Highlights from our expert panel on how to pay for coastal restoration (video)

About 130 people attended our Coastal Conservation Conversation event Wednesday night to hear experts discuss the challenges of funding the state’s 50-year, $50 billion coastal rebuilding plan.

On the panel:

Fox 8 News’ John Snell moderated.

Here are some highlights. The full video is at the end.

Graham: Oil and gas will pay for the coast, somehow

“I think it’s very difficult to see a future” without some kind of settlement with the oil and gas industry, Graham said.

Davis: Mitigation ‘is not a restoration strategy’

Davis said local government must stimulate private investment by being smart about how they build homes and roads and how they manage subsidence.

Graham lays out state’s plan to fund projects

Graham started off by explaining how much the state is spending to rebuild the coast and where the money is coming from — largely penalties and other payments from the BP oil spill.

Davis: We’ll have another chance to rebuild this city

When Snell asked why we should expect leaders to make hard decisions about coastal restoration when the city of New Orleans didn’t do so after Hurricane Katrina, Davis brought some nervous laughter with his answer: The city will “get another chance” to rebuild properly.

Closing statements


Full panel, start to finish


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About Steve Myers

Steve Myers was editor of The Lens. Before joining the staff in 2012, Myers was managing editor of Poynter Online, the preeminent source of news and training about the journalism industry. At Poynter, he wrote about emerging media practices such as citizen journalism, nonprofit news sites, real-time reporting via social media, data-oriented news apps, iPhoneography, and the fact-checking movement. Six of his 10 years in newspapers were spent as a local government reporter in Mobile, Ala., where he focused on local government accountability, from jail management to hurricane preparation and response. He can be reached at (504) 298-9750.

  • Chris McLindon

    The one question that is never answered – Kyle Graham says that they have implemented $13.2 billion in restoration projects already, and they may be able to get another $17.2 billion – what happened to the $13.2? What are the results of the coastal restoration effort and all the money that has been spent to date? The reason the question is never asked is that the money was all wasted. Nothing has been restored, no enhanced flood protection has been provided to anyone.

    The entire premise of the coastal restoration movement is to attempt to push back against the natural processes of delta abandonment in order try to restore the coast to something it was in the past. Natural processes don’t move backwards. The river is in the process of changing course. The wetlands of southeast Louisiana are going to follow the natural progression from marsh to open water that all previous abandoned deltas have followed. There is absolutely nothing we can do to affect those natural processes.

    If there is a valid project for which to seek funding, it will be one that promotes public awareness of the realities of subsidence and sea level rise in a coastal floodplain.

  • Polonius Monk

    Close. But not quite.

    The river isn’t going to change course. There are levees and other control systems in place that will prevent that from happening naturally. If nothing is done, the Mississippi River will remain where it is, but the sediment that flows from the north will continue to drop off the continental shelf into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a lose-lose situation for everything and everyone — The ecosystem, and the people who depend upon it.

    While it is true that if our nation hadn’t approved a “levees only” policy the Mississippi would like be flowing closer to (or be?) the Atchafalaya, that’s not what happened. Control structures have been in place to prevent that for over 150 years. So let that idea go — As it stands, the delta is dead (with the exception of some outward growth at the mouth of the Atchafalaya).

    So, what can be done?

    1.) Diversions.

    Before we walled off the Mississippi from its surrounding ecosystem, annual flooding (and general flow to a lesser extent) dispersed sediment into the wetlands of southeast Louisiana. Diversions are essentially engineered breaks in the levee that reconnect the river with its environment, sustaining existing land and hopefully building new land (while counteracting subsidence). Here is one article about diversions: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121021133913.htm

    In essence, diversions will do what you speak of — Restore natural processes. No, these processes won’t be moving backward, nor will they be moving forward in a natural way. In essence, we’d be freezing time — Not allowing the delta to shift (which we’re already doing) while replenishing the land that has been lost because we cut the river off from that which surrounds it. It’s a funny situation — it’s sort of corrective time travel, or perhaps more accurately, corrective engineering. Mistakes were made. A commercial city was built in an area that wasn’t permanent. And people, understandably so, fought to make it permanent by ensuring the river still flows through it, while protecting inhabitants of the city — this backfired.

    It’s important to remember though, that all the cities along the Mississippi — from cities in Minnesota to Missouri to Arkansas all the way down to Louisiana — have taken these same measures. It’s part of why our sediment load is decreased down here, because just about everyone, everywhere wants to live by water without the natural effects of living near water — which requires levees and dams and various flood control structures that disrupt natural flow. We just happen to be at ground zero given our other circumstances.

    But, the city here is great, as are the coastal towns that surround it. So we can either accept our natural/unnatural fate, or start investigating natural/unnatural ways to save our coast. Diversions are one possible solution.

    2.) Public Education.

    Diversions are widely misunderstood. Hence they are opposed by numerous factions … And perhaps rightfully so in some cases. However, while in the short-term diversions may impact communities and fishing operations within and around them, those communities and the conditions supporting current fishing operations will likely cease to exist in the long-term if nothing is done. In short, instead of moving fishing operations outward, these operations will be forced to move inward as land (and communities) disappear. If I may be glib and perhaps not entirely factual for a moment, you’ll be fishing outside of the French Quarter as opposed off the shores of Jefferson, Plaquemines or St. Bernard parishes.

    Does this mean diversions are the one and only answer? No. Does it mean they will undoubtedly build all of the glorious land we yearn to replace here in Louisiana? No. Will they likely help to combat land loss? Yes.

