State of the Beach/State Reports/LA/Erosion Response

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Louisiana Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access12
Water Quality74
Beach Erosion7-
Erosion Response-2
Beach Fill6-
Shoreline Structures6 3
Beach Ecology1-
Surfing Areas24
Website5-

Contents

Introduction

Erosion response is a measure of how well a state's policies and procedures limit the extent of shoreline armoring, unsafe coastal development, and costly beach nourishment projects. Evaluation of this indicator brings attention to the states that are taking proactive roles in natural beach preservation and natural hazard avoidance. Through the formulation (if not already in place), implementation, and strict adherence of the specific criteria within the indicator, states can overcome two fundamental obstacles to alternative erosion response practices outlined by the Oceans Studies Board (2007):

  1. A lack of knowledge and experience among decision-makers regarding alternative options for shoreline erosion response, the relative level of erosion mitigation afforded by the alternative approaches and their expected life time, and the nature of the associated impacts and benefits.
  2. The current legal and regulatory framework itself, which discriminates against innovative solutions because of the complex and lengthy permitting process that almost always considers these options on a case-by-case basis.


For example, are statewide oceanfront construction setbacks used to site new development and are these based on the latest erosion rates? When existing development is damaged during a storm does a state prohibit reconstruction or provide incentives for relocation? Before permitting shoreline stabilization does a state require: that there is demonstrated need via geo-technical reports with content standards; that alternatives to armoring including managed retreat/relocation are fully explored; and that potential adverse impacts and cumulative effects are taken into account? If a state can answer 'yes' to most of these questions then its rank is high and if the answers are mostly 'no' then its rank is low.

Also see the "Policies" discussion of the Shoreline Structures section of this report for more information on Louisiana's erosion response.

Possible quantitative measures for this indicator include the number of new structures located within setback areas, number of damaged structures reconstructed in identified erosion zones, number of instances where alternatives to 'hard' shore protection were employed, the number of shoreline structures permitted under 'emergency' provisions, and the number of permits for shoreline structures reviewed, approved or denied. We have found that such information is rarely available.


Policies and Guidance

In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, several legislative and regulatory programs have been advanced to address coastal hazard planning and hazard avoidance.

Repair/Rebuilding Restrictions

State Building Codes (Louisiana Legislature)

The Governor of Louisiana signed Senate Bill No. 44 during the 2005 1st Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature calling for the state to adopt the International Building Code, International Existing Building Code, International Residential Code, International Mechanical Code, and International Fuel Gas Code. The bill enforces a state uniform construction code for building constructed in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and to all building built or rebuilt statewide starting in 2007 (International Code Council). Prior to this legislation, Louisiana did not have a state uniform construction code established. Building requirements remained more of a local government concern but were not always enforced. Following the storms, insurance companies threatened to not issue policies without building codes in place.

Revised Advisory Flood Base Elevations (FEMA)

FEMA will require communities to adhere to the elevation requirements established by Advisory Base Flood Elevations (ABFEs) in order to be eligible for FEMA-funding for certain mitigation and recovery projects. Following major catastrophic events such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, FEMA can reassess the most current flood-risk data. The ABFEs are a result of such a reassessment. The ABFEs are significantly higher than the base flood elevations (BFEs) shown on pre-Katrina flood maps, and extend farther inland than the Special Flood Hazard Areas on the existing maps. A base flood elevation is the height, relative to the mean sea level, that has a one percent chance of being equaled or exceeded by flood waters in a given year. It is one of the key building standards required for communities participating in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

To date, ABFEs exist for Calcasieu, Cameron, Iberia, Lafourche, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne and Vermilion parishes in Louisiana. Additional ABFEs are being developed for four Louisiana parishes, Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines, protected by levees, including the city of New Orleans. FEMA is working closely with State and local officials, and the Army Corps of Engineers to analyze the situation and provide the best information for the four remaining parishes.

