Sediment diversions are important to survival of state’s coast

Regarding the July 3 opinion piece, “Sediment diversions not the way to rebuild Louisiana’s coast,” by George Ricks:

There’s a massive irony in the name of your contributor’s organization, the so-called Save Louisiana Coalition.

If we grant this group their central request, that we do not follow the State’s Coastal Master Plan to reintroduce the sediment and fresh water of the Mississippi River into its historic floodplain, instead of allowing it to continue to flow into the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico, coastal Louisiana is history.

I heard every argument possible against large-scale sediment diversions last month in St. Bernard Parish as commercial and recreational fishermen packed the parish council chambers to vent their frustrations at the chair of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, Garret Graves, and an assembled panel of scientists and experts.

There was a whole lotta hollering, a fair amount of swearing and full-throated opposition to Louisiana’s plan to construct medium and large-scale sediment diversions from the Mississippi River to build and maintain coastal wetlands for our rapidly eroding marsh.

Mr. Rick’s “Save Louisiana Coalition” did everything possible to fan the flames of the crowd (even going so far as to provide red, stop-sign shaped fans for their supporters), and their perspective was absolutely the most prominent at the meeting. The leadership of the coalition was also seen shouting down speakers they disagreed with, calling state-associated scientists liars, disagreeing with the sentiment that the Mississippi River built the natural resources we all rely on, and generally doing their best to bring out the worst from those in attendance.

Despite that, I think there was some value in the exchange — heated though it might have been.

The state heard clearly that:

  • The Caernarvon river diversion is a source of huge concern to the assembled fishing community, both in its impact, and its nonresponsive management by the state.

  • Nutrients in the Mississippi River (expected to cause one of the largest ever Gulf dead zones this summer) are a real perceived threat to fisheries.

  • Dredging is seen as highly preferable to diversions (and the state is paying too much to do too little in the master plan).

The fishing community in attendance heard clearly:

  • The diversions of the past are not the diversions of the future. Caernarvon was not expected to build land, and it hasn’t.

  • Sediment diversions won’t be in existence for at least five years.

  • The EPA and the state would like to see nutrients in the river reduced.

Of course, this is what we heard. What are the actions we can point to and show that we’re serious about tackling these critical challenges?

The state of Louisiana and the EPA have done precious little to limit phosphorus and nitrogen pollution in the Mississippi River. The state has actually tried to remove our coastal waters from the list of waterways that are impaired by nutrient pollution. Despite our lawsuit, the EPA has failed to set pollution limits for the primary Mississippi River states, the first step towards reducing nutrient pollution. While the state and the EPA said they care about reducing nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River, their actions prove the opposite.

The state also seemed to agree that much could be learned from the failed management (my words) of Caernarvon.  To give the affected communities more certainty, the state needs to make clear how their planned sediment diversions will be managed and why. The idea of mimicking nature, and only opening the diversions when the river carries the highest load of the most useful sediment, makes sense and needs to be communicated clearly to communities affected by diversions. Writing down an adaptive management plan, and including the community at the table when it’s being drafted, is a critical step to give those who use our coast some sense that they have a future.

Our future is very much in doubt. Climate change is real, and made worse by the burning of fossil fuels. None of our political leadership is interested in decreasing fossil-fuel emissions in any real way, though they are more than willing to seek federal dollars to help rebuild our coast. Unfortunately, the relative sea level rise we must deal with in coastal Louisiana is accelerating due to that unwillingness to act counter the interests of the fossil-fuels industries.

The state has a science-based Master Plan, and that’s a historic development worth celebrating. Unfortunately, without a willingness to tackle the hard issues of nutrient pollution and climate change, while engaging with coastal communities in a way that lets them chart their own future, I fear this entire initiative will fail, no matter how loudly we shout.

Aaron Viles is the Deputy Director of the Gulf Restoration Network, a New Orleans-based nonprofit organization dedicated to uniting and empowering people to protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico.

