Big Changes Coming for the Gulf Coast

The National Climate Assessment (NCA), released last month, paints a bleak future for the Gulf states.  
 
Compiled every 4 years by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee and over 300 experts, the NCA examines the effects of climate change on the United States. According to the report, rising seas, increasing temperature, and decreasing freshwater are all set to destabilize ecosystems and communities in our low-lying coastal areas.
 
Louisiana has already lost over 1800 square miles of land over the past 80 years. Decades of land submergence from Oil and Gas exploitation, as well as sea level rise is inundating land at an increasing rate. Coastal wetlands are disappearing. These changes decrease coastal protection from storm surges, and put stress on fisheries. 
This is both an environmental and social justice issue. Marginalized people comprise nearly all of those most effected by land loss. The Native communities of Grand Bayou Village, Grand Cailou/Dulac, Isle de Jean Charles, and Pointe-Au-Chien have lost much of their land. With the land goes sacred places, healing plants, and ways of living. 
 
Sea level change will also impact water availability. High standing freshwater tables of coastal regions are particularly susceptible to degradation and predicted increases in population will further strain aquifers. In Louisiana, much of the displaced coastal population has moved north of Lake Pontchartrain, and is increasing the withdrawals from the Southern Hills aquifer. The report states that potable water availability will continue to decrease towards the middle of the century and beyond. 
 
The predicted increase in temperature will change the ecological landscape of Gulf States. Temperature increases will likely promote vector-born illness (diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks, etc.), and extreme heat events will further strain public health. Heat stress during the summer months may reduce crop yields. Furthermore, changing temperature will open the door to invasive species. 
 
The NCA does not forecast calm waters for the Gulf region. It will not be easy to adapt to our changing environment. We will need to seriously reconsider our infrastructure and emphasize the opinions of marginalized stakeholders who are already experiencing climate impacts. Maybe then, we can mitigate some of the damages the NCA predicts.
 
Philip Schoettle-Greene is part of the Water Resources program at GRN