Beach/Dune Protection

La. Rev. Stat. 49:213.9

Certain activities on dunes prohibited; penalties; speed limits on beaches (Louisiana Legislature)
During the last assessment period, the Louisiana Legislature enacted La. Rev. Stat. 49:213.9 which prohibited certain activities on dunes located in the LCZ; authorized certain parishes to establish speed limits; to provide for penalties; and to provide for related matters. Unless operating under a permit issued by a state or federal agency, no person is allowed to willfully or maliciously cut, alter, break, or destroy a dune, or ride, drive, operate, or haul any motorized or mechanical vehicle except on public roads.

La. Rev. Stat. 49:214.7

Barrier islands and shorelines stabilization and preservation (Louisiana Legislature)
In 2004, Louisiana Legislature passed La. Rev. Stat. 49:214.7 to establish a program for barrier islands and shoreline stabilization and preservation. The secretary of LDNR shall establish a barrier islands and shorelines stabilization and preservation program within the Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Program. Each year those parishes with barrier islands and shorelines shall submit a list of barrier islands and shoreline stabilization and preservation projects requested for that parish. LDNR/CMD will review the projects and issue a priority list which will be promulgated and subject to legislative oversight. Funding is available through the Barrier Islands and Shorelines Stabilization and Preservation Fund. If funding is not appropriated in a given year, the barrier island and shorelines stabilization and preservation program shall be suspended until funds are appropriated for the program.

Local Hazards Mitigation Planning

State Hazard Mitigation Plan (FEMA)

The State of Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, with the assistance and cooperation of the State Hazard Mitigation Planning Committee, undertook the development of a comprehensive State of Louisiana Hazard Mitigation Strategy in 2004. The impetus for developing this strategy comes in part from the long-term commitment of the State of Louisiana to reduce the impact of natural hazards and in part in response to Federal law.

Louisiana Anti-terrorism Act (Louisiana Legislature)

Louisiana law provides mechanisms for the government to act and define the appropriate limits of that action. The Governor, operating within these parameters, pursuant to Executive Order Number MJF 2001-42 (“The Executive Order”), issued on September 21, 2001, established the Louisiana Domestic Terrorism Advisory Committee within the Executive Department, Office of the Governor to plan and execute a Louisiana-specific domestic terrorism threat and needs assessment; to develop based on that assessment, a three-year plan to enhance overall emergency response capabilities to terrorist events; and to direct the administration and distribution of federal funds to accomplish these objectives and to provide localities with funding to purchase equipment to support the state and local response to emergencies. The State Legislature has also moved forward to combat the terrorist threat through passage of important legislation including the Louisiana Anti-terrorism Act (“the Anti-terrorism Act”), Act No. 128 of the First Extraordinary Session, 2002.

Louisiana Coastal Hazard Mitigation Guidebook (FEMA)

To help the state improve siting and construction techniques and prepare for future storms, the Louisiana Sea Grant Law and Policy Program partnered with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, the Louisiana State University (LSU) AgCenter, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop the Louisiana Coastal Hazard Mitigation Guidebook. Designed for state and local officials along Louisiana’s coastal parishes as well as the general public, the guidebook addresses the hazard mitigation issues and needs of both rural and urban areas and demonstrates the cost-effectiveness and benefits of incorporating hazard mitigation into the earliest stages of development (or post-storm redevelopment).

Coast 2050

In 1998, the State of Louisiana and its Federal partners approved a coastal restoration plan entitled Coast 2050: Toward a Sustainable Coastal Louisiana. That document presented strategies jointly developed by Federal, State, and Local interests to address Louisiana's massive coastal land loss problem. For the first time, solutions were proposed to address fundamental ecosystem needs in order to prevent the loss of this natural treasure. By implementing the plan’s regional ecosystem strategies, it is envisioned that a sustainable ecosystem will be restored in coastal Louisiana, in large part by utilizing the same natural forces that initially built the landscape.

CPRA

Because of the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, in December 2005, the Louisiana Legislature restructured the State's Wetland Conservation and Restoration Authority to form the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). Act 8 of the First Extraordinary Session of 2005 expanded the membership, duties, and responsibilities of the CPRA and charged the new Authority to develop and implement a comprehensive coastal protection plan, including both a master plan and annual plans.

