shadow_tr

Also in this issue

items - array
1
items - struct
AuthorID 1080799
ControlID 2286
DateAdded 2008-05-13 14:23:50
DateApproved 2010-09-23 14:43:37
FIELDNAMES author,authoremail,teaser,body,pubdate,tulanianvolume,othercredit,active,title
FIELDS
items - struct
active
items - struct
ID 1986
VALUE yes
author
items - struct
ID 1981
VALUE Nick Marinello
authoremail
items - struct
ID 1984
VALUE tulanian@tulane.edu
body
items - struct
ID 1980
VALUE <p>There is goodness in the mud and muck, wind and wash, the flat expanse of bulrush and salt grass, the weeping arch of sky. Percy Viosca Jr. had to keep that in mind as he slapped a mosquito into the back of his neck and resumed poling his small boat through the thickets.<br /> <br /> <img id="||CPIMAGE:147907|" height="206" alt="sunset at Louisiana coast" hspace="20" src="/news/tulanian/images/win2008_goodness_1_1.jpg" width="330" align="right" vspace="20" border="0" />“Goodness” is a word that rarely finds its way into scientific estimations or documentation. Too subjective and lacking specificity.<br /> <br /> But confronted with the vastness, richness, earnestness and humility of the Louisiana wetlands, what word is better?<br /> <br /> In the 1920s, Viosca, A&amp;S ’13, G ’15, a biologist working for the Louisiana Department of Conservation, began writing what would amount to tens of thousands of words describing in technical detail the nesting patterns of turtles, the taxonomy of the Louisiana Iris and spotted bass, the farming of crawfish, and the culture of pondfish, bullfrogs, newts and snakes.<br /> <br /> For years he lived as a creature of the Louisiana wetlands, documenting its complex, elusive story and how human activity was changing it. He observed the impact of flood control, real estate development and the canals that now crisscrossed the landscape. He charted the presence and absence of aquatic species in their habitats. He tracked the encroaching tide of saltwater into freshwater marshes.<br /> <br /> And he was getting worried.<br /> <br /> Reaching out of the boat, Viosca dipped a finger into the water and then touched it to his lips to check for salinity.<br /> <br /> “Not good,” he thought.<br /> <br /> “Not good,” he shouted, too, to anyone who would listen. At a meeting of the Ecological Society of America, held in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec. 31, 1925, Viosca rang out the old year with a cautionary account of what was happening in the coastal areas of his home state.<br /> <br /> “Man-made modifications in Louisiana wetlands, which are changing the conditions of existence from its very foundations, are the result of flood protection, deforestation, deepening channels and the cutting of navigation and drainage canals,” Viosca reported. “Time is ripe for an enormous development of the Louisiana wetlands along new and intelligent lines. …”<br /> <br /> Percy Viosca was a visionary and his vision embraced the fullness and complexity of life. He saw the teeming abundance and vitality of Louisiana’s wetlands, as well as its impending ecological collapse. Over the years he and others have preached the good news from the mud and sky, water and salt grass: The wetlands exist, we have not yet killed them and we may yet be able to save them.<br /> <br /> </p> <h2>fiddling around</h2> <p>It has been estimated that Louisiana loses one football-field worth of wetlands every 38 minutes. That’s a lot of football fields and adds up to about 25 square miles of wetlands being converted into open water each year, 1,900 square miles since 1930. As much as half that may be lost in the next 40 years. Without coastal marshes to absorb and reduce the impact of tidal surge, the Crescent City will be as naked to the angry Gulf as beachfront property. Towns along the Louisiana coast will have to be abandoned. The nation, too, would be impacted as the destruction of the wetlands protecting the infrastructure serving the oil and gas and shipping industries would put $130 billion in assets at risk.<br /> <br /> While natural processes such as subsidence and rising sea levels have played a role, left alone, nature would compensate by distributing fresh layers of sediment deposited during yearly river flooding.<br /> <br /> It turns out that Viosca was on target about how levee systems prevent the Mississippi and other rivers from depositing sediments that nurture and regenerate flood plains. But in 1925, he could not have foreseen the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and subsequent federal programs to raise and reinforce levees and the extent to which sediments would be channeled directly into the Gulf.<br /> <br /> Viosca also was correct in assessing the devastating effects of dredged canals and their associated levees that change the hydrology of the wetlands and invite and trap saltwater that is so harmful to marsh vegetation. In the 1920s, however, he could not have guessed development of the oil and gas industry in the coming years would lead to the digging of 30,000 miles of canals to facilitate the laying of pipeline and navigation.<br /> <br /> “In many ways we didn’t listen to the Percy Vioscas of the 1920s and we’ve paid a price,” says Mark Davis, director of the Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy at Tulane Law School. “But the prevailing knowledge at that time didn’t lead to the conservation of those wetlands. They were viewed largely as wastelands or that the damage would be so insignificant that it would be dwarfed by the economic benefits.”<br /> <br /> Maybe it was the vastness of four million acres of coastal marshes that obscured its fragility. Maybe its humble landscape made it seem expendable. Maybe it too easily offered up a wealth of natural resources — 25 percent of the nation’s oil production, 30 percent of fish harvested in the Lower 48. Maybe its role as the best line of defense for New Orleans and other towns and cities against the ravages of storms and hurricanes was for too many years underestimated or not fully understood.<br /> <br /> Now we know that every three miles of wetlands may reduce the height of a storm surge by one foot. The hurricane protection system devised for New Orleans in the late 1960s took into account the moderating effect of the 100 miles of wetlands sprawling between the city and the Gulf of Mexico, most of which are no longer there today, says Davis. The extent to which Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge forced breaches in the city’s levees is directly associated with the loss of wetlands in the last 40 years.<br /> <br /> And as Percy Viosca would tell you, it’s not like no one knew what was happening. So how does an entire society keep fiddling as Rome burns?<br /> <br /> “I think most people knew there was trouble on our coast,” says Davis. “But as with all big problems one of the first things we tell ourselves is that big problems must have lots of talented people working on them.”<br /> <br /> While the science and technology to address coastal restoration and hurricane protection (goals that most experts agree should be considered inseparable) has existed for decades, we’ve never developed an adequate system through which to implement them, says Davis.<br /> <br /> For more than 130 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been involved in planning, building and operating flood control, navigation and, more recently, coastal restoration projects in the lower valley of the<br /> Mississippi River. The problem, says Davis, is that without the kind of intelligent oversight that Viosca called for 80 years ago, the Corps has undertaken projects assigned by the U.S. Congress and other governmental entities in piecemeal fashion.<br /> <br /> “We’ve given three absolutely incompatible jobs to the Corps and told them to do each of these, but don’t let any of them get in the way of anything that has been undertaken before,” says Davis, who points to the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) as a stark example of this.<br /> <br /> Only a few years before it was charged with building a protective floodwall around New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers completed a congressionally authorized project to dig a 70-mile navigation channel that connected the Gulf of Mexico to the port of New Orleans. MRGO turned out not only to be an ineffective and seldom-used shortcut, it also was an environmental disaster. Saltwater siphoned from MRGO backed into the marshes, contributing to the loss of 27,000 acres of wetlands below the city. MRGO not only decimated the natural protection that was the city’s birthright, it also acted as a funnel that provided storm surges direct access to the city.<br /> </p> <div class="inset_wide_news_photo"> <p><img id="||CPIMAGE:147912|" height="220" alt="MRGO" hspace="0" src="/news/tulanian/images/win2008_goodness_2_1.jpg" width="330" border="0" /></p> <div class="inset_photo_caption"><br /> <p>Few Human Endeavors in Southeast Louisiana have been as pernicious as the dredging of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO).<br /> </p> </div> <p> </p> </div> <p>In 2007, two years after the devastation of New Orleans by flooding from Katrina, the Corps finally asked Congress for permission to close the channel.<br /> <br /> “It is easy to blame the Corps,” says Davis, “but the problem actually lies with the way we hand out assignments. In the case of MRGO, flood protection essentially took a back seat to navigation, and coastal restoration took a back seat to flood protection and navigation. And quite frankly, that’s still generally the rule.”<br /> <br /> There is still time, though not much of it, says Davis, to do what is necessary to pull what’s left of Louisiana’s coastal marshes from the brink, but that will take an honest discussion of what is important to us.<br /> <br /> Making the wrong choices has constrained the palette of available options, and when you reach a crisis point the temptation to do something often trumps the need to do <em>something</em> smart. |<br /> <br /> “If we don’t make wiser decisions now we are not going to have the luxury of having our grandchildren say, ‘They didn’t know any better,’” says Davis. “This is our legacy.”</p> <p> </p> <h2>mindshift</h2> <p>Barracuda, black drum, black tip shark, bluefish, bull croaker, flounder, greater amberjack, jack crevalle, king mackerel, lemon fish, pompano, red snapper, Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, speckled trout, trigger fish, yellowfin tuna, wahoo and white trout. The good news is that you can still launch a skiff at Hopedale, Lafitte and Shell Beach or hug the west side of Barataria Bay looking for redfish.<br /> <br /> Oliver Houck likes fishing as much as the next guy and remembers his first trips to Pointe a la Hache down in Plaquemines Parish.<br /> <br /> “In those days [before catch restrictions limiting size and number of fish] you measured your catch by the ice chest. Even a hack like me could catch fish,” says Houck, who heads Tulane Law School’s environmental law program and has written extensively and eloquently on wetlands and coastal issues.<br /> <br /> Houck was general counsel to the National Wildlife Federation when he began coming to Louisiana in 1971 at the outset of a 10-year struggle to prevent the Corps of Engineers from dredging a 100,000-square-foot canal in the Atchafalaya Basin.<br /> <br /> Over the years Houck’s has been one of the loudest voices hailing from the wilderness. In the mid-1980s, he brokered a compromise between corporate and environmental groups that saved Bayou Sauvage as a national urban wildlife refuge.<br /> <br /> In 1983, Houck wrote a 70-page report documenting why MRGO should be closed.<br /> <br /> “The essence of the report,” says Houck, “was you are losing a hell of a lot of real estate, that real estate is your buffer and you are going to lose flood control, and this thing is a highway for the storms.”<br /> <br /> The report was received as “beyond the pale” and “enviros going overboard,” says Houck.<br /> <br /> “The oil and gas industry and the state were firmly against acknowledging what was happening to the wetlands,” he says. “This was like a state secret, and to the Corps, it wasn’t happening.”<br /> <br /> In that regard, things have dramatically changed, and that is a good thing, says Houck.<br /> <br /> “We are finally changing our mind about the wetlands. We are finally admitting both their value and the need to do something about what’s happening to them.”<br /> <br /> The devastation caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita may have put an exclamation point on it, but for nearly a decade there has been an awareness growing that the collapse of the coast was not just an environmental issue, but an economic one, as well.<br /> <br /> R. King Milling, L ’65, came to that conclusion several years before 2005’s Summer of Storms. Milling, the president of Whitney National Bank, a former king of Carnival and a partner in one of the most prestigious law firms in Louisiana, has been called an unlikely activist and the first voice from the business sector to sound the alarm for the disintegration of the wetlands.<br /> <br /> “I think that’s an overstatement,” demurs Milling, who since 2002 has served as chair of both the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation and America’s Wetland Foundation.<br /> <br /> In any case, Milling’s wetlands epiphany was in part conjured by the efforts of a veteran environmentalist who paid him an afternoon visit in 2000.<br /> <br /> “Mark Davis came to my office and conned me one day,” says Milling.<br /> <br /> Davis, who was at that time the executive director of the nonprofit Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, outlined for Milling how apathy and lack of planning was leading to the extinction of Louisiana’s wetlands.<br /> <br /> “He gave me a song and dance about the environment, and I was sitting at my desk with a whole lot of work to do,” recalls Milling. But the work of a banker is to make sound investments and Milling realized if the “birds and fishes” were imperiled, so too, were the factories, shipyards and oil and gas facilities that his and other banks have invested in throughout coastal Louisiana.<br /> <br /> “Finally,” says Milling, “I looked up and said, ‘This isn’t about the environment, this is about the commerce of this part of the world. About whether we will be able to function in the future.’<br /> <br /> “And Davis started smiling at me,” Milling continues. “And I said, all right, you got me.” Milling says he is not an environmentalist, but as the point person for a campaign to educate both politicians and the general public on the state of the Louisiana coast, he often sounds like one.<br /> <br /> “We have to save it, whether it’s because it is an asset to our economy or environmental treasure. And I do believe it is that — it is twice the size of the Everglades, over five million birds winter here every year, 75 percent of the commercial fish in the Gulf of Mexico are dependent on this ecosystem. …”<br /> <br /> Milling could continue with the data, and he often has as he’s canvassed the state spreading both the good and bad news about Louisiana’s wetlands. His stump speech typically ends with a call to arms.<br /> <br /> “All of us live, work and play on the very edge of this crisis,” he tells his listeners. “If we fail to<br /> act, the single legacy that we shall leave to our children and grandchildren is a greatly diminished<br /> Louisiana — not just in size but in value, heritage, culture, resources, commerce and history. That legacy is unacceptable.”<br /> <br /> </p> <h2>derby fishing</h2> <p>Oysterman, fisherman, shrimper, citrus grower, charter boat captain, teacher, lawyer, librarian. The good news is that coastal Louisiana is still thriving and supporting traditional and non-traditional lifestyles and occupations. It’s enough to give you hope, says Davis.<br /> </p> <div class="inset_wide_news_photo"> <p><img id="||CPIMAGE:147908|" height="208" alt="R. King Milling, Mark Davis and Oliver Houck" hspace="0" src="/news/tulanian/images/win2008_goodness_3_1.jpg" width="330" border="0" /></p> <div class="inset_photo_caption"><br /> <p>R. King Milling, Mark Davis and Oliver Houck stand on the higher ground of the Mississippi River levee.<br /> </p> </div> <p> </p> </div> <p>“The wetlands are not just a feature on the map, but have become part of so many people’s lives — whether you are a hunter, or in the oil business or a person in local government worried about the tax base leaving. I see a lot of energy and commitment out there.”<br /> <br /> Now that everyone seems in agreement about saving the wetlands, the only challenge is in actually saving them, but as Davis says, it’s never been anyone’s job to do that.<br /> <br /> In fact, before 1989, there was not a single Louisiana or federal agency that had coastal restoration within its mission statement.<br /> <br /> Things began to change that year when Louisiana voters approved an amendment to create the Wetlands Trust Fund by setting aside a portion of revenue derived from the state’s oil industry to rebuild wetlands. In 1990, the federal government appeared to get on board as the U.S. Congress enacted the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act that has funded small-scale restoration projects. It was an important step in the right direction but lacked the scope and vision necessary to have significant impact on wetlands loss.<br /> <br /> In 1998, Louisiana adopted Coast 2050, developed by federal and state agencies as a blueprint to restore and rehabilitate coastal Louisiana through large-scale river diversions, shoreline maintenance, barrier-island restoration and drainage-pattern remediation. Beginning in 2002, the Corps of Engineers in partnership with the state of Louisiana began the work of developing that blueprint into the comprehensive, 5,000-page Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Plan, a scientific and technical roadmap that detailed $14 billion of projects over 30 years.<br /> <br /> In 2003, a draft of the Louisiana Coastal Area plan was sent to the White House for review but was stalled and subsequently downsized by the Bush administration.<br /> <br /> “It set the program back 18 months,” says Milling.<br /> <br /> In 2005, after the one-two punch of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Louisiana legislature created the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority with the mandate to develop a master plan that for the first time addresses both coastal restoration and hurricane protection. It was an historic undertaking.<br /> <br /> “What we tried to do,” says Milling, who is a member of the authority, “was take members from environmental groups and have them sit at a table with Shell and other folks from the oil industry because at the end of the day we are all pragmatists.”<br /> <br /> That plan, “Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast,” was unanimously approved by the state legislature in June 2007. The plan is comprehensive, specific, open-ended and can be found online at <a id="http://www.lacpra.org|" onmouseover="" onmouseout="" href="http://www.lacpra.org/">www.lacpra.org</a>.<br /> <br /> “We had to do it and it has to be the state’s plan going forward,” says Milling. “No state in the union has the capacity to undertake something like this and yet we had no choice. Because if we don’t get this done we are going to lose it all.”<br /> <br /> <em>Lose it all.</em> If you take into account that Percy Viosca was speaking publicly about these issues 80 years ago, you have to wonder about the set of circumstances that leads to such limited options. How do we get ourselves into such jams? How can something that so obviously needs to be addressed go unattended?<br /> <br /> “I think it’s simple,” says Houck. “We all die in about 70 years. We don’t have to think. Everything is like derby fishing. Everything is compressed within that period of time.”<br /> <br /> One step forward, half step back, shuffle to the side. Each piece of encouragement seems to arrive frayed at the edges.<br /> <br /> Even last November’s passage of the federal Water Resources Development Act that has authorized as much as $7 billion in spending on Louisiana hurricane protection and coastal restoration does not guarantee that the funding will be delivered in adequate amounts. (Davis has called it a “license to beg.”)<br /> <br /> Even the widely applauded state master plan contains programs to wall off the Louisiana coast with “super levees” that some scientists and environmentalists have cautioned could do more harm than good.<br /> <br /> “If we do nothing, everybody will be devastated,” says Milling. “If we do something, everybody will be hurt not quite as much as they would to the contrary.”<br /> <br /> And this is the good news from the Louisiana coast. The wetlands still exist. We have not yet killed them. We may even be able to save them.</p> <p> </p> <br />
othercredit
items - struct
ID 1987
VALUE Photography by Jackson Hill
pubdate
items - struct
ID 1982
VALUE 2008-01-25 14:04:00
teaser
items - struct
ID 1979
VALUE Forty percent of the wetlands in the continental United States can be found in Louisiana, but not for long....
title
items - struct
ID 1978
VALUE For Goodness Sake
tulanianvolume
items - struct
ID 1983
VALUE Winter 2008
FORMID 1976
PageID 147893
2
items - struct
AuthorID 1080799
ControlID 2286
DateAdded 2008-05-13 14:29:28
DateApproved 2010-09-23 14:57:16
FIELDNAMES author,authoremail,teaser,body,pubdate,tulanianvolume,othercredit,active,title
FIELDS
items - struct
active
items - struct
ID 1986
VALUE yes
author
items - struct
ID 1981
VALUE Tulanian staff
authoremail
items - struct
ID 1984
VALUE cjs@tulane.edu
body
items - struct
ID 1980
VALUE <h2>End of the World<br /> </h2> <p>Most people born and raised in the wetlands grow up loving it. Others grow to love the wetlands after moving there.<br /> </p> <div class="inset_wide_news_photo"> <p><img id="||CPIMAGE:147927|" height="196" alt="L.G. LaPlante" hspace="0" src="/news/tulanian/images/win2008_coastal_1.jpg" width="330" border="0" /><br /> </p> <div class="inset_photo_caption"><br /> <p>L.G. Laplante (L ’64), Cut Off, LA.<br /> </p> </div> <br /> </div> <p>As graduation approached for his law class of 1964, L.G. LaPlante recalls sitting in the cramped office of the New Orleans law firm at which he clerked. Gazing out of a window onto a gloomy, rainy afternoon, LaPlante contemplated his future.<br /> <br /> “Sometimes I feel like going to the end of the world,” he sighed.<br /> <br /> As luck would have it, when LaPlante checked with a placement counselor at Tulane, he discovered there was a job in Golden Meadow, La., which was located halfway down Lafourche Parish and darn near the end of the world.<br /> <br /> Throwing a couple of suits, a sports coat and a broken record player into the back of his ’61 Chevy, LaPlante headed south.<br /> <br /> After a brief stay in Golden Meadow, LaPlante relocated up the highway to nearby Cut Off, La., where he began to build his practice as a trial attorney. There he met a beauty queen, and the former Miss Nicholls State College would eventually become Mrs. L.G. Laplante. She was the daughter of a man who patented the original “marsh buggy” built to transport men and equipment to onshore oil related activities.<br /> <br /> Some years later, LaPlante dreamed up inventions of his own that he believes will help preserve the fragile Louisiana coast. One, he says, can be used to dredge marshlands and the other to retain soil to be used in wetland restoration. LaPlante says he holds patents for both pieces of equipment and hopes to manufacture them to aid in the reclamation of disintegrating coast.<br /> <br /> He cares deeply about the marshes that he refers to as “floating prairies.” “You put your foot down where there’s little trees and bushes, and sometimes you sink right through it.”<br /> <br /> LaPlante grew up in coastal Mississippi and has had a lifelong love affair with the outdoors. There is nothing, he says, that can compare to a marsh sunset.<br /> <br /> While lingering over lunch at a favorite restaurant in Thibodaux, La., LaPlante contemplates his years in South Louisiana. Truth be told, he’s also thinking about the three fly rods waiting in the back of his car.<br /> <br /> “I was in my 30s when I began to notice changes in the marshes,” he recalls. “They were sinking. The saltwater intrusion was eating away the trees, like acid. They’re so decayed, you could knock them down with a paddle.”<br /> <br /> By 1976, LaPlante was a well-known member of the community. He campaigned for state representative by walking up and down Bayou Lafourche, speaking with folks as they sat on their porches. He served one term, becoming disillusioned by the political process.<br /> <br /> A natural-born raconteur, LaPlante expounds on the importance of the marshlands as he leisurely enjoys his lunch of fresh fish.<br /> <br /> Besides the sheer beauty of its wetlands, Lafourche Parish is vital to the economy of the rest of the United States, says LaPlante. The seafood and oil industries top his list of what must be secured.<br /> <br /> “Where do you think they get the crab to make crab cakes in Baltimore?” he asks. “It’s Louisiana crab, passing right through Port Fourchon here. …” He pauses to draw a map on the white paper tablecloth.<br /> <br /> “And the heating supply for those Yankees up north comes through the offshore pipeline, through the marshlands, up Bayou Lafourche to the refineries,” he continues.<br /> <br /> What concerns LaPlante is the long-term consequences of coastal erosion. “What’s going to be the effect 20 years from now? The loss of the marsh is much more severe than anybody around the country realizes, more than the maps show. You have to go down into it to appreciate it.”<br /> <br /> After three hours of telling stories, LaPlante is finished talking. He heads to his car, his hands itching to wrap themselves around one of those fishing rods.<br /> </p> <p><em>- Fran Simon</em></p> <p><em><br /> </em></p> <h2>The Good Life</h2> <p>Dionne Chouest speaks with a distinct Cajun accent and wears her pride for her hometown like armor.<br /> </p> <div class="inset_wide_news_photo"> <p><img id="||CPIMAGE:147930|" height="218" alt="DIONNE CHOUEST (L ’92), CUT OFF, LA." hspace="0" src="/news/tulanian/images/win2008_coastal_2.jpg" width="330" border="0" /><br /> </p> <div class="inset_photo_caption"><br /> <p>Dionne Chouest (L ’92), Cut Off, LA.<br /> </p> </div> <br /> </div> <p>“Everything I have to make me happy is right here,” she says. “I feel no need to leave.” “Here” is Cut Off, La., a town located along Bayou Lafourche and about 40 miles above the Gulf of Mexico.<br /> <br /> The unassuming Chouest moves comfortably in the modest, down-to-earth society of coastal Louisiana. She doesn’t telegraph that she is not only the general counsel of one of the most advanced offshore vessel service companies in the world, but a member of the family that owns and runs it.<br /> <br /> With shipyards in Louisiana and South America, Edison Chouest Offshore designs, builds and operates high-tech, high-capacity offshore vessels and also owns and operates the largest independently owned fleet of research vessels in the world. The company employs more than 6,000 people worldwide and 2,800 locally.<br /> <br /> Chouest says that providing so many jobs in her community is both a privilege and responsibility.<br /> <br /> “We are proud of the fact that we can help support our local community with wellpaying jobs right here in our local, rural area,” she says. “At the same time, it is sometimes a bit overwhelming to think about all the families whose income derives from our operations. But that helps us to continue to work hard, because there are lots of people counting on us.”<br /> <br /> Chouest enjoys being involved in her community and is a member of the executive advisory board for Nicholls State University’s College of Business and on the board of directors for the South Central Industrial Association and the Lafourche Education Foundation. She was appointed to serve on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Economic Growth Transition Advisory Council’s Workforce Committee.<br /> <br /> These activities, however, do not keep Chouest from enjoying the simple pleasures of Cut Off. With a population of 5,500, the small town is an ideal place to live, she says. “Growing up around the water, I feel like a fish out of water if I’m too far away,” says Chouest. “I like to travel and see other areas, but I would miss not being near the water. It’s just so calming.”<br /> <br /> Cut Off sits in a low-lying area of Louisiana that took a hit from Hurricane Katrina. Despite the threats disastrous hurricanes and coastal erosion may pose, Chouest remains focused on the good life. She attends local fairs and festivals and enjoys listening to Cajun music, fishing and hunting with her children, Dante, 6, and Mia, 4. Her family admires the Cajun culture and takes much pride in it.<br /> <br /> “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, my father would say,” says Chouest. “I love it here. This is home to me and I have no desire to move.”<br /> <br /> In addition to the pleasures of having a close-knit family (she works alongside her family everyday, including her brother Damon Chouest, who is a 1997 Tulane Law School graduate), it’s the friendly atmosphere of Cut Off that keeps Chouest in her comfort zone.<br /> <br /> “Lots of visitors who come from other areas comment about how friendly and open people are,” says Chouest. “In past construction projects, we have had people from New York or Florida visit during Mardi Gras time, and they would be so amazed that the people they would meet at parades would invite them over to have hot dogs or say, ‘hey, if you want to come to my house after to watch the game.’ They just couldn’t get over that.”<br /> <br /> Cut Off is family, friends, career and a safe haven. It has a calm spirit that for Chouest embodies how life should be lived.</p> <p><em>- Kiley Brown</em></p> <p><em><br /> </em></p> <h2>A Rough Time Down There<br /> </h2> <p>Situated along the thin strip of Plaquemines Parish that follows the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, the tiny community of Buras has for more than 100 years been known as the orange capital of Louisiana. In August 2005, it gained the woeful distinction of being the marker for where Hurricane Katrina first made landfall.<br /> </p> <div class="inset_wide_news_photo"> <p><img id="||CPIMAGE:147932|" height="192" alt="HERMAN SCHOENBERGER" hspace="0" src="/news/tulanian/images/win2008_coastal_3.jpg" width="330" border="0" /><br /> </p> <div class="inset_photo_caption"><br /> <p>Herman “Barney” Schoenberger (L ’46), Buras, LA.<br /> </p> </div> <br /> </div> <p>Soon, 82-year-old Barney Schoenberger, who knows about oranges, storms and just about everything else concerning the parish, will be among the small but growing group of residents to return home.<br /> <br /> “My house has withstood it all,” says Schoenberger of the structure built for his father 75 years ago.<br /> <br /> When the work to repair the damage caused by Katrina’s 20 foot tidal surge is completed, Schoenberger will again be able to enjoy the Gulf breeze from his second floor balcony. As little as 10 years ago that balcony overlooked a wide expanse of marsh. Now it’s mostly open water.<br /> <br /> “The marshland is evaporating, going away, and that is causing the sea to move in,” he says. Schoenberger has observed his parish from the perspective of attorney, citrus grower, businessman, state legislator and sheriff. His grandfather, George Schoenberger, was a pioneer of the parish citrus industry, and the family farm that produces predominantly satsumas and navel oranges is still recovering from the hit it took from Katrina.<br /> <br /> Living with storms is a way of life in the parish. Schoenberger, whose earliest memories of Buras are lit by the kerosene lamps used before the town was wired for electricity, says locals never used to evacuate. Rather, they’d ride out storms in the sturdy Buras auditorium.<br /> <br /> Employees of the nearby Freeport Sulfur Co., were not so hearty, he recalls. “I remember taking trips to Port Sulfur when there was a storm because Freeport would hire a special train to come down and take their employees out. We thought that was really something.”<br /> <br /> Schoenberger was serving as sheriff in 1969 when Hurricane Camille swiped the tip of Louisiana on its way to the Mississippi coast. On the afternoon Camille arrived, Schoenberger contacted a ship captain riding out the storm at the mouth of the Mississippi River.<br /> <br /> “He told me, ‘Barney, you’re going to have a rough time up there because our wind gauge broke at 200 miles per hour.’”<br /> <br /> From 1960 to 1967, Schoenberger served in the Louisiana House of Representatives. More than 20 years later he would use his political skills to lobby for two freshwater siphons designed to divert water from the Mississippi into parish marshes. “The sediment and silt helped build up the marsh,” says Schoenberger. While he knows that canals dug by the oil industry have played a major role in encouraging saltwater intrusion and loss of wetlands, Schoenberger, like many in Plaquemines, says he is grateful to the oil companies that provide the parish jobs and revenue from royalties.<br /> <br /> He thinks it’s up to the state and federal government, who also have benefited from the oil and gas industry, to fund projects to restore the levees, marshes and barrier islands so that they can again offer protection from the Gulf. Schoenberger fears that with less than 30 percent of its population back, the parish presents a cost-benefit ratio that will discourage spending on hurricane protection. He regards the difficulty residents are having getting permits to rebuild as a sign that the parish is being abandoned by the rest of the country.<br /> <br /> “Look at the things that come from here,” says Schoenberger. “Not only oil and gas but fisheries. They should look at what we contributed and are contributing now.”<br /> <br /> At one time, says Schoenberger, the oil-rich parish operated exclusively on a cash basis and was the envy of all others in the state.<br /> <br /> “A friend of mine in the legislature once said to me, ‘Barney, they could take all of you from Plaquemines to the top of the capitol and throw you off, and you’d all land on your feet.’” With the parish now in free fall Schoenberger can only hope for a soft landing.<br /> <em><br /> - Nick Marinello<br /> <br /> <br /> </em></p>
othercredit
items - struct
ID 1987
VALUE Photography by Paula Burch-Celantano
pubdate
items - struct
ID 1982
VALUE 2008-01-25 14:29:00
teaser
items - struct
ID 1979
VALUE Three alumni share what it's like to live in the coastal areas of southeastern Louisiana.
title
items - struct
ID 1978
VALUE Being Coastal
tulanianvolume
items - struct
ID 1983
VALUE Winter 2008
FORMID 1976
PageID 147913
3
items - struct
AuthorID 1080799
ControlID 2286
DateAdded 2008-05-13 14:47:15
DateApproved 2010-09-23 14:52:26
FIELDNAMES author,authoremail,teaser,body,pubdate,tulanianvolume,othercredit,active,title
FIELDS
items - struct
active
items - struct
ID 1986
VALUE yes
author
items - struct
ID 1981
VALUE Alicia Duplessis
authoremail
items - struct
ID 1984
VALUE tulanian@tulane.edu
body
items - struct
ID 1980
VALUE <p>The “ding” of the elevator bell marks the start of another day working to save a precious little corner of the environment. Carlton Dufrechou (E ’78, ’93), executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, uses the ride up to his 20th-floor office to center his thoughts around the hundreds of details that are going into the foundation’s efforts from revitalizing the lake to developing an ambitious program combining coastal restoration and hurricane storm protection.<br /> </p> <div class="inset_narrow_news_photo"> <p><img id="||CPIMAGE:147967|" height="311" alt="Carlton Dufrechou" hspace="0" src="/news/tulanian/images/win2008_coastguard_1_1.jpg" width="220" border="0" /></p> <div class="inset_photo_caption"><br /> <p>Carlton Dufrechou (E ’78, ’93), executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.</p> </div> <p> </p> </div> <p>Lake and coast alike are encompassed in the 10,000-square-mile basin from which the foundation takes its name. The Lake Pontchartrain Basin is a system of waterways, forests, swamps, coastal marshes and barrier islands that incorporates parts of 16 Louisiana parishes and four Mississippi counties.<br /> <br /> With 1.2 million people living in the immediate vicinity of the lake, it remains Louisiana’s most densely populated area even after Hurricane Katrina.<br /> <br /> Just as the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation’s “Save Our Lake” slogan became a mantra around which to rally efforts to bring back the lake from near death in the 1990s, Dufrechou is hoping the foundation’s “Save Our Coast” initiative will similarly galvanize the public’s will.<br /> <br /> His modestly decorated corner office is equipped with a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the New Orleans Central Business District. The window opposite frames Lake Pontchartrain as if it were a work of art, while a surfboard leans against the wall “for decoration.”<br /> <br /> Squinting into the sunlight that dances through the window, Dufrechou points out that from his office you can now see aquatic grasses beneath the lake’s surface. To see the lake’s bottom, he says, was impossible a decade ago.<br /> <br /> </p> <h2>a bit of a renegade</h2> <p>Dufrechou says he didn’t plan on becoming an environmental guru. It just happened that way.<br /> <br /> “My father was a Tulane architect and when I went to college that’s what I had planned to study,” says Dufrechou. However, influenced by the knowledge that an engineering degree could be achieved in four years of coursework compared to the five-year architecture curriculum, he figured that the engineering program would be a better fit.<br /> <br /> The coursework itself would not prove to be so simple. “I never recognized the magnitude of studying that would be involved in engineering,” he confesses, with an I’m-glad-that’s-over look. (Though he may be a glutton for punishment, because he would later return to Tulane in the 1990s to earn his master’s degree in engineering.)<br /> <br /> In 1978, Dufrechou emerged from his undergraduate study ready to take on the world. He credits his degree to many talented, dedicated and patient professors and “unique, wonderful and sometimes crazy” classmates who tutored him through junior and senior design courses. His ambitions were not unlike those of other 20-somethings — he hoped to be set financially by the age of 30 and then go back to school only for fun courses like wine tasting and art.<br /> <br /> In time, external forces propelled him to make more pragmatic career moves. “Louisiana had a recession in the mid ’80s associated with a downturn in oil and gas activities. While I wasn’t doing oil and gas work, I was working in real estate development, which went down the tubes, too,” he recalls. “That’s when I was offered a job with the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers. I was truly fortunate to find an engineering job at that time in Louisiana.”<br /> <br /> From 1986 through 1992, Dufrechou worked as a planner and project manager for the New Orleans district of the Corps. He remembers being a bit of a renegade with respect to some of the Corps’ practices.<br /> <br /> “They’ve got some of the finest folks I’ve ever met, and it’s one of the few entities on the planet that can do such a wide range of work,” he says. “However, it’s also one of the worst bureaucracies on earth.”<br /> <br /> The first project given Dufrechou as a member of the Corps was to develop a flood-control plan for a rural, farming area just above Alexandria, La.<br /> <br /> He remembers being instructed to come up with a design before asking the local farmers — the clients — what was the problem they wanted addressed.<br /> <br /> “I was told that we would develop the project in the office. It would be reviewed and approved internally and then presented to the public,” he says. In this process, the community would have little or no involvement. “This was completely contrary to how the private sector works,” says Dufrechou. It was all about process and little about results.<br /> <br /> “Eventually, I was able to get to the area because it started flooding and the Corps was getting complaints from several congressionals,” he says. “I was sent up overnight. Finally, we were able to meet with the locals and learn from their firsthand experiences.”<br /> <br /> </p> <h2>not rocket science</h2> <p>The hydrology, storm protection and environmental experience offered by the Corps would prepare Dufrechou to vie for the position of executive director of the fledgling Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. Dufrechou notes that he always wanted to be part of a great endeavor and sensed this could be it. After presenting his resume, he was invited to interview with the foundation’s board and its technical advisory committee. After responding to numerous technical questions he found himself stumped by the final question.<br /> <br /> “Why?” they asked. “Why do you want to do this?” Dufrechou admits he was more than taken aback. “I had prepared for technical questions,” he says.<br /> <br /> It was his second interview with the group. Then 36 years old, Dufrechou glanced out of the window beyond the panel of interviewers. “I didn’t know what to say, but suddenly something made me invite the interviewers to turn around and look at Pontchartrain.”<br /> <br /> <img id="||CPIMAGE:147978|" height="242" alt="" hspace="0" src="/news/tulanian/images/coastguard2_1.jpg" width="200" align="left" border="0" cap="" lake="" our="" save="" />“We’ve got to restore this body of water because it’s part of the community,” Dufrechou told them.<br /> <br /> Having won the confidence of the board, Dufrechou took the helm of the three-year old nonprofit foundation in 1992. The lake’s health was dismal then. As early as the 1960s the mix of pollutants from urban, commercial and agricultural sources had grown to such unacceptable levels that “no swimming” advisories were posted along the lake’s south shore by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.<br /> <br /> The lake’s water quality was so poor that the state discontinued regular sampling of its waters in the late 1970s. Another Tulane graduate, state Sen. John Hainkel, began referring to Pontchartrain as a “cesspool.”<br /> <br /> “There was no rocket science used to restore the lake,” says Dufrechou. The first step was to systematically identify the sources of pollution. “We dealt with stormwater runoff from the south shore, poorly treated sewage from the north shore, agricultural runoff and shell dredging.”<br /> <br /> In the process, Dufrechou remembers getting input from a veteran commercial fisherman living on the north shore who offered his own take on technical topics such as nutrient overloads, dead zones and fish kills. “We really were not on the same page at first,” says Dufrechou about the fisherman. “I kept asking him to show us data and facts, but he couldn’t point to any technical journals or publications.”<br /> <br /> But by the mid 1990s, when field data began to improve and computer models of the lake’s flow patterns became operational, Dufrechou says the science validated almost everything the fisherman had told him.<br /> <br /> The fisherman was right on target, and the conversations Dufrechou had with him helped shape a core belief that continues to influence his work: all the technical know how in the world will fall short if it isn’t complemented with practical knowledge.<br /> <br /> By the 2000, “the lake had cured itself,” says Dufrechou. “All we humans did was stop the pollution going into it.”<br /> <br /> The lake is again swimmable. The redfish, speckled trout, pelicans and egrets have returned.<br /> <br /> </p> <h2>first the lake, now the coast</h2> <p>At 51, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Dufrechou is broadening his perspective and that of the foundation. If there was any doubt before the storm, it has since become clear that levees are not the end-all solution to the city’s hurricane protection needs.<br /> <br /> Dufrechou gives equal or greater importance to the preserving and restoring of the natural barriers of the Louisiana coast. He believes the same strategy that led to the recovery of Lake Pontchartrain — giving nature a chance to rebuild itself by curtailing harmful human practices — also will be integral to restoring the coast. It is a sizable task that he says is attainable by changing the way people interact with at-risk areas.<br /> </p> <div class="inset_wide_news_photo"> <p><img id="||CPIMAGE:147981|" height="199" alt="pelicans" hspace="0" src="/news/tulanian/images/win2008_coastguard_2_1.jpg" width="330" border="0" /></p> <div class="inset_photo_caption"><br /> <p>Pelicans are once again a familiar sight soaring above Lake Pontchartrain.<br /> </p> </div> <p> </p> </div> <p>While restoring habitat will be key to coastal restoration, Dufrechou emphasizes that the first step is simply to do no further harm.<br /> <br /> Few undertakings by humans have been more harmful to coastal areas of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin than the digging of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), a canal that was scooped out of 40 miles of coastal wetlands in the late 1950s and early 1960s at the direction of Congress.<br /> <br /> The purpose of MRGO was to provide a shortcut for ships that would otherwise have to snake up 120 miles of the Mississippi River.<br /> <br /> Unfortunately, the outlet also served as a shortcut for the saline waters of the Gulf of Mexico to flow into the brackish and fresh waters of the Pontchartrain Basin, an invasion that led to the degradation of much of the coast east of the Mississippi River and one of the state’s natural hurricane barriers.<br /> <br /> “When the saltwater came in, the vegetation started to become more vulnerable, and anytime there was a storm or even strong wave action we’d experience more and more wetland loss,” says Dufrechou. “As the years progressed, the MRGO probably more than anything else helped accelerate the land loss of the areas east and south of New Orleans.”<br /> <br /> In May 2006 testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Dufrechou likened MRGO to a “cancer, progressively eating away at coastal wetlands,” and pleaded with Congress to deauthorize the canal.<br /> <br /> With the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, Congress has authorized the Corps of Engineers to close MRGO, and while that is an important milestone, it is only one piece of the puzzle.<br /> <br /> Late last year, the Bush administration approved funding for more than 100 projects to help recreate a self-sustaining coastal protection system. They are the kind of conservation and water-diversion projects that the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has outlined in its multiple lines of defense strategy that integrates coastal restoration with engineered flood protection.<br /> <br /> The “lines of defense” are both man-made and natural and include barrier islands, sounds, marshes, natural ridges, man-made ridges, floodgates, levees, pump stations, elevated homes and businesses, and evacuation routes. Restoring targeted habitat sites, such as swamps and marshes, is integral to recreating a self-sustaining coast and permanent storm protection for coastal communities.<br /> <br /> In working to tack down the particulars of this strategy’s multiple facets, Dufrechou has not forgotten the importance of supplementing scientific data collection with insights gained from the people whose lives and livelihoods are most closely tied to these habitats. “The people who know the most about the coast are the folks who work it everyday,” he says. “I have the utmost respect for scientists and engineers and God knows we need more of them, but we’ve always got to check with the people who have lived and worked in the area.<br /> <br /> “Ask the old fishermen. They know where the water goes, why it goes there and when it goes there,” says Dufrechou. “They even know the types of critters that used to be there. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s to listen to the folks in the field and try to pay attention to what they have to say.”<br /> <br /> <br /> </p>
othercredit
items - struct
ID 1987
VALUE Photography by Paula Burch-Celentano
pubdate
items - struct
ID 1982
VALUE 2008-01-25 14:42:00
teaser
items - struct
ID 1979
VALUE Using what he's learned about people, politics and the resiliency of the natural world, Carlton Dufrechou may be one of the most effective friends that coastal Louisiana has.
title
items - struct
ID 1978
VALUE Coast Guard
tulanianvolume
items - struct
ID 1983
VALUE Winter 2008
FORMID 1976
PageID 147947
4
items - struct
AuthorID 1080799
ControlID 2286
DateAdded 2008-05-13 14:59:45
DateApproved 2010-09-23 14:48:46
FIELDNAMES author,authoremail,teaser,body,pubdate,tulanianvolume,othercredit,active,title
FIELDS
items - struct
active
items - struct
ID 1986
VALUE yes
author
items - struct
ID 1981
VALUE Mary Ann Travis
authoremail
items - struct
ID 1984
VALUE mtravis@tulane.edu
body
items - struct
ID 1980
VALUE <p>Along Louisiana Highway 1, cypress-tree stumps stick up out of the marsh grass every mile or so. The gray, bare trees look as forlorn as the splintered docks poking into the Gulf of Mexico at the end of the road on Grand Isle—the last stop on the highway. The dead trees and ruined piers appear to have met similar fates in the path of storms and saltwater intrusion.<br /> </p> <div class="inset_wide_news_photo"> <p><img id="||CPIMAGE:147984|" height="300" alt="Science" hspace="0" src="/news/tulanian/images/win2008_science_1_1.jpg" width="330" border="0" /><br /> </p> <div class="inset_photo_caption"><br /> <p>Scientists on the edge — Jeff Chambers, Tom Sherry, Torbjorn Tornqvist<br /> </p> </div> <br /> </div> <p>At Grand Isle, sea level is rising at a rate of nearly 10 millimeters (.39 inches) per year.<br /> <br /> “That’s crazy,” says Torbjörn E. Törnqvist, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences.<br /> <br /> The present rate of sea-level rise on the Gulf Coast is four to six times higher than in the previous 1,000 years.<br /> <br /> Ever since the Industrial Revolution, factories, cars, air conditioning, computers and other trappings of modern life increasingly have spewed out carbon dioxide. And sea level has risen. Louisiana’s coastal land is on a rapid path to submersion; its wetlands in the shape of spindly claws are becoming more tattered with each storm.<br /> <br /> But people in other coastal areas in the United States—and the rest of the world—have no grounds for complacency.<br /> <br /> “We think what we’re looking at here is actually a global phenomenon,” says Törnqvist. “Because you know it’s all connected.”<br /> <br /> Törnqvist is among a group of Tulane scientists who are investigating the mysteries of sea level rise, coastal sinking, earth faulting, trees growing and dying, and birds and plants relating in complex ways to global climate change.<br /> <br /> Louisiana is a wonderland of discovery for these intrepid explorers of the natural world. They are geologists and biologists fascinated by the Earth and its delicate ecosystems. They are rigorous scientists who ask questions, crunch numbers, weigh results and ask more questions.<br /> <br /> Tulanian talked to six scientists about their work on the ground in Louisiana—and its local and global implications.<br /> <br /> </p> <h1>filling the gaps<br /> </h1> <p>“On average,” says Törnqvist, who is also the director of the Tulane-based National Institute for Climatic Change Research Coastal Center, “if you just let science go as some kind of self organizing spontaneous process, most important things will get done at some point. But sometimes there are these gaps that nobody jumps on.”<br /> </p> <div class="inset_wide_news_photo"> <p><img id="||CPIMAGE:147985|" height="327" alt="Science" hspace="0" src="/news/tulanian/images/win2008_science_2.jpg" width="330" border="0" /><br /> </p> <div class="inset_photo_caption"><br /> <p>Scientists on the edge — Nancye Dawers,<br /> Michael Blum, Alex Kolker.</p> </div> <br /> </div> <p>Among the gaps in knowledge that Törnqvist is filling are why and how fast land in coastal Louisiana is subsiding and how quickly sea-level rise is occurring.<br /> <br /> In 2000, 100 miles above the Gulf of Mexico at a bend in the Mississippi River, Törnqvist and his research team began hand drilling holes in a “shoulder of the road in a swamp.” At the field site, they extracted core samples that date back up to 8,000 years. They also measured the elevation of the samples relative to the present sea level.<br /> <br /> Back in the lab, Törnqvist and his team continue to analyze the origin of the sediments in the samples and select materials for age measurement at another specialized lab.<br /> <br /> “The idea is that organic matter started accumulating as a result of the rise of the water table,” he says.<br /> <br /> By finding out the levels at which organic matter—or peat—has accumulated, Törnqvist can document the rate of sea-level rise.<br /> <br /> “We can now say that about 6,000 years ago, sea level was probably a little bit more than 5 meters lower than it is today,” says Törnqvist. And it’s been constantly rising.<br /> <br /> Lately, Törnqvist’s doctoral student Juan González, who is completing his PhD thesis this spring, has focused on A.D. 600 to 1600, the period before the Industrial Revolution. During that 1,000-year interval, sea level rose about half a millimeter per year.<br /> <br /> Compare the pre-Industrial Revolution half-a-millimeter rise to the present-day 10-millimeter-a-year rise at Grand Isle, and you get an understanding of what Törnqvist means by “crazy.”<br /> <br /> While the current rate of sea-level rise elsewhere around the world and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast is not as dramatic as Grand Isle’s, (the mean global rate is currently more than 3 millimeters per year) there is still cause for alarm.<br /> <br /> And the alarm bells ring from global warming. Törnqvist is interested in the historic relationship between sea-level change and climate change “because that can tell us something about what might happen in the future.”<br /> <br /> “The last time we saw sea level rising at rates more than 3 millimeters per year on the Gulf Coast was about 7 or 8,000 years ago,” says Törnqvist. And that rapid rise in water was because a big ice sheet in Canada was melting.<br /> <br /> Louisiana is the first coastal area in the United States to experience such extreme sea-level rise and “to suffer the consequences,” says Törnqvist. “But if we don’t do anything, if we just keep doing what we’re doing, sooner or later, people are going to have the same experience in low-lying coastal areas around the world.”<br /> <br /> </p> <h1>still a mystery</h1> <p>Everyone agrees that Louisiana is sinking. A complicated web of factors contribute to the land’s subsidence: sea-level rise related to global warming, ground compaction related to extraction of oil and the draining of swamps for urban development, dredging of oil-and-gas production canals in the wetlands, and saltwater intrusion killing freshwater marsh grass.<br /> <img id="||CPIMAGE:147986|" height="325" alt="bird" hspace="5" src="/news/tulanian/images/win2008_science_3.jpg" width="220" align="right" vspace="5" border="0" /><br /> An important element in the loss of wetlands in Louisiana lies at Old River Control, 200 miles northwest of New Orleans. Here is the nexus of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ mighty dam effort to stop the Mississippi River from flooding and from being captured by the Atchafalaya River.<br /> <br /> But the single most important factor in wetlands loss, says Törnqvist, “is undoubtedly the fact that we have levees all along the main rivers—the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya—that prevent the wetlands from being nourished with fresh annual layers of sediment, as was the case in the natural state.”<br /> <br /> Located 315 miles above the Gulf of Mexico, Old River Control is a structure engineered to keep the majority of the Mississippi River’s flow heading south toward Baton Rouge and New Orleans, preventing it from changing its course and joining the Atchafalaya River.<br /> <br /> The Mississippi River previously freely jumped its banks every millennium or so. The river meandered within an arc about 200 miles wide depositing sand and silt for building the land of coastal Louisiana.<br /> <br /> Old River Control came online in 1963 and along with the extensive levee system downriver that was constructed in the 1930s as part of the New Deal program has successfully curbed the Mississippi River in south Louisiana from doing what it did for eons—deposit sediment to build land.<br /> <br /> The sediment of the river doesn’t build up the delta anymore. The sediment is funneled offshore and falls off into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.<br /> <br /> Alex Kolker, a research professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, studies marine sediments. He’s charting the depths of Barataria Bay, a body of water near Grand Isle. By crisscrossing the bay in a boat equipped with sonar, he’s gathering data about how fast the delta is sinking. He’s surveying the ever-changing depth of water, trying to put a proverbial measuring stick at the bottom of the bay.<br /> <br /> “We know the bay is subsiding, but how fast is still a mystery that I’m busy working on,” says Kolker.<br /> <br /> That the wetlands are quickly disappearing, Kolker can tell simply by looking at global-positioning-system maps of the area. Some places where the maps indicate marshland or solid ground, the research boat smoothly glides through water. “The land is no longer there—and the maps can’t be that old,” he says.<br /> <br /> Kolker arrived at Tulane in January 2007 with an interest in how climate change and human impacts affect coastal areas. He has done work in Long Island Sound, N.Y., studying wetlands loss. And using data from sites in the Atlantic Ocean—near New York City; Charleston, S.C.; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Stockholm, Sweden; and Cascais, Portugal—he has researched variability in sea-level rise in relation to high- and low-pressure weather systems, wind-driven processes and dynamic sea-level change—the change by storms that is often most damaging to people, property and ecosystems.<br /> <br /> The scale of the Louisiana wetlands and coastal ecosystem is much bigger than the Long Island wetlands, which are a blip on the map in comparison, says Kolker.<br /> <br /> Barataria Bay is “beautiful and magical,” he says. Grand Isle, the barrier islands, the marshes, lakes, bayous, estuaries, rivers and the Gulf make it a “unique area.”<br /> <br /> “Professionally, this is ground zero,” says Kolker. “This is the place to be doing what people in my field do.”<br /> <br /> </p> <h1>active faults</h1> <p>The way Nancye Dawers views things, the creation of the rich soil of the Mississippi River delta happened almost yesterday.<br /> <br /> An associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, Dawers says that the “young” Mississippi River delta was formed in the “recent” past, that is, the last 10,000 years.<br /> <br /> Dawers is a structural geologist who studies the evolution of faults in the earth’s subsurface.<br /> She takes the long view—the millions-of-years-old view.<br /> <br /> Millions of years before the Mississippi River as we know it began building its present delta, the thick sequence of sediments that underlay it began to fracture, and faults formed in response to the accumulating load of sediment. One of these faults eventually resulted in the formation of Lake Pontchartrain. The lake, which isn’t a lake at all but an estuary where fresh and salt water mix, is, of course, crucial to the situation of the city of New Orleans. While Lake Pontchartrain itself is only a few thousand years old, its northern shore is controlled by an ancient fault system, part of which is known as the Baton Rouge fault.<br /> <br /> Most of Dawers’ work has been in the western United States—California, Idaho, Montana and Utah—where seismically active faults have dramatically affected land formations.<br /> <br /> She came to Tulane and Louisiana seven years ago, not expecting to find an active fault along the northern margin of the Gulf Coast. But then she heard of a 1944 Mississippi River Commission report that presented evidence of an active fault near Baton Rouge from the Amite River to the Pearl River.<br /> <br /> Dawers became intrigued that the Baton Rouge fault had played a major role in the formation of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.<br /> <br /> Slips on the Baton Rouge fault results in subsidence of the area immediately south of it, namely the Pontchartrain Basin. The fault may still be active, Dawers has discovered, although the fault appears to be “aseismic.” Aseismic means it doesn’t produce large earthquakes but rather steady, slow slippage occurs in association with small earthquakes. Some of these earthquakes occasionally are large enough to be felt in the region.<br /> <br /> Using high-resolution laser technology and other techniques, Dawers and graduate student Bobby Cosentino are mapping the various segments of the Baton Rouge fault system, trying to determine its long-term history. By measuring the slope of the fault’s topographic scarp—the step it forms in the landscape—they can discriminate between the likely constant, slow displacement of land versus displacement in sudden, large earthquakes.