority report.
Jacques: We realized the report today. It’s called restoring the Mississippi River Delta: Recommendations for Coastal Restoration Projects and Programs in Louisiana. It’s available online at mississippiriverdelta.org/priorityprojects.
Simone: Very nice. Alisha, so let’s talk a little bit more about … So, you talked about before projects and they work together. That’s kind of the honeyhole of Louisiana is that these projects can’t work in isolation that they should work together. What might be some examples of that and tell us again why that’s important?
Alisha: Yeah you can spend a lot of money and do a lot of restoration and that the end of 20 years not have a lot to show for it if you don’t really think about individual projects and projects working together. So, an example of this might be a marsh creation project. Marsh creation project you can build land really quickly for the most part. It’ll be there, but only for a short amount of time because you’re not addressing the reasons behind land loss. You still don’t have sediment coming into the system. It will sink over time and you’ll be left with nothing.
Now, if you were to co-locate that marsh creation project with a sediment diversion, sediment coming through the river through the diversion channel will actually help nourish that marsh creation project over time extending its lifespan considerably.
Simone: Yeah, we see that in projects in my part of the world too, right? You can build that marsh, but you have to back stop it with a natural solution that changes the conditions unless you don’t do that you got to be in the same jam that you were in before. So, it is about making sure your investment is also sustainable too.
Simone: Let’s talk through some of the projects. Y’all went basin by basin … maybe our fun question should be, “Alisha pick your favorite project in each basin and talk about it.?” So, let’s start. Pontchartrain, Maurepas, anything? That’s where those Maurepas diversions are, right? Also it extends as far as Central Wetlands, which have talked about here in the past.
Alisha: Yeah, you want me to pick my favorite project?
Simone: Yeah. Just one.
Alisha: I’m a little biased. Oh, I’m a little scared of Mandy too. I’m a little biased, but I’m going to have to go with East Maurepas diversion.
Alisha: I know you were out there earlier this week and it’s an area that is really, really beautiful, but it’s so, so important for so many people, for so many organisms. It’s really a critical, critical project and that a little traction. It’s got a little money.
Simone: Yeah, and we’re not going to go off on that tangent, but that is important to some of the not all of the money is every project, right? So, that is an important consideration.
Jacques: It’s great to see that traction on a lot of these projects. We’ll talk to Dr. Eric Johnson in a little bit in the next segment about that, but what about my favorite basin? The Breton-Chandelier Basin. What’s your favorite project there?
Alisha: Breton Chandelier … I really like the Mid-Breton sediment diversion.
Simone: Oh, I do too.
Alisha: It’s actually one of my favorites. I think-
Simone: So, the state recently announced that they’re going to be moving forward with mid Breton. I think they’re going to put something out on the streets, right? Going to get that project going.
Alisha: Yeah. I’m so excited to see that project go forward because I think it’s a really good project.
Simone: Yeah, in Louisiana Coastal areas steady right, and a lot of these projects that’s to say they’ve had different names over the past, but the concept is still the same. This one in particular, a sediment diversion into the Breton basin. So, good choice. Good choice.
Okay, so moving on, moving along.
Jacques: What about your neck of the woods?
Simone: My people. What are you thinking about the Barataria basin? Pick your favorite.
Alisha: Oh, Barataria. I mean I could go with the easy answer.
Simone: Nah, don’t go with that.
Alisha: But, I’m going to go with Mid-Barataria marsh creation. That’s the large-scale Barataria marsh creation. I mean that’s a project that actually between 2012 and 2017 we saw a lot of progress on. A lot of different components were built in that area and I hope to see that continue.
Simone: Yeah, for sure. While we like large-scale projects it is also important that it can also be incremental because these projects depending on the money and the timing all the pieces can add up to something big, but they do build them in pieces.
Jacques: Especially if there’s a sediment source and then you can get these projects constructed more quickly. Obviously with marsh creation the cost only get greater over time as water volumes deepen and you lose more land.
Simone: Good point, and that’s another example of you put the marsh creation in and then you have mid Barataria to come behind it and deliver that natural solution. Alright, my real heart … Houma is where the heart is. Terrebonne-Atchafalaya basin, go?
Alisha: I’m going to have to go with increased Atchafalaya.
Simone: Yeah, that was a trick question.
Alisha: That’s my favorite. There was only one correct answer there.
Simone: There was only correct answer there. So, that’s an example of fresh water diversion.
Alisha: It is. It is. Terrebonne is kind of in between these two river systems. It’s hard to get a lot of sediment over there, but getting fresh water through the intercoastal waterway into those marshes is really important and can do a lot of good.
Jacques: Speaking of Atchafalaya, we were out there recently. How did you find the Wax Lake Delta?
Alisha: Eh, it’s okay.
Jacques: Come on be honest. I remember reading an Instagram post that included the words breathtaking and soul nourishing.
Alisha: Anyone who hasn’t had a chance to go out there, please do. Please go out there. It is beautiful.
Simone: Like it feels alive. It really does.
Alisha: It is. It’s like yes.
Simone: You can go into other marshes and you can go to parts of Terrebonne and it’s really beautiful, but it’s just not alive.
Alisha: Everything is green and going. Birds are everywhere. The hunters were getting ready for duck season when we were out there.
Simone: Increase Atchafalaya, yet another example of you if you can put fresh water into the Terrebonne system that’s a perfect example of land benefited. We are losing land there, but Increase Atchafalaya has the opportunity to save 13,000 acres that could be lost and that can’t be discounted. That working in conjunction with the lock, which was one previous priority list. We’ll talk about that in a little bit. Why things may have not made the cut this time, but that’s a hydrologic component. So, getting that fresh water there and making the lock keep it there is really important.
Jacques: Alright. Last, but not least our Chenier Plain.
Alisha: The Chenier Plain. For that one I’m going to have to go with Calcasieu Ship Channel, flooding control. That’s an example of a hydrologic restoration where you’re blocking salinity from getting into some of the fresh water marshes and causing a lot of damage and land loss.
Simone: That’s project been around for a little awhile. It has different components too and so it’s really nice to see the momentum behind that.
Jacques: That’s another one that’s moving forward, right?
Simone: Yeah, they have some funding through the Restore Council. That’s a really important project component to those folks out in the Chenier Plains. Alisha passed. Yay.
So, you also have some other program priorities too. Barrier islands and oyster reefs.
Alisha: Right, in this 2017 Master Plan because of some of the progress that had been made a trace has made by CPRA to do some programs. So, we did do some selection of some programmatic priorities including the barrier islands. A lot of them have been restored since they are that first line of defense when a storm comes in there may be a need to go in and do some little restoration after a storm. Then also looking at oyster reef restoration. Using oyster reef as a living shoreline to help dampen wave energy to stop some shoreline retreat.
Simone: We’ve talked about the importance of that in the past too.
Jacques: Alright, one more time. Where can you go to find the report?
Alisha: It’s at mississippiriverdelta.org/priorityprojects.
Jacques: Priority projects. Alright. Dr. Alisha Renfro thank you so much. We’ll be right back after the break.
Simone: Yeah, thank you.
Jacques: Hello, you are listening to Delta Dispatches. We’re discussing Louisiana’s Coast, its people, wildlife, and jobs, and why restoring it matters.
I’m Jacques Hebert with Audubon Louisiana.
Simone: I’m Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat.
We’re totally going to do this show in between the show.
Jacques: We were having a good time in between the breaks. I think we need to get a webcam for that.
Simone: Oh, no probably not a webcam.
Jacques: Don’t go too crazy. Well, we are back. We’re discussing the priority projects report that the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition put out today that highlights key restoration projects from the Coastal Master Plan that we’re working to advance and advocate for. We had Dr. Alisha Renfro with National Wildlife Federation on the show in the first half.
Now, we have another three-peat guest. Dr. Eric Johnson with Audubon Louisiana, Director of Bird Conservation. Welcome back for the third time.
Simone: Three-peat. Yes, that’s amazing
Dr. Johnson: Hello, Jacques and Simone. It’s great to be back.
Simone: Nice to have you. So, we want to talk about this priority projects report. We already made Alisha go through the difficult task of picking her favorite project in each basin. We won’t do that to you, yet. Tell us a little bit about your involvement in the report?
Dr. Johnson: I’m on what we call the Projects and Programs Committee.
Simone: You’re the chair? You’re not just on it.
Dr. Johnson: Well, yeah now I’m the Interim Chair. You know Estelle really led the Committee in developing the projects selection criteria and sort of going through the analyses. Really led the charge and I was happy to be a part of the team. We looked at these projects in a lot of different ways using different objectives to prioritize them and come up with this final list.
Jacques: Eric, we mentioned this, it’s not exactly a completely report, right? It’s more of an updated of a report that was released I think back in 2014 based on the 2012 Master Plan. This one is obviously based on the 2017 Master Plan. So, tell us a little bit about some of the changes in the report from the prior to this one?
Dr. Johnson: Yeah, it’s a slightly different set of projects from the previous plan. The process that when into the selection was a little bit more rigorous as well. We added some new criteria and obviously one of the big changes between the 2012 and 2017 Master Plan are some of the changes in the sea level rise projections. So, that had a big influence on which projects would be more sustainable in the long term.
This new plan really emphasizes the importance of river diversions. Both sediment and fresh water diversions into our marshes because those projects really will provide that long-term sustainable Delta that is the goal of coastal restoration. Those diversion projects also provide a lot of synergies to other kinds of projects like marsh creation projection and barrier restoration projections and ride projections. So they really are a central theme in this new 2017 priority report.
Simone: To your point about sea level rise predictions, I think to just remind everybody in the 2012 report Master Plan the worst case scenario for sea level rise is actually the lowest case scenario in 2017. So, what we thought could be the worst case is actually the best case of what we think we can look at in 2017. That did have a really, really big impact on how projects survived into the next 50 years. That’s a really good point.
Some projects are actually underway and under construction. So, they are considered in a future without action because they’ve already received some action.
Dr. Johnson: Correct. For example, the Houma Navigation Canal Project is now included the future with no action. It is a project that, although it isn’t entirely complete, it is considered complete from the landing purpose. It’ll be finished very soon. So, that’s a huge success in the last five years is seeing some of these projects really just move forward into the completion stage.
Similarly, almost 50 miles of barrier islands projects have been completed over the last several years. That’s really our first line of defense for storms and storm impacts. Those string of islands are really going to help protect the remaining marsh that exists behind them as well as all the communities that live in southeast Louisiana.
Simone: This priority projects report is really complimentary to the CPRA’s efforts, right? You use project that were in the Master Plan, but also plan like the annual plan is what prioritizes the state’s projects and talks about funding sources associated with that. It’s also a really great recap of work already done, like you just mentioned some success stories already.
Dr. Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. With identification of these 17 projects it’ll sort of unify our coalition’s message to the state and to other restoration opportunities to really advocate for the advancement of these priority projects. We feel that they are sustainable in the long term. They have potential short-term impacts and they’re feasible. They’re good projects that should be moved forward at this point in time and should be on top of the list.
Jacques: It really is what this report is an amazing advocacy tool for our organizations and all the stakeholders we work with to go to different people whether at the federal level, at the state level, and say like, “We believe these projects are crucial.” Kind of advocate for them and obviously it’s based in science just like the Coastal Master Plan is based in science. You know you mentioned it’s known, but one of the really strengths of the Master Plan is that requirement by law to update every five years based on the best available science. Certainly I know your team relied on that science, Eric, in developing this report.
Dr. Johnson: Yup, absolutely. We took a lot of different parts, lot of different models and outputs into consideration when we were ranking these projects. We wanted to consider which projects would restore the natural ecosystem function. So we looked at outputs from the models like the amount of area of land that would be restored. Which projects would synergize with each other, so we could evaluate the proximity of projects and make some educated guesses and estimations about how they would interact with each other to help sustain each other.
You get these little clusters of projects that work really well together and that’s going to be really central focus of the next five years is putting those combinations of projects together to make at least parts of our coast much more resilient than it has been.
Jacques: That’s a great way to put it. Eric, Simone likes to give me a hard time for going out on field trips a lot.
Simone: A lot. A lot. He goes a lot.
Jacques: You were also on the Maurepas field trip on Monday and really talking about it from a-
Simone: Sounds like I’m the only one who wasn’t out there.
Jacques: Sorry, must’ve lost your invite in the mail.
Simone: Must have. Somebody has to work.
Jacques: Eric you were there talking about the importance of that area of the Maurepas swamp as an important bird area.
Simone: Trash talking birds, yeah.
Jacques: Let’s start with the positive. Tell us why the Maurepas swamp is so critical to so many bird species?
Dr. Johnson: The Maurepas swamp is this amazing resource for ecological activity. It’s considered a bird area by the National Audubon Society, which is a designation that recognizes that that area supports at least 1% of the population of a particular species of conservation concern. In the case of Maurepas swamp, one of those species is a Prothonotary Warbler, which is this little yellow migratory bird that winters in Central and South America, but then comes up to North America to breed, to mate, to raise its young. Maurepas swamp has a density of Prothonotary Warbler that’s isn’t rivaled by any other place in Louisiana.
Louisiana as whole, all of its bottom and hard wood forests, and its slump systems support something like 25% of the world nesting population. Maurepas swamp is one of the most important places in the state for the species. 100,000 of pairs of this bird use Maurepas swamp as a nesting ground.
Jacques: I’m so glad we were able to highlight that with media that were out on Monday’s tour. We know Prothonotary Warblers was one of your favorites. I know you expressed some feelings about my favorite bird, the Roseate Spoonbill, but we won’t get into that.
Simone: Yeah, we will. Yeah, we will.
Dr. Johnson: The Roseate Spoonbill is glorious.
Simone: Glorious? Sounds a little different-
Dr. Johnson: It’s bizarre in its own right.
Simone: It has its own stamp. Did you see that? They-
Jacques: I need to get those stamps.
Simone: It’s very nice. They have some birds … You don’t know that it’s like a whole set from the US Postal System, the birds. Sorry, side note.
Jacques: We’ll have to get those.
Simone: You should put them on your Christmas cards.
Jacques: They’re going on the Christmas list right now.
Simone: Eric, sorry I got side tracked, can we talk about the basin to basin approach here? I like that and I think that’s where your synergies really come, but that’s how y’all looked at it through the basin to basin lens and why is that important?
Dr. Johnson: We considered a multitude of projects within each of really just four major basins. You can kind of divide Louisiana’s coast in several different ways, in sub-basins and that sort of things, but we really look at those four basins. Within those basins looked at projects that worked well together. So, ridge restoration projects that were alongside large marsh creation projects or diversion projects. That way each of the major basin in coastal Louisiana would get some combination of projects that would be important for sustaining those basins.
Those basins work across each other as well. If the Terrebonne basin is heavily eroded that puts the Chenier Plains and the Barataria basin at greater risk. It’s identifying projects within, sustaining basins is important, but then also making sure all basins are represented in our advocacy is important part of our mission.
Jacques: Right, I guess another question I had on that we’re definitely highlighting 17 projects from the Master Plan that we think are absolutely critical to advance, but we still value and think the rest of the restoration projects in the Master Plan are important. Is that correct?
Dr. Johnson: Absolutely. Yeah, just as an example of that the Calcasieu hydrologic restoration project, the Calcasieu Channel project, will help reduce the salt water flow into Calcasieu Lake and that really will help sustain the marshes around it. There are a number of marsh creation projects all around the perimeter of Calcasieu Lake and even though those aren’t necessarily highlighted in our 17 priority project list, we recognize the fundamental issues is reducing the salt water intrusion into Lake Calcasieu. Therefore it will help sustain all of those other projects as well.