Prior to the hurricanes, safeguarding Louisiana's coast meant separate planning for hurricane protection and coastal restoration. Act 8 directed that the CPRA consider both "hurricane protection and the protection, conservation, restoration, and enhancement of coastal wetlands and barrier shorelines or reefs" and further defined the "coastal area" as the Louisiana Coastal Zone and contiguous areas that are subject to storm or tidal surge. In time for submission to the May 2006 legislative session, the CPRA completed its first assigned task - the first annual coastal protection plan for the state that integrates both hurricane protection and coastal restoration projects.

The CPRA is now established as the single state entity with authority to articulate a clear statement of priorities and to focus development and implementation efforts to achieve comprehensive coastal protection for Louisiana. The CPRA is working closely with other entities on coastal issues, including the state legislature, the Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration, and Conservation; the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA); and the LRA's Louisiana Speaks regional planning process led by Calthorpe Associates.

The Governor's executive assistant for coastal activities chairs the CPRA. Agencies in the CPRA membership include the following: the secretaries of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR); the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD); the Department of Environmental Quality; the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; the Department of Economic Development; the commissioners of the Department of Agriculture and Forestry; the Department of Insurance; and the Division of Administration; the director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness; and the chair of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration, and Conservation. Additionally, the CPRA membership includes two executive board members of the Police Jury Association of Louisiana and three levee district presidents from coastal Louisiana.

As charged by Act 8, the CPRA also established an Integrated Planning Team (IPT) to jointly coordinate development of the master plan with state and federal agencies, as well as political subdivisions (including levee districts). The IPT consists of senior staff from DNR and DOTD. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans District, has also assigned a senior staff person to the team as a liaison.

Utilizing extensive existing work as well as input from a wide variety of stakeholders, the Integrated Planning Team is formulating an overall master plan that clearly portrays the state's needs and desires relative to a sustainable vision of comprehensive coastal protection integrating hurricane protection and coastal restoration. The master plan will address these coastal protection efforts from both short-term and long-range perspectives. It will also incorporate structural, management, and institutional components of both efforts. Louisiana's Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast is the first document to completely incorporate hurricane protection projects with projects aimed at rebuilding Louisiana's rapidly eroding coastal wetlands. It is the guide for all coastal restoration and hurricane protection efforts in Louisiana over the next several decades. Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources will bear primary responsibility for carrying out plan elements relating to coastal wetlands conservation and restoration, and the Department of Transportation and Development will bear responsibility for the plan’s hurricane protection measures.

The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority's Draft 2012 Coastal Master Plan is based on a two year analysis involving some of the state’s best scientists as well as national and international specialists. The state used this analysis to select 145 high performing projects that could deliver measurable benefits to our communities and coastal ecosystem over the coming decades.

The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration (LACPR) technical report, prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), complements the State Master Plan by presenting detailed technical evaluation and comparison of outputs for those components within the USACE’s mission. The report advocates a "multiple lines of defense" strategy that involves using natural features such as barrier islands and marshes to "complement" engineered structures such as levees and elevated houses to protect property and people. The report also offers ideas for restoration, ranging from mechanically constructing wetlands to diverting sediment-rich river water to naturally rebuild marshes and mud flats. But some advocacy groups say the report, and the Army Corps' general approach to protecting the Louisiana coast, relies too heavily on construction of physical barriers like levees and too little on restoring natural systems.

The risk of a hurricane striking the coast of Louisiana remains high and a constant threat each hurricane season. During the last reporting period, four tropical storms and five hurricanes raged across the coast of Louisiana. In 2005, Louisiana residents witnessed two of the strongest storms to hit the Louisiana coast, Katrina and Rita. The storm surge associated with these storms devastated cities throughout the LCZ, impacting homes, businesses, schools, and recreational facilities. Boats were washed several miles inland, stranded on wetlands and were not able to be retrieved. Wells and/or production platforms toppled; petroleum and hazardous material containers of various types floated from their foundations; storm surges filled agriculture fields destroying crops; and pipelines broke spilling oil onto adjacent wetlands and water bodies. Primary residences and recreational camps at Grand Isle, Fourchon, Caminada, Rutherford Beach, and Holly Beach, as well as inland communities such as Lafitte, Empire, Cameron, lower St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes and the region south of Houma suffered major damages from the destructive forces of wind and water from the hurricanes.