    There are so many studies on diversions. The problem is interpreting them … It is easy to take a study, say, on the lack of sediment coming down the Mississippi due to dams and control structures upstream, and decide diversions won’t work. It’s particularly easy to decide that if you already have doubts and apprehensions concerning the impacts of diversions.

    There needs to be a full picture presented to the public. Because what you say is somewhat true … The river would be jumping course naturally if we hadn’t manipulated it for hundreds of years. And yes, the land along the coast is subsiding, at an alarming rate. And let’s throw sea level rise into the mix too. It’s overwhelming! But if we love Louisiana, we have to find a way to at least preserve what we can … And part of that is transparency with the public and providing facts in a comprehensive way — Whether that be on diversions or other coastal restoration methods. Without that, there will be opposition and doubt toward whatever measures are taken, and potential solutions will be lost.

    3.) Oil and Gas

    No … That’s not a solution, it’s largely the problem. No idea how to tackle that issue in a state with a long history of politicians being bought and sold by the industry. But oil and gas — Those pipelines cut through our wetlands, the extraction of oil exacerbating subsidence — all of it, it’s terrible for us. Just plain terrible.

    4.) Plan for the Future.

    Yup! To use your words: “promote public awareness of the realities of subsidence and sea level rise in a coastal floodplain.” Yeah, we need to do that. Because we’re running out of options here, FAST.

  • Guest

    @Polonius Monk,
    The river is currently being forced to flow down what would otherwise be an abandoned channel, but that does not mean we have it under control. The current bored a hole under the Old River Structure in 1973 and nearly took it out. The Morganza Spillway was opened for the first time in that flood, and then again in 2011. The 2011 flood reached 85% of system capacity. The Corps was able to open the Spillway to relieve pressure only because the Red was not in flood stage at the same time. Had it been, that could have been the event that allowed the river to follow its natural course.
    Regardless of the forced diversion of flow into the Mississippi channel, there is a valid scientific argument that for the purposes of building land, the river has already changed course. While the dispersal of sediment into the marsh by annual flooding, as you describe it, is important to sustaining existing freshwater marsh, new land is built by the sediment carried in the bed load of the river. This study by the Corps of Engineers leads to the inescapable conclusion that they have no idea how much of the bed load sediment is going down the Atchafalaya relative to the Mississippi, and estimates range as high as 70%.


    It would make perfect sense that if 70% of the bed load sediment of the Mississippi system is going down the Atchafalaya, and the outlets at the mouth of the river and the Wax Lake Diversion are allowed to build obstructing mouth bars, that is where new land is being built, as shown in green on the USGS Land Area Change Map in the attached figures.

    There is no green around any of the natural or artificial openings in the Mississippi Delta. No significant new land has been built there in decades. The sediment is not “dropping off the continental shelf”, in fact almost no sediment makes it to the mouth of the river. Engineered or natural breaks in the river are not adequate to build new land as long as they do not have access to the bed load portion of the rivers sedimentary load. No diversions are planned that will divert bed load sediments, as Wax Lake does. They are all designed to try to build land using only the suspended sediments carried in the water. No significant new land has ever been built by suspended sediments.

    The USGS Map also shows the very significant effect that diversions do have. The purple color patches, indicating land loss over the past decade are all concentrated around the mouth of the Caenarvon Diversion. It is unquestionably the single biggest cause of land loss in the past 30 years.
    The rest of the land loss shown as red, yellow and orange patches can all be directly tied to the natural forces of subsidence that have been active for millions of years. The upper map in the figure is the rate of subsidence in millimeters per year as measured by Dr. Roy Dokka at LSU. There is an obvious fit between the areas of maximum subsidence and the areas of maximum land loss

    Subsidence is the reason there are miles of accumulated sediment underlying the coast, and it is the reason that coastal wetlands are following the natural progression from marsh to open water that all of the buried sedimentary deposits did. Subsidence is due to overwhelming geophysical forces, and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

    How is city “smart” by building its economy on alcohol, gambling and FREE LUNCH parties and festivals?

    Just look at the economy….public intoxication, alcohol, parties, i.e. The Big Easy?

    Is public intoxication, alcohol, parties, Bar Hopping Second Lines, MARKETABLE GLOBALLY?

  • Tac Carrere

    Very well put Mr Monk

  • nickelndime

    Is Steve Murchie related to Guy Murchie who wrote, “The Seven Mysteries of Life” (1999)? I would be impressed!

  • Fish Homes

    Mr. Graham tends to mingle where the funds he speaks about comes from. The $13.2 billion he references is the money the federal government has paid in building the New Orleans Hurricane Protection.

  • Fish Homes

    Science has shown that the delta was declining before the first levee was ever built. Tearing down the levees would not accomplish much. Want proof, go look at the Ft. Saint Phillips Crevasse, there are no levees in the area and the water has been flowing for 50 years, so where is the building delta in the area? Science shows that the area has experience a 48 percent loss in marsh habitat.

  • Chris McLindon

    The number shocked me because it is much higher than anything I had heard before. Regardless of whether it is $13 billion or $1 billion spent on coastal restoration, the results have been the same.

  • nickelndime

    While Southeast Louisiana drowns, all of us can either kick ourselves in the pants, blame the federal, state, and local politicians we have elected, do something environmental – but what?, stay in the state but move to higher ground, move to another state that doesn’t really need flood insurance (and gawd knows all the insurance costs that will be eliminated with that exit out of Loui$iana!), or move to another country. Oh, I forget that last option is reserved for our Louisiana legislators and their families because they have stolen all of our hard earned cash to feather their own nests. And now, we have the President of the U.S. signing off on drilling on the eastern seaboard (oh alright, he didn’t do this alone). Then southeast Louisiana and the eastern seaboard will be “in the same boat,” figuratively speaking.