Really, each one of those projects are important. With limited resources and limited funding we have to come up with way of choosing the ones that need to be done first, but we recognize that certainly there are a lot more out there that need to attention and that need funding. As we move forward and get some of these major projects under our belt to reduce salt water intrusion and reintroduce the river back to its delta then we can go behind that and add additional projects into the landscape.
Jacques: Right, and it’s kind of what Simone was mentioning earlier about the return on investment. Don’t spend a ton of money doing all these marsh creation projects when you have fundamental issues of salinity in the basin, right? Kind of get that fixed first and then you can build on top of it.
Dr. Johnson: Yeah, exactly.
Simone: If you don’t change the conditions, then it’s going to be the same.
Jacques: You’re going to be in the same spot. Well, Eric can you hang on for one more segment? We’re going to talk a little bit more about the report and some other exciting news that’s been going on in your world.
Simone: Bird word.
Dr. Johnson: Sure thing.
Jacques: Alright. We’ll be right back after the break. You are listening to the Delta Dispatches on the WGSO 990AM. Also available online via iTunes and Google Play at deltadispatches.org. If you’re really curious and want to check out this report and other resources go to mississippiriverdelta.org/priorityprojects. We’ll be right back after the break.
Simone: Welcome to Delta Dispatches. I’m Simone Maloz here with?
Jacques: Jacques Hebert.
Simone: We’re here every Thursday on 990 WGSO. We’re joined by Eric Johnson. Hello, Eric. Welcome back.
Dr. Johnson: Hello. Thank you.
Jacques: Eric I want to ask about one more question on this priority projects report that our coalition released today and then get into some of the exciting announcements. So, what are the next steps really with this report? I mean are our organizations going to be kind of tracking progress on these projects, or what happens from here on out?
Dr. Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. Right, different members of our coalition, different aspects of our coalition are going to be working on this together in a variety of ways. The Projects Committee like you mentioned, is going to be tracking the projects and their advancements every few months, really every quarter to make sure the projects are staying on track. We can relay that information to our policy team, our advocacy team, our communications team to come up with strategies to work with the CPRA and funding agencies and other stakeholders to make sure these projects are moving forward in a timely fashion.
Really this is just the beginning. It’s the vision of what we wanted to see in the next couple of years in terms of coastal restoration in Louisiana and there’s still a lot of work to be done. So, it will be an exciting time to see these projects forward.
Jacques: That’s great and I know folks can go online at mississippiriverdelta.org/priorityprojects and we actually have an interactive map that’ll know what status is the project in. So, is it conceptual, is it in planning, is it engineering and design, is it in construction? So, you can really track that progress and learn more about the projects. Eric, we can’t have on this show without getting into the exciting world of bird news.
Simone: I think you’ve made me a bird nerd. Yeah, like I was excited when you told me this. So, let’s talk about-
Jacques: We’ve converted her Eric.
Simone: Almost. It’s like me and St. Bernard last week. You can try.
Jacques: Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go and have lunch at Rocking Carlos and then we’re going to go for a bird walk in the St. Bernard State Park.
Simone: I love it.
Dr. Johnson: Well, you know in mid to late April we’re going to have the St. Bernard Bird Festival this year. I believe it’s the third year? No, fourth year that this festival will be running. Audubon will be there and there will be lots of opportunities to go on bird walks and eat some great food.
Simone: Did I see that you’re going to be a night owl? You’re doing some nighttime surveys?
Dr. Johnson: Yeah, we’re doing some nighttime surveys for a very secretive and allusive bird, the Black Rail.
Simone: I love it. Caw caw.
Jacques: Eric, you’ve actually caught one correct?
Dr. Johnson: Yeah, we did our first nighttime survey a couple of weeks ago as part of the Yellow Rails and Rice Festival. Brought about 30 people down to the marsh and we walked through this section of marsh in the dark with some ropes-
Simone: Od they glow in the dark? Are they noisy? How do you know where they are?
Dr. Johnson: No, they’re extremely quiet. We use a lot of bodies and make a lot of noise to try to flush the bird up out of the grass.
Simone: I’m noisy I can do that.
Dr. Johnson: Lo and behold we actually found one. So, there’s been fewer than 20 documented records of this species in Louisiana.
Simone: Whoa, awesome.
Dr. Johnson: We know almost nothing about the bird’s status here and so that’s what we’re trying to figure out. How many of them are out there?
Simone: So, do you band them? What do you do … Yeah? You band-
Dr. Johnson: Yeah, we’ll catch them and we’ll put a band on them so that way when we revisit the site over and over we can sort of assess whether it’s the same birds or if they’re moving in and out. We’re also going to collect a feather sample that can be analyzed to determine if that feather was grown on the Gulf Coast or of it was grown in the interior part of the United States where there are other populations of this bird. So, we can figure out if this birds are here year-round or migrating in and out.
Simone: So, when I watched Eric’s video was that in the Audubon site? Like I learned all about the feathers and he just plucked them right out. He needed those things.
Jacques: He knows how to handle it. Don’t do it if your amateur.
Simone: Some of the bird that you had banded previously, is it a Wilson’s Plover than you found? Where were they?
Dr. Johnson: Yes. We also work with Wilson’s Plover that nests on the Caminada Headlands. You know one of those big restoration projects, which just recently completed, and we banded several dozens of the adults over the last couple of years. Two of those birds were just turned up on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica this fall. So, that’s the first time our Louisiana Wilson’s Plovers have been relocated outside of the country.
Simone: That’s amazing.
Jacques: That’s amazing and it shows kind of the importance of the restoration of these places, but also how important Louisiana as that last point of departure for many of these birds before migration. Well, Eric thank you so much for coming on again.
Simone: Yeah, thank you, Eric.
Dr. Johnson: Yeah, absolutely.
Jacques: Keep us updated. We’ll probably have to have you back to talk about the St. Bernard Bird Festival.
Simone: We will let you and Alisha stay as our favorite three-peat guest. Then hopefully we’ll get you on for a fourth time. Y’all are really important to the work that we do.
Jacques: We’re going to have to make a badge.
Simone: So, Jacques let’s talk about how we’re going to end this week since you like to-
Jacques: Well, as we were talking about on last week’s show this Saturday is the cook-off for the coast. There was a story about it down in St. Bernard at-
Simone: Wait, wait Alisha said it. If you can’t feed em, eat em.
Jacques: Exactly. Yeah if you can’t feed em, eat em. They’re going to be cooking up feral hogs, which our obviously really destructive to the coast. They’re going to have different competition teams coming up with the best recipes.
Simone: They talked about it on our show on the station.
Jacques: Oh, yeah they’re going to be on another show, the Food, Dine and Wine show I think today talking about it. It will be great day. We’ll have Chef Nathan Richard from Cavan whose been on the show before, Poppy Tooker from Louisiana Eats is going to be a guest judge, as well as First Lady McGinnis, Cash Bar from Whiskey Bayou, live music-
Simone: Live music, kid’s activities, silent auction, and they’re going to have some folks tabling too that’ll have some information on some of our friends, Louisiana Master Naturalists. Restore the Mississippi River Delta will be there. Vanishing Paradise.
Simone: CPRA. Awesome, and the Department of Wildlife and Fishery. So very cool.
Jacques: So, you can still buy tickets. Make sure to go online. It’s coastcookoff.splashthat.com.
Simone: They’re cheaper if you buy them online.
Jacques: Buy them online in advance. If you want to get them the day of you still can.
Simone: Another great show. We’re going to take a break for Thanksgiving, but we’ll be back.
Jacques: Yup, happy Turkey Day. Go online mississippiriverdelta.org/priorityprojects. Thank you for listening to another episode of Delta Dispatches.