The parishes of Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, and St. Tammany suffered extreme destruction when Hurricane Katrina swept across Louisiana. Flooding in the New Orleans and surrounding areas was expected, but the extent of the inundation was uncertain. Four breaches occurred along three New Orleans canals as a result of Katrina and lead to catastrophic damages. The levees were never designed to withstand a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. Katrina was later determined to be a Category 3, demonstrating that the levees could not hold up to a category 3 and its associated storm surge.

The Mississippi River delta plain is subject to the highest rate of relative sea level rise (3ft per century) of any region in the Nation in large part due to rapid geologic subsidence. The rising sea level and subsidence act to accelerate coastal erosion and wetland loss (USGS 2004). Coastal wetlands provide a necessary buffer for storm surge and a cover of protection around critical infrastructure such as levees and oil and gas wells and platforms.

Louisiana’s ecological, recreational, and cultural resources are at a high risk of loss and devastation. The reality of that statement was made clear when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the LCZ. Coastal Louisiana is home to over two million people, representing 46% of the state’s population. When investments in facilities, supporting service activities, and the urban infrastructure are totaled, the capital investment in the Louisiana coastal area adds up to approximately $100 billion (USACE 2004).

According to the LRA, preliminary estimates of financial impacts to the LCZ from the two storms are (Louisiana Recovery Authority 2006):

  • Property and infrastructure - $75-100 Billion
  • Levee restoration to pre-Katrina authorized levels - $3 Billion
  • Residential homes and personal property - $27-35 Billion
  • Businesses and commercial property - $25-29 Billion
  • Infrastructure including roads, bridges, utilities, and debris removal - $15-18 Billion
  • State facilities and public/private education and health care facilities - $6-8 Billion
  • Economic (gross state product through 2009) - $50-70 Billion
  • Government fiscal stability - $8-10 Billion
  • Estimated state revenue shortfall discounted over five years - $4-5 Billion (through 2009)
  • Estimated local city and parish government revenue shortfall discounted over five years - $4-5 Billion (through 2009)


Several Shreveport residents did their part to preserve the state's coast in December 2007 by recycling their Christmas trees instead of putting on the side of the road to be hauled to the landfill. ShrevCORPS, an AmeriCorps National Service program directed by Shreveport Green, partnered with Diesel Driving Academy, Allied Waste Recycling, the Caddo School Board and city of Shreveport to collect Christmas trees. The Louisiana Christmas Tree Program originated from a similar erosion-control technique used in the Netherlands. A Christmas tree fence is constructed in a shallow open-water area. Then the trees are placed into the pen. It provides an effective wave break that can reduce marsh-edge erosion and enhance water clarity, thus allowing more aquatic vegetation to become established. It also provides important reef areas for many fish and crustacean species.

Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act

The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (also known as the Breaux Act for its lead author, former U.S. Sen. John Breaux) has served as the incubator for the federal-state planning effort to restore Louisiana's wetlands, for new strategies and technologies to rebuild wetlands and barrier shorelines, and for major coastal restoration and freshwater and sediment diversion projects that will be built under other programs that will have much larger appropriations. The program will have received just over $1 billion in federal money and $178.4 million in state matching money through fiscal year 2010, and is expected to receive another $1 billion in federal dollars and $170 million from the state by 2020, when it is scheduled to expire. As of January 2010 the program had spent $551.6 million on projects, and had set aside $275 million for projects waiting to be built. In January 2010 $10.7 million for initial planning and design for the following four projects was approved:

  • LaBranche East Marsh Creation: Material dredged from Lake Pontchartrain will create 729 acres of marsh and strengthen 202 acres of existing marsh between the lake and Interstate 10 in St. Charles Parish, east of an earlier wetland creation project. The project is estimated to cost $32 million.
  • Cheniere Ronquille Barrier Island Restoration: Beach and dunes will be recreated between Pass Ronquille and Pass Chaland in southernmost Plaquemines Parish, using sand dredged from the Gulf of Mexico, at a cost of $44 million.
  • Lost Lake Marsh Creation and Hydrologic Restoration: Wetlands will be restored between Lake Pagie and Bayou Decade in Terrebonne Parish with material dredged from nearby Lost Lake. The project will create 465 acres of marsh and 26 acres of wetland terraces to reduce wave and tidal action, at a cost of $23 million.
  • Freshwater Bayou Marsh Creation: Some 401 acres of marsh that were damaged or turned to open water by Hurricanes Rita, Gustav and Ike will be rebuilt or strengthened near the Vermilion Parish coastline, using dredge material, at a completed cost of $25.5 million.


Also in January 2010 five projects were given the go-ahead to move to construction with approval of more than $105 million in construction money:

  • Barataria Basin Landbridge, Phase 3: Will provide shoreline protection along the west bank of Bayou Perot and north shoreline of Little Lake in Lafourche Parish, and along the east bank of Bayou Perot and east and west banks of the Harvey Cutoff in Jefferson Parish, at a cost of $20.5 million.
  • West Belle Pass Barrier Headland Restoration: Beach dune and back barrier marsh will be rebuilt on the western end of the Chenier Caminada headland, adjacent to Timbalier Bay in Lafourche Parish, for $42.3 million.
  • Cameron-Creole Freshwater Introduction and Vegetative Plantings: The taskforce approved only the planting part of this project, which will spend $1.1 million to rebuild wetlands in Calcasieu Parish.
  • South Grand Chenier Hydrologic Restoration: This project between Louisiana 85 and Hog Bayou in Cameron Parish is designed to reverse wetland loss caused by failed agricultural projects and saltwater intrusion from the Mermentau Ship Channel, at a cost of $29 million.
  • The Breaux Act task force also approved $13 million to restore the banks of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in Terrebonne Parish, after being assured that it could "borrow" money from projects awaiting construction and repay it when the program's fiscal year 2011 appropriation arrives.


In February 2010 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff outlined a timeline for six coastal restoration project proposals to be sent to Congress by the end of 2010. The detailed outline given to the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Restoration and Protection shows how the corps proposes to meet a Dec. 31 deadline for the reports. The six feasibility reports — one of the first steps in designing and building a project — are part of the Louisiana Coastal Area Program authorized by Congress as part of the Water Resources Development Act. The six feasibility reports include:

  • Multipurpose operation of the Houma Navigation Lock.
  • Terrebonne Basin Barrier shoreline restoration.
  • Small diversion at Convent/Blind River.
  • Amite River Diversion Canal modification.
  • Medium diversion at White’s Ditch.
  • Convey Atchafalaya River water to northern Terrebonne marshes.


Construction contracts were anticipated to be ready for advertisement as early as December 2011. Other projects will be ready to go to construction sooner because of $19 million in new funding recommended in President Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget. About $10 million of that money will go toward using material dredged from navigation channels to build marsh and wetlands. The remaining $9 million will go toward demonstration projects normally done to test new coastal restoration techniques. While steps need to be done, the timeline calls for the marsh building and demonstration projects to go out for construction bids in February or March 2011.

On May 22, 2012, the Louisiana Legislature unanimously approved the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, which will serve as the blueprint for all future coastal protection and restoration efforts in Louisiana. The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan is based on a two-year analysis involving some of the state’s best scientists as well as national and international specialists. The state used this analysis to select 109 high performing projects that could deliver measurable benefits to our communities and coastal ecosystem over the coming decades. The plan shows that if these projects were fully funded, at cost of $50 billion, the state could substantially increase flood protection for communities and create a sustainable coast.

As stated above, the State of Louisiana adopted and has begun to implement the 2012 Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, a 50-year, $50 billion plan that lays out a bold, ambitious, and essential vision for the region’s future. Funding for implementation of the plan is enhanced by the bipartisan RESTORE Act, which directs a sizable share of BP oil spill penalties to Gulf restoration. To supplement, refine and help focus these efforts, Changing Course is a design competition to reimagine a more sustainable Lower Mississippi River Delta, bringing teams together from around the world to create innovative visions for one of America’s greatest natural resources. Changing Course will contribute additional innovation, competition, and private sector engagement in time to inform Louisiana’s next coastal Master Plan in 2017. The competition will allow for a fresh look at the lower Mississippi River.

