A 200-year plan for restoring Lousiana’s coastal wetlands

The Mississippi River in flood during the Spring of 2011. The river, some 30-miles below New Orleans, is running at 24 knots and streatches from the levee I am standing on to the horizon.

  The following comments were prepared for submission to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force that is holding a series of hearings at coastal cities during the Summer of 2011. This organization has the  mandate to produce its report by October 1, 2011. I submitted  this document for the Galveston hearing which takes place on June 27 – the third of  the four hearings. I hope to attend the final public hearing in Biloxi on August 29.

 I have advocated a long-term solution to a long-term and very complex problem. But, I am one guy without an organization or funding to do anything about it, other than long-distance correspondence. I need to raise about $3,000 to get me to Biloxi as well as to a more scientific forum that will be held in Corpus Christy after the Gulf Coast Task Force has released its report. If you believe that I have the correct approach and want to help finance this effort, please contact me via E-mail to hoveysmith@bellsouth.com, or leave a comment.

Public Comment

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force


June, 2011



Designing a 200-year Plan for Louisiana Wetlands

Restoration and Management


  Although all of the nation’s coastal wetlands are important, those associated with Louisiana’s Mississippi River Delta are nationally significant because of their size, economic contribution, impact on transportation, wildlife resources, seafood production and as a protection for New Orleans and other up-river communities.

  This is a large geographic area that is subjected to adverse natural and man-made events that have occurred in the recent past and can be anticipated in the future. Some, such as the present record floods in the Mississippi River system have been managed to the extent that the major cities along the River have been protected, and the levee system has kept some of the lower parishes dry, although large areas of the Mississippi and Missouri river valleys have been allowed to flood to reduce the danger to New Orleans and other cities.

  These Spring floods were a record event which resulted in wide-spread flooding of pre-designated areas. This event is remarkable in that adequate time was allowed for evacuation and few, if any, lives were lost. The system of engineered structures and levees held, and the Corps of Engineers’ efforts can be considered successful. There were loses of crops and homes, but these were unavoidable consequences of living on and farming the very rich soils of  the Mississippi Valley.

  Such things happen from time to time. The question is how to manage these events while minimizing losses to life and property while simultaneously fostering the ecological recovery and restoration of vital coastal wetlands?

   The options of doing nothing, restoring the Louisiana wetlands to the exact state they were at any time in the past or permitting unrestricted development are all impossible outcomes. Stabilizing and rebuilding the Mississippi Delta will require compromises and concessions to the ecological, economic, cultural, energy and transportation interests as well as continuing efforts though storm events, periodic failures and reversals. This can never be a build-it-and-leave-it response because of the dynamic nature of this huge natural system.

  Seen in the long view of geologic time, the present coastal islands, waterways and marshes are but recent modifications of the last catastrophic event. Restoring the delta will be a continuing process of progressive, successive approximations which are somewhat predictable in their general result, but are subjected to too many variables to expect long-lived outcomes without continuous interventions. Practical examples are the needs for constant dredging to keep shipping channels to useable depths, levee repair and replacements, etc.     

Part I.Organizational attributes

  In order to successfully restore Louisiana’s wetlands an optimum organization should have the following characteristics:

  A. Longevity. Restoration efforts are very long term projects, and such an organization should have a 200-year mandate.

  B. Science. Several organizations such as the National Wetlands Research Centerof the U.S. Geological Survey have been studying the hydrology, geography and biology of Louisiana wetlands for more than a quarter-century. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers utilizes some of this information in their design programs.

  C. Stakeholder input. Because any decision to alter the present wetlands will have both negative and positive impacts, governmental groups from the state, parishes and towns should be involved along with NGOs to represent environmental and economic interests.

  D. Local management. This organization should have its resources and personnel close at hand and have its operational functions in Louisiana.

  E. Decision making authority. Because of the need to respond rapidly to take advantage of short-term conditions, or to respond to hurricanes and other disasters, this organization needs to have the authority to immediately act to implement pre-planned actions. These might include opening certain levees when river levels reach predetermined flow rates.

  F. Use existing natural system as a base for rebuilding the wetlands, but acknowledge that these are geologically transitory features that can never be “restored” in the strict meaning of the word.

  G. The abilities to call-in resources from other organizations in order to fulfill its mandate for wetlands restoration and respond to emergencies.

  H. Independent funding sources to continue centuries long, but “non-sexy,” engineering projects. Funding would most likely be derived from oil, gas, shipping, greenhouse gas capture and other potential revenue sources.       

  No existing organization has all of these attributes. In a previous statement I thought that perhaps the U.S. Geological Survey, if sufficiently augmented, might be most appropriate as they have on staff most of the scientific personnel to consider the geological, ecological, hydrological, geographical, environmental, economic and cultural impacts. Further research revealed that while the above is generally correct so far as personnel and activities are concerned, the U.S.G.S. does not have the engineering, management capabilities or congressional mandate to undertake a project of this magnitude, although they would be expected to make a continuing scientific contribution.

  Born when the nation was in the midst of a depression, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) appears to offer the best model for an organization that can have the above-listed attributes. Although this may not be politically possible at present, I firmly believe that a new TVA-like organization needs to be established with the mission of restoring Louisiana’s wetlands over the next 200 years.  

  Such an organization would have the following significant advantages over any existing organization or grouping of them.

  A. A central mission of wetlands restoration.

  B. Stable management that would not have to be re-trained every few years or replaced with each election.

  C. Independent sources of revenue.

  D. Have direct input from local governmental organizations, business interests and NGOs.

  E. Be equipped and capable of rapid response to emergencies according to pre-approved plans.

  F. Arrange for the continuing management of programs that will outlive anyone in the organization.

  G. Be able to make the tough decisions and trade-offs between competing interest for the best outcomes for wetlands restoration and the people whose livelihoods depend on this ecosystem and the natural resources on and under them.

About the author.

  Wm. Hovey Smith is a Professional Geologist (GA. no. 622) with degrees from the Universityof Georgia, Universityof Alaskaand with post-grad work at the universities of Arizonaand Arkansas. He has been a Army Engineer officer, newspaper writer, the author of 14 books, a radio producer-host, photographer, blogger, video producer, wild-game cook and playwright. His work is noted for being bold, inventive and wide-reaching in scope. Among his books are four of the first ever written on AIDS, popular works on local geology and architecture and more recently outdoor titles featuring hunting and bowfishing. His current radio show is “Hovey’s Outdoor Adventures” on WebTalkRadio.net. For more information go to his website: www.hoveysmith.com.

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