Monday, September 05, 2005

Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Project

Socialist Swine brought forth an interesting comment to my last post.
There is another argument presented for why the destruction is to some degree the result of federal mismanagement. Namely, that the Bush administration repealed the laws codified during the Clinton administration preventing further development of the wetlands around New Orleans. Some have argued that the Mississippi delta region combined with the bayous of the area historically would have been sufficient to buffer against the storm surge. With those wetlands drained there's a more open flood plain. I don't personally know much about this topic so I can't say if the argument is sound or not but have you seen anything regarding this contention?
So, I thought I'd do some digging. Sure enough, there is a website for the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Project, which looks like it was last updated in August of 2004.
The project is to sustain a coastal ecosystem that supports and protects the environment, economy and culture of southern Louisiana and that contributes greatly to the economy and well-being of the nation by achieving the following:

1. Sustaining a coastal ecosystem with the essential functions and values of the natural ecosystem;

2. Restoring the ecosystem to the highest practical acreage of productive and diverse wetlands; and

3. Accomplishing this restoration through an integrated program that has multiple use benefits; benefits not solely for wetlands, but for all the communities, industries and resources of the coast.
System collapse threatens the continued productivity of Louisiana's bountiful coastal ecosystems, the economic viability of its industries and the safety of its residents. If recent loss rates continue, even taking into account current restoration efforts, by 2050 coastal Louisiana will lose more than 630,000 additional acres of coastal marshes, swamps and islands.

With the loss of acreage goes the loss of the various functions and values associated with internationally significant wetlands: commercial harvest of a national and international fishery resource; furbearer and alligator farming and harvest; recreational saltwater and freshwater fisheries; North American Central Flyway waterfowl wintering habitat; ecotourism habitats for nationally endangered and threatened species; water quality improvement; oil and gas production; petrochemical industries; strategic petroleum reserve storage sites; navigation corridors and port facilities for commerce and national defense; flood control, including hurricane storm surge buffers; and the intangible value of land settled 300 years ago and passed down through generations.

The national public use value of the resource being lost is estimated to be in excess of $37 billion by the year 2050. The losses associated with ancient and historic cultures and heritage are immeasurable and irreplaceable.
At the very least, the US Army Corps of Engineers believed that the wetlands, if restored properly, would have protected the area. The goals of this project were to ensure economic viability of the location (the site reports that Louisiana produces 20% of the United States' seafood, plus it handles 16% of the commercial sea traffic). In addition, flood control and storm surge buffers.

The study goes on to say that 70% of the wetlands loss is due to man, 30% due to natural causes. The US Geological Survey contradicts this premise, indicating that "much" of the land loss is due to natural forces while only "some" is attributed to nature.

Who's right? Don't know. I like percentages better than "much" and "some".

Unfortunately, it looks like the project site has fallen into disrepair ... Short of the main page, the FAQ's, the Project Fact Sheet, and Background, other information is not available through this site.

The New Orleans District of the Army Corps of Engineers just brings you back to the project main page. The links to Public Meetings and News Releases contain no data - the link to report shows as a 404 (Louisiana Coastal Area Comprehensive Coastwide Ecosystem Restoration Study (LCA)) and my searches on the US Geological Survey site show nothing.

Maybe someone out there may have better luck finding some information. It does seem to suggest at some point, the Engineers stopped working on this project and were re-deployed or had their priorities shifted.

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