<br /> <br /> With another graduate student, Emily Martin, who earned her master’s degree in 2006, Dawers also has explored a fault in southern Plaquemines Parish near Bastian Bay and the town of Empire. They know from early oil exploration data that a subsurface fault exists in the area. There also has been land loss in the area traced to the 1970s—a time of active oil and gas production. However, the pattern of displacement of marshland at this locality is more consistent with a fault than with fluid withdrawal.<br /> <br /> The issue of faulting in coastal Louisiana is a controversial topic, says Dawers, because “if faulting is contributing to our subsidence problem, there aren’t any solutions to stopping that process.”<br /> <br /> Thousands of years can go by where nothing happens. And then there might be an episode of fault slip. “We just don’t know,” says Dawers, as she continues to look into displacement patterns and slip rates. Like most geologists, she does not predict the future; she seeks to understand processes, both present and past.<br /> <br /> </p> <h1>katrina’s trees</h1> <p>Global warming probably did not directly cause Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. One high-powered storm drawing on the energy of warm Gulf waters does not precisely correlate to global climate change, most scientists agree.<br /> <br /> Ironically, however, the 320 million trees destroyed by Katrina in the forests of Louisiana and Mississippi are actually causing a global warming of their own.<br /> <br /> Jeff Chambers, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, has discovered that the trees killed or damaged in the Katrina storm are releasing more carbon dioxide into the air than all the rest of the trees in the United States can absorb in a year.<br /> <br /> Chambers used the same research tools he had been using for 12 years studying wind-disturbance in the Brazilian Amazon rain forests and applied them to the Katrina problem.<br /> <br /> Growing, healthy trees act as carbon “sinks” that store carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas released from other sources into the atmosphere. If carbon is not absorbed, the atmosphere heats up. The decomposing trees of Katrina release carbon instead of taking it in for photosynthesis as they would if they were still alive and growing.<br /> <br /> Chambers is associate director of the National Institute for Climatic Change Research Coastal Center (of which Törnqvist is the director). Chambers and his research team used NASA satellite images of the forests before and after the storm to determine the extent of the damage. They also conducted fieldwork at 25 study sites in Louisiana on the East Pearl River. Chambers’ study of Katrina’s dead trees was published by the journal Science in November.<br /> <br /> What surprised Chambers more than the staggering number of devastated trees is the impact the decomposing trees are having on the total U.S. carbon sink. “When I first started the analysis, I thought, I’ll bet it will be 20 to 30 percent of the total U.S. sink. It was 100 percent. I was shocked by that.”<br /> <br /> He went through the calculations from every angle, but still the figures hold up. And he stands by them.<br /> <br /> The impact of powerful, destructive storms is so interesting that Chambers and his research team are launching a study of the carbon effects of all the major hurricanes to hit the United States since 1850.<br /> <br /> He also is studying the impact of sea-level rise on coastal ecosystems with other Tulane scientists.<br /> <br /> “As a scientist, you are supposed to look at all of it and come up with what’s real—the facts,” he says. And the facts are, “in the aftermath of a hurricane, dead trees release carbon.”<br /> <br /> And increased carbon in the atmosphere is a cause of global warming.<br /> <br /> And global warming may result in more intense hurricanes.<br /> <br /> </p> <h1>canaries in the mine</h1> <p>Hurricanes—dramatic, cataclysmic environmental events—are part of the fabric of Louisiana’s ecology, says Tom Sherry, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.<br /> <br /> In the aftermath of Katrina, Sherry is investigating how the Swainson’s Warbler is faring in the bottomland forests of the Pearl River Basin—the same area where Chambers has documented the huge tree loss. This warbler thrives on the kind of “disturbed” habitat that hurricanes create by knocking down old trees. As the ecosystem rebounds, forest undergrowth—vines and such—grows profusely, providing a hospitable habitat for this bird.<br /> <br /> Sherry expects that the Swainson’s Warbler—an “indicator species” for the Mississippi<br /> River delta ecoregion—will flourish in the years after the storm.<br /> <br /> Indicator species are so designated by scientists because “if the populations of that species are doing well, then that presumably tells us that the ecoregion the species depends on is doing well,” says Sherry.<br /> <br /> Under Sherry’s guidance, Donata Henry, who is now a lecturer in the ecology and evolutionary biology department, did her PhD dissertation research on the Swainson’s Warbler in commercial pine forests. Where growers let the forests develop a little bit wild, undergrowth creeps in, and the warblers are strong and healthy. Such ecology-sensitive commercial enterprises show that it is possible for industry to coexist peacefully with the natural world, says Sherry.<br /> <br /> The Northern Swallow-Tailed Kite is another indicator species for the Mississippi River delta ecoregion. But it is not doing well in the bottomland forest of the Pearl River, according to Sherry’s former doctoral student Jennifer Coulson. The kite’s major predator, the Great Horned Owl, is eating kite eggs, chicks and even adult females at the nest. The owl usually stays out of dense forests, which are becoming fragmented or disappearing altogether. It is in the dense forests that the Swallow-Tailed Kite previously thrived.<br /> <br /> The forest fragmentation that is hurting the Swallow-Tailed Kite, however, is not attributed to hurricanes, but to another facet of global change—residential land development—in this case, in the Slidell, La., area. As trees are cut down to pave the way for housing tracts, the owl swoops in to diminish the Swallow-Tailed Kite. A bright spot in the saga of Louisiana birds is the abundance of wading birds—Great Egret, White Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Rosette Spoon-bill and Night Heron. Along the coast, these majestic and graceful birds wade in the shallow water of the wetlands and feed on fish, frogs, insects and crawfish.<br /> <br /> Sherry and another of his former PhD students, Bruce Fleury, who also is a lecturer in ecology and evolutionary biology, showed that a major cause of these birds’ success is the growth of commercial crawfish aquaculture.<br /> <br /> For more than 30 years, Sherry has studied migratory birds that winter in the Caribbean and summer in North America. He has published more than 70 articles and book chapters.<br /> <br /> He has seen firsthand the impending extinction of birds in the rain forests and elsewhere. As he studies the impact of climate change on ecosystems, Sherry says he feels an obligation to speak out about the need to protect nature and promote conservation.<br /> <br /> “The natural world needs advocates,” he says. “Our evolutionary heritage is at stake.” (See Sherry in “Ask the Expert” on page 9.)<br /> <br /> </p> <h1>evolution and ecology</h1> <p>Marsh plants in the wetlands of Louisiana have been dying as saltwater intrudes into their freshwater habitats. But plants, especially some sedges and grasses, can evolve quickly. So quickly, says Michael Blum, that evolutionary change can accompany ecological change.<br /> <br /> Blum, an assistant professor of ecology and environmental biology, is looking at how wetlands are responding to global climate change and sea-level rise. He’s specifically studying plant response to elevated carbon dioxide and increased salinity.<br /> <br /> Marshes, like much of the land in coastal Louisiana, have been built up by sediment from the river, and some marsh plants—sedges, in particular—have dropped seeds that become embedded in the sediment.<br /> <br /> At a site near Bayou Lacombe in the Pearl River Basin, Blum and his colleagues are taking sediment cores from the marshes and extracting embedded seeds, some of which are estimated to be more than 800 years old.<br /> <br /> The sedge seeds have hard coats conducive to long-term survival. In a laboratory, Blum germinates the seeds and then simulates past, present and future environments of salinity, carbon dioxide and temperature regulation to observe how the plants respond. For the future environment, he pushes the carbon dioxide up to 50 percent more than the carbon dioxide in today’s environment, which is the extreme that some scientists are predicting.<br /> <br /> In these experiments, by simulating the outer limits of environmental change, Blum can gauge how quickly marsh plants have adapted to changing climate conditions.<br /> <br /> With marshes the first line of defense against storm surge on the Louisiana coast, Blum’s work gives hope that it is possible that marsh plants will become more tolerant of high-salinity conditions.<br /> <br /> “The marshes may evolve in place,” says Blum.<br /> <br /> Blum is a newcomer to Tulane and Louisiana this year. He previously worked in the marshes of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and the outer banks of North Carolina, but he says they are small and finite compared to the marshes of Louisiana.<br /> <br /> In the fall, he took his undergraduate “Wetlands Ecology” class to Grand Isle for a field trip. During the trip, Blum was amazed at the marsh landscape and the immensity of Louisiana’s wetlands.<br /> <br /> Out in the vast wetlands, “You can lose where you’re at,” says Blum. “Nothing compares to the extent of the coastal marshes of Louisiana.”</p>
othercredit
items - struct
ID 1987
VALUE Photography by Paula Burch-Celantano
pubdate
items - struct
ID 1982
VALUE 2008-01-25 14:59:00
teaser
items - struct
ID 1979
VALUE From the rising sea to the disturbed forest, Louisiana is a natural for scientific discovery.
title
items - struct
ID 1978
VALUE Science on the Edge
tulanianvolume
items - struct
ID 1983
VALUE Winter 2008
FORMID 1976
PageID 147968

Tulane in the news

Tulanian Logo

Coast Guard

January 25, 2008

Alicia Duplessis
tulanian@tulane.edu
Photography by Paula Burch-Celentano

The “ding” of the elevator bell marks the start of another day working to save a precious little corner of the environment. Carlton Dufrechou (E ’78, ’93), executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, uses the ride up to his 20th-floor office to center his thoughts around the hundreds of details that are going into the foundation’s efforts from revitalizing the lake to developing an ambitious program combining coastal restoration and hurricane storm protection.

Carlton Dufrechou


Carlton Dufrechou (E ’78, ’93), executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

 

Lake and coast alike are encompassed in the 10,000-square-mile basin from which the foundation takes its name. The Lake Pontchartrain Basin is a system of waterways, forests, swamps, coastal marshes and barrier islands that incorporates parts of 16 Louisiana parishes and four Mississippi counties.

With 1.2 million people living in the immediate vicinity of the lake, it remains Louisiana’s most densely populated area even after Hurricane Katrina.

Just as the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation’s “Save Our Lake” slogan became a mantra around which to rally efforts to bring back the lake from near death in the 1990s, Dufrechou is hoping the foundation’s “Save Our Coast” initiative will similarly galvanize the public’s will.

His modestly decorated corner office is equipped with a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the New Orleans Central Business District. The window opposite frames Lake Pontchartrain as if it were a work of art, while a surfboard leans against the wall “for decoration.”

Squinting into the sunlight that dances through the window, Dufrechou points out that from his office you can now see aquatic grasses beneath the lake’s surface. To see the lake’s bottom, he says, was impossible a decade ago.

a bit of a renegade

Dufrechou says he didn’t plan on becoming an environmental guru. It just happened that way.

“My father was a Tulane architect and when I went to college that’s what I had planned to study,” says Dufrechou. However, influenced by the knowledge that an engineering degree could be achieved in four years of coursework compared to the five-year architecture curriculum, he figured that the engineering program would be a better fit.

The coursework itself would not prove to be so simple. “I never recognized the magnitude of studying that would be involved in engineering,” he confesses, with an I’m-glad-that’s-over look. (Though he may be a glutton for punishment, because he would later return to Tulane in the 1990s to earn his master’s degree in engineering.)

In 1978, Dufrechou emerged from his undergraduate study ready to take on the world. He credits his degree to many talented, dedicated and patient professors and “unique, wonderful and sometimes crazy” classmates who tutored him through junior and senior design courses. His ambitions were not unlike those of other 20-somethings — he hoped to be set financially by the age of 30 and then go back to school only for fun courses like wine tasting and art.

In time, external forces propelled him to make more pragmatic career moves. “Louisiana had a recession in the mid ’80s associated with a downturn in oil and gas activities. While I wasn’t doing oil and gas work, I was working in real estate development, which went down the tubes, too,” he recalls. “That’s when I was offered a job with the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers. I was truly fortunate to find an engineering job at that time in Louisiana.”

From 1986 through 1992, Dufrechou worked as a planner and project manager for the New Orleans district of the Corps. He remembers being a bit of a renegade with respect to some of the Corps’ practices.

“They’ve got some of the finest folks I’ve ever met, and it’s one of the few entities on the planet that can do such a wide range of work,” he says. “However, it’s also one of the worst bureaucracies on earth.”

The first project given Dufrechou as a member of the Corps was to develop a flood-control plan for a rural, farming area just above Alexandria, La.

He remembers being instructed to come up with a design before asking the local farmers — the clients — what was the problem they wanted addressed.

“I was told that we would develop the project in the office. It would be reviewed and approved internally and then presented to the public,” he says. In this process, the community would have little or no involvement. “This was completely contrary to how the private sector works,” says Dufrechou. It was all about process and little about results.

“Eventually, I was able to get to the area because it started flooding and the Corps was getting complaints from several congressionals,” he says. “I was sent up overnight. Finally, we were able to meet with the locals and learn from their firsthand experiences.”

not rocket science

The hydrology, storm protection and environmental experience offered by the Corps would prepare Dufrechou to vie for the position of executive director of the fledgling Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. Dufrechou notes that he always wanted to be part of a great endeavor and sensed this could be it. After presenting his resume, he was invited to interview with the foundation’s board and its technical advisory committee. After responding to numerous technical questions he found himself stumped by the final question.

“Why?” they asked. “Why do you want to do this?” Dufrechou admits he was more than taken aback. “I had prepared for technical questions,” he says.

It was his second interview with the group. Then 36 years old, Dufrechou glanced out of the window beyond the panel of interviewers. “I didn’t know what to say, but suddenly something made me invite the interviewers to turn around and look at Pontchartrain.”

“We’ve got to restore this body of water because it’s part of the community,” Dufrechou told them.

Having won the confidence of the board, Dufrechou took the helm of the three-year old nonprofit foundation in 1992. The lake’s health was dismal then. As early as the 1960s the mix of pollutants from urban, commercial and agricultural sources had grown to such unacceptable levels that “no swimming” advisories were posted along the lake’s south shore by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

The lake’s water quality was so poor that the state discontinued regular sampling of its waters in the late 1970s. Another Tulane graduate, state Sen. John Hainkel, began referring to Pontchartrain as a “cesspool.”

“There was no rocket science used to restore the lake,” says Dufrechou. The first step was to systematically identify the sources of pollution. “We dealt with stormwater runoff from the south shore, poorly treated sewage from the north shore, agricultural runoff and shell dredging.”

In the process, Dufrechou remembers getting input from a veteran commercial fisherman living on the north shore who offered his own take on technical topics such as nutrient overloads, dead zones and fish kills. “We really were not on the same page at first,” says Dufrechou about the fisherman. “I kept asking him to show us data and facts, but he couldn’t point to any technical journals or publications.”

But by the mid 1990s, when field data began to improve and computer models of the lake’s flow patterns became operational, Dufrechou says the science validated almost everything the fisherman had told him.

The fisherman was right on target, and the conversations Dufrechou had with him helped shape a core belief that continues to influence his work: all the technical know how in the world will fall short if it isn’t complemented with practical knowledge.

By the 2000, “the lake had cured itself,” says Dufrechou. “All we humans did was stop the pollution going into it.”

The lake is again swimmable. The redfish, speckled trout, pelicans and egrets have returned.

first the lake, now the coast

At 51, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Dufrechou is broadening his perspective and that of the foundation. If there was any doubt before the storm, it has since become clear that levees are not the end-all solution to the city’s hurricane protection needs.

Dufrechou gives equal or greater importance to the preserving and restoring of the natural barriers of the Louisiana coast. He believes the same strategy that led to the recovery of Lake Pontchartrain — giving nature a chance to rebuild itself by curtailing harmful human practices — also will be integral to restoring the coast. It is a sizable task that he says is attainable by changing the way people interact with at-risk areas.

pelicans


Pelicans are once again a familiar sight soaring above Lake Pontchartrain.

 

While restoring habitat will be key to coastal restoration, Dufrechou emphasizes that the first step is simply to do no further harm.

Few undertakings by humans have been more harmful to coastal areas of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin than the digging of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), a canal that was scooped out of 40 miles of coastal wetlands in the late 1950s and early 1960s at the direction of Congress.

The purpose of MRGO was to provide a shortcut for ships that would otherwise have to snake up 120 miles of the Mississippi River.

Unfortunately, the outlet also served as a shortcut for the saline waters of the Gulf of Mexico to flow into the brackish and fresh waters of the Pontchartrain Basin, an invasion that led to the degradation of much of the coast east of the Mississippi River and one of the state’s natural hurricane barriers.

“When the saltwater came in, the vegetation started to become more vulnerable, and anytime there was a storm or even strong wave action we’d experience more and more wetland loss,” says Dufrechou. “As the years progressed, the MRGO probably more than anything else helped accelerate the land loss of the areas east and south of New Orleans.”

In May 2006 testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Dufrechou likened MRGO to a “cancer, progressively eating away at coastal wetlands,” and pleaded with Congress to deauthorize the canal.

With the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, Congress has authorized the Corps of Engineers to close MRGO, and while that is an important milestone, it is only one piece of the puzzle.

Late last year, the Bush administration approved funding for more than 100 projects to help recreate a self-sustaining coastal protection system. They are the kind of conservation and water-diversion projects that the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has outlined in its multiple lines of defense strategy that integrates coastal restoration with engineered flood protection.

The “lines of defense” are both man-made and natural and include barrier islands, sounds, marshes, natural ridges, man-made ridges, floodgates, levees, pump stations, elevated homes and businesses, and evacuation routes. Restoring targeted habitat sites, such as swamps and marshes, is integral to recreating a self-sustaining coast and permanent storm protection for coastal communities.

In working to tack down the particulars of this strategy’s multiple facets, Dufrechou has not forgotten the importance of supplementing scientific data collection with insights gained from the people whose lives and livelihoods are most closely tied to these habitats. “The people who know the most about the coast are the folks who work it everyday,” he says. “I have the utmost respect for scientists and engineers and God knows we need more of them, but we’ve always got to check with the people who have lived and worked in the area.

“Ask the old fishermen. They know where the water goes, why it goes there and when it goes there,” says Dufrechou. “They even know the types of critters that used to be there. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s to listen to the folks in the field and try to pay attention to what they have to say.”


Tulanian
Winter 2008

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 website@tulane.edu