Louisiana is a member of the StormSmart Coasts Network, which is a place for coastal decision makers to find and share the latest information on protecting communities from storms, floods, sea level rise, and climate change.

Coastal Barrier Resources Act

The federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), passed in 1982, was designed to "minimize the loss of human life, wasteful expenditure of federal revenues, and the damage to fish, wildlife and other natural resources" by denying federal support for everything from sewer construction to flood insurance in undeveloped or little-developed coastal areas such as barrier islands. CBRA does not restrict development in these areas, but it indirectly discourages development by denying the use of federal funds for development projects or redevelopment after storm or flood damage. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers this program, which identified 1.3 million acres of coastal land to be covered by the act. Unfortunately, pressure by property owners and developers in these areas has lead Congress to pass dozens of exemption bills which exclude certain areas from CBRA, thus thwarting the intent of the Act.

The Coastal Barrier Improvement Act (CBIA) was enacted on November 16, 1990. The CBIA resulted in reauthorization of the CBRA of 1982. The CBRA establishes the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) to protect areas such as undeveloped coastal barrier islands. There is a discussion of CBRA on NOAA's web site that concludes:

"Although the removal of federal funding assistance has discouraged development in some coastal barrier islands, development has continued in other areas despite designation as a unit of the CBRS. CBIA is not intended to prevent or regulate development in high-risk areas; rather the intent is to direct that federal dollars not be spent for development in these areas. Activities conducted in areas adjacent to CBRS units may adversely impact these sensitive areas; these activities are not regulated under CBIA. In addition, CBIA does not restrict the use of private, local, or state funding within CBRS units. Some coastal states have initiated legislation that limits state funding of certain projects."

A report released in March 2007 reviews the extent to which (1) development has occurred in CBRS units since their inclusion in the system and (2) federal financial assistance and permits have been provided to entities in CBRS units. GAO electronically mapped address data for structures within 91 randomly selected CBRS units and collected information on federal financial assistance and permits for eight federal agencies. GAO found multiple federal agencies have provided some financial assistance to property owners in CBRS units that is expressly prohibited by CBRA; some assistance allowed under CBRA; and hundreds of permits for federally regulated development activities within the unit. GAO recommended, among other things, the four agencies that provided prohibited loan guarantees or insurance policies to CBRS units first verify and then cancel those that are in violation of CBRA.

On April 7, 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released to the public its Report to Congress: John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System Digital Mapping Pilot Project and announced the start of a 90-day public comment period. The report, which was directed by the Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-514), highlights the benefits of updating Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) maps with more accurate and precise digital maps to better protect people, coastal areas and natural resources.

FEMA has now developed a fact sheet on CBRA. The fact sheet outlines the responsibilities and restrictions that various programs within FEMA have under CBRA.


Climate Change Adaptation

Introduction

Plagued by some of the highest coastal erosion rates in the nation, Louisiana’s coast for years has been subject to extensive erosion mapping and monitoring, subsidence studies, and has dutifully served as a model for sea level rise inundation. With its mosaic of low-lying barrier islands and acres of wetlands, it has long been known that Louisiana is sinking, and sinking fast. The Mississippi River delta plain is subject to the highest rate of relative sea level rise (3 feet per century) of any region in the Nation, in large part due to rapid geologic subsidence. Combined, accelerated sea level rise and subsidence hasten coastal erosion and wetland loss, removing areas that provide natural and necessary buffers against storm surge (USGS 2004). A recent Times-Picayune editorial by Bob Marshall comments on the high rate of sinking in Southeast Louisiana.

An article published in The Advocate in February 2013 stated:

"Stunning new data not yet publicly released shows Louisiana losing its battle with rising seas much more quickly than even the most pessimistic studies have predicted to date. While state officials continue to argue over restoration projects to save the state’s sinking, crumbling coast, top researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have concluