Welcome to Hurricane Season

It starts with a little queasiness as the early storm predictions roll in, then a tinge of distracted apprehension when the Corps of Engineers give their update on the state of the ‘risk reduction system.’ Tax-free shopping for supplies on Memorial Day dries out my mouth a bit, but June 1st is when I really start to sweat.Now it’s official, we’re in hurricane season. And it’s predicted to be active.Likely this season won’t be as devastating as 2005, or 2008, but it’s hard to envision coastal communities getting as lucky as they did last year, when storm after storm formed, but never really threatened land. As a NOLA resident, the Corps’ assurances about the levees certainly help reduce the symptoms of ‘hurricane season stress syndrome’ or whatever you want to call this white-knuckle ride we’ve embarked on, but they aren’t enough. The system they built, with $8 billion spent so far, and another $6 billion in the bank to finish the job, only provides protection for 1 in 100 year storm events. As author and levee expert John Barry points out in today’s Times-Picayune, 100 year storm protection is far from adequate.One step that must be taken to make our city and our entire region more protected and resilient in the face of strong storms, global-warming fueled sea level rise, and BP-aided destruction of our wetlands, is to reverse the loss of our natural storm protection. Our barrier islands, coastal marshes and cypress swamps add up to very real ‘coastal lines of defense’ that help protect communities from devastating storm surge, while providing critical habitat for a wide range of wildlife. But as readers of this blog know, we’re losing them. Due to how we’ve managed the Mississippi River for dependable shipping and flood protection, and the impacts of unchecked oil and gas exploration and production in Louisiana’s marsh, we’ve lost nearly 2,000 square miles since the 1930’s.It’s not hopeless. We can put the Mississippi River back to work, rebuilding wetlands with the sediment that it carries, augmented by a number of other restoration techniques that have been developed. Unfortunately, the cost of doing this is anywhere from $14 to $50 billion. The Mississippi River flood we’re experiencing right now demonstrates a few pertinent points:The Corps can do things well, when they’re focused and funded;The river still can carry an enormous amount of sediment;The mouth of the river, and its management, is inextricably linked to a vast swath of our nation, demanding the nation’s investment. Shutting down the river to shipping costs the nation approximately $300 million per day! That number holds whether it’s a flood or a storm that shuts it down.As I watch the river dump tons of dirt into Lake Pontchartrain, where it won’t build land, and the Atchafalya, where it will, this wasted opportunity makes my stomach hurt. If we were able to have another floodway or two like the Atchafalya, we would be harnessing the land building power of the river, and making headway against our land-loss crisis. Instead, we’re watching valuable dirt wash out to the Gulf, while plans that have been developed to save this place remain underfunded and far from implemented. That includes the MRGO ecosystem restoration plan (that the Corps was supposed to roll out by 2008), and a whole suite of river reintroductions envisioned by Louisiana’s master plan for the coast. Similar to the muddy water rushing past our door, each hour that Congress fails to move forward with legislation to direct BP’s eventual Clean Water Act fines and penalties to Gulf Coast ecosystem restoration represents another failure for the region. With the fines totaling anywhere from $5 to $20 billion, these resources could jumpstart wetlands rebuilding, as well as the wetlands, seagrass and oyster bed restoration that needs to happen throughout the Gulf.So don’t just sit there, feeling nervous or sick to your stomach. Take action. Ask your members of Congress to help direct BP’s Clean Water Act fines to the Gulf. As a special ‘thank you’ if you do click through, we’re honored to be able to offer you Mirah’s beautiful song “NOLA” from the acclaimed Dear New Orleans benefit album. “NOLA” was picked as one of the 25 tracks to listen to from 2010 by LA Times music critic Anne Powers.Aaron Viles is GRN’s deputy director. You can follow him on twitter here.

Scroll to Top