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  • Dr Trouts

    When a creature is cornered, it abandons rational behavior in favor of irrational aggression. I believe we are witnessing this reaction from the Save Louisiana Coalition (indeed an ironic name). The Louisiana CPRA has finally assembled a body of science and engineering which proves diversions are the best long term, cost effective implement we have against our disappearing coast. The diversion opponents have thus resorted to inciting unrest by spreading uneducated armchair assumptions and opinions through several local media outlets and in public forums. These folks seemingly are more interested in infusing anger in locals than in a healthy debate or discussion on how both groups could achieve goals together.It is quite interesting to note that at several of the Master Plan public meetings which I attended, in the same St Bernard chambers no less, that not one stood in opposition to the planned diversions during the plan’s formulation stages in 2011. Now that the Save Louisiana Coalition sees the writing on the wall and are backed into a corner, they are angry.

    Luckily, the State CPRA has seemingly assembled a coalition of their own: the residents of South Louisiana, who through multiple opinion polls have shown they are in favor of large scale diversions (by 3-1 margins or greater) even if it means the displacement of fisheries resources. Additionally, the State’s master plan has twice now been unanimously approved in 2007 and 2012 by the legislature. The Army Corps’ LACPR report (think the federal version of the coastal master plan) also includes large scale diversions as the restoration focal point. Even the Dutch have posted studies affirming that large scale diversions are the most sustainable and cost efficient means to restore coastline. It seems the general public, the local scientists and engineers, and the international scientific community are all in agreement. The money will soon be in state coffers. The time is now or never.

  • Screaming at each other won’t fix the largest environmental disaster in Us History, but these poor folks are feel damned if we do, and were all dead if we don’t. and NOW!!!

    My non expert logic or idea
    Fisherman are farmers.
    The feds often pay farmers not to farm to protect the land, and use other subsidies to keep milk cheap- Why not the same here?
    And don’t they often pay land owners to plant trees + the US and Canada governments through big $ to subsidize lumber/timer? WHY NOT FOR US? Use the same legislation they wrote for that, change the word tree, to oyster lease.
    That’s the yelling I want to see. Scream at them to pay for the Dead zone they dump and the pipelines they cut.


    Ken Ragas-Response to Dr. Trouts

    Your third sentence in your response includes “science and engineering which proves diversions are the best long term, cost effective implement we have”. It is my understanding that the final design has not been completed and is somewhat experimental in nature. Please explain how the final design will operate to utilize more sediment than was present in the suspended sediment load data presented in the M.A. Allison et al Journal of Hydrology 432-433 (2012) 84-97. Correct me if there is more recent sediment load data. The data in the Journal of Hydrology was based on the 2008-2010 flood years and presented 16 February 2012. All of the right people were contributors to that paper including Mr. Meselhe.

    Concerning the public input at CPRA meetings, were you able to attend the meetings held in Belle Chasse, La? The minutes of those meetings and all of the CPRA meetings held in Belle Chasse, St. Bernard and Baton Rouge are available to the public for their perusal. I have requested and received minutes of one of the Baton Rouge meetings. Louisiana has a sunshine law. At the last two CPRA meetings in Belle Chasse, opposition to the large river diversions was presented by many citizens and a land lost analysis was also presented for the area south of Ostrica, La. based on Landsat data. No CPRA meetings were ever held south of Belle Chasse on the west bank of the river, one was held on the east bank in Davant, La. The citizens of south Plaquemines Parish haven’t been properly informed about the 2012 Master Plan. Owning a PC and being connected to the web should not be a prerequisite to obtaining adequate information on happenings that will have a possible dire effect on ones life and lively hood. I am aware of the subsidence/sea level rise data and the situation of south PP land loss. Lets just be considerate and inform the populous so that they can properly become involved and give their input. I am from Buras, La. and my friends from the area would like be informed of the pro and cons of the 2012 Master Plan.
    The Dutch don’t have any rivers so they dredge very deep pits in the north sea and build 200′ cement walls around their country.
    Also the email polls don’t reflect the true public opinion since state employees all have PCs, the public is out numbered by those on the state payroll.
    Thank You

  • Capt. George Ricks

    In response to Mr. Viles’ article, Sir, I’m a little confused. First, you refer to the Save Louisiana Coalition’s name, implying that it is hypocritical, but who do you think wants to save our coast more? The people who live and make their living on the coast, or the governmental bureaucrats in Baton Rouge with billions of dollars in contracts at stake.
    In one breath, you support the use of large scale diversions and in the next you state that your group is suing the EPA for the pollutants in the river causing this summer’s record dead zone! Just another example of the hypocritical actions of so called”environmental” groups like yours. You are fighting to keep the dead zones out of the gulf, but see nothing wrong with dumping the same nutrients and chemicals into the Breton Sound and Barataria estuaries that are designated as “Esential Fish Habitat” by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
    You also stated that I shouted down disagreeing speakers at the meeting in St. Bernard, when in fact, I stood up and attempted to quiet the crowd so that members of the panel could speak. Your tactics and your statements are misleading, but expected. Our Coalition is raising a lot of questions that are just now being examined, but should have been addressed long before the Master Plan was drawn.
    In a letter dated June 26, 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration a branch of the United States Department of Commerce, sent a letter to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, expressing every concern the Save Louisiana Coalition has raised and more. Including that the CPRA has overestimated the sediment loads in the river, and that, along with predicted sea level rise, may prove that the diversions may not produce the amounts of land gain to justify the harm they will do to the resources.
    Mr. Viles, The Save Louisiana Coalition wants to save our coast, but as Mr. Garret Graves says, we don’t have 30 years to wait! Get the dredges started now, instead of billions of dollars waiting 30 years with experimental diversions that may not work. But, what is a certainty is, they will devastate a 3 billion dollar a year commercial and recreational fishing industry, along with the over 300 million dollars in annual State and local tax revenues that it brings with it.

  • ‘The leadership of the coalition was also seen shouting down speakers

    they disagreed with, calling state-associated scientists liars,

    disagreeing with the sentiment that the Mississippi River built the

    natural resources we all rely on, and generally doing their best to

    bring out the worst from those in attendance.’ Mr. Aaron Viles

    I am ashamed of you Mr. Viles.

    The scientist (Dr. Denise Reed, Ph.D. Geography, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom) that was called a liar stated on WWL radio “the new diversions will be 8 times larger than Caernarvonn”.


    I am sure that on her way to a master’s degree that she had to take some advanced math classes, or she must have learned basic math in the 7th or 8th grade.

    Caernarvon max rated flow rate. The proposed Braithwaite Diversions max rated flow rate is 250,000.00.

    250,000 / 8,000 = 31.25 not 8!

    Maybe Dr. Reed is not a liar, maybe she is inept or just made a mistake, you pick.

    If she was lying, the let her rest on her laurels and get out of the race.

    If she is inept, then her input should be ignored.

    If she made a mistake I say again Ph.D. Geography, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom. Come on give me a break!

    Mr. Viles, I leave you with those choices, the monkey is on your back!

    This blatant distortion of the facts and your defense of her statement will destroy any thinking man’s or woman’s faith in all of your remaining statements and observations.

    As far as debates, any time, any where. Come on Aaron, step up to the plate of back down.


    Mike Lane

  • sea of tranquility

    Wow, Ricks and Lane, a modern day Thelma and Louise duo. I don’t think either of you could have proved Viles’ characterization of unruliness or the poster “Dr Trouts” corned creature analogy more so with your comments.

    Mr Lane: are dueling opinion columns in a publication not considered a form of debate to you? It seems you only prefer challenging people in person to noisy, chaotic, intimidation matches. I also like the fact that you do not even deny there was shouting, disrespect, and cursing, but try to justify it through semantics of some scientist’s words. I find it funny the general public screams and hollers for the scientists’ opinions when something goes wrong, like when levees failed after Katrina. New Orleans levees were largely run by locals’ levee boards and when they failed, everyone wanted to hold up in court the Baton Rouge scientists’ opinions on failure paths. Now, the Baton Rouge scientists are run out the house when their opinions clash with those of the general public’s.

    It seems to me both sides should take a timeout and cool off. I tend to believe the state started with a large representative number (250k cfs, 300k cfs, whatever) to get the point across to the public that they want to look at large scale diversions. This is always how large planning-scale studies work in any engineering field. Now they are moving into design to refine their study. Basic research into the CWPPRA, Morganza to the Gulf, Industrial Canal Lock Expansion, or LCA programs prove that something funded for design still does not guarantee funding for construction. As an electrical engineer, I think it is safe to comment that as in any engineering study, multiple alternatives (think flow rates here) will be weighed, including a do-nothing alternative.Cost benefits have to be performed and shown to be above 1 for anything that passes through the Army Corps’ doors. It is similar to hurricane models’ “cone of uncertainty.” The cone starts wide, and is narrowed as more calculations are run. And Ricks…is it that illogical to think Viles’ group is suing the EPA so that should current or future flows enter the marsh, that they should be clean flows? I think outrage seems to have clouded your vision here.

    Everybody, cool down, examine both sides’ arguments objectively, and we can come to a beneficial conclusion for the community. It is easy to be a drive-by critic, but not so easy to actually crunch numbers and present a valid, scientific argument on either side. If dredging is cheaper, let’s see the numbers! Let’s see the stats! I think everyone would rejoice.


    Ken Ragas

    When the smoke clears (hopefully in a couple of months or years) what are we going to do if the large river diversion concept doesn’t come to fruition. We can’t wait for five years to see this thing play out. We need to do what is best for the state and country. Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes “are your back” Louisiana so lets move ahead with the other master plan projects. When BA-110 and BA-111 (Shell Islands restoration projects) are completed the tidal exchange rate will be restored to historical rates from Sandy Point to the most western barrier islands. BA-110 is in the construction stage. BA-111 hasn’t been bid out yet so it may be a good idea to elevated it to a top priority position. All tropical storms normally generate surge in Breton Sound because of the mechanics of these counter clockwise rotation systems. Consequently, protection from storm surge should exist on the east bank of the river north of Baptiste Pass to prevent surge from entering the river and move up the river as it did in hurricane Katrina. The Carrolton St. river gauge rose to 15′ during Katrina. This surge can threaten the New Orleans levees in a case of a slow moving storm like Isaac carrying higher wind speeds. During Katrina the Algiers ferry was partially floated onto the river side levee while the east bank river levee wasn’t overtopped; the source of the water came up the river. If hurricane Camille with it’s 200 mile winds would have taken Katrina’s path the west bank and points upriver may have been flooded by the river back flow. There was a east bank levee all the way to Baptiste Pass during Camille. The master plan projects such as ridge restoration and marsh restoration will play a big part in the restoration process if the large diversions prove to have a negative effect which is not economically acceptable. I think it would be wise to move ahead with these projects. A possible next step would to build small diversions to control salinity only. Bucket dredging of the old bayous and water ways would be a cheap way to add more structure to the now “Buras Bay” ecosystem. The bay bottoms of that area has not significantly subsided. Much of the marsh platform is filled in the deeper areas and is probably still there, most of it sloughed into the 60′ deep borrow pit canal which the USACE dredged in 1975.
    I think Plaquemines parish has plans for some type of east bank structure to combat surge from Breton Sound.
    Let’s run existing diversions in a way to help not hurt the abundance of wild life and fisheries that Mother nature has provided to Louisiana.
    Some things we can be sure of : the Mississippi River will continue to provide a dependable shipping route to North America, tourist will still expect the best seafood, and America will demand flood protection which cannot be achieved without levees.
    God Bless

  • GulfAaron

    Capt. Ricks – Sorry if it reads as if you personally were shouting down folks. I found your demeanor at the forum respectful and constructive. Other members of your coalition’s leadership however…
    As to your other points, I suppose we’ll need to agree to disagree. I see no hypocrisy in working to clean up nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River and supporting the eventual use of sediment diversions as a critical tool in our coastal restoration toolbox (along with dredges, pipeline sediment delivery, barrier island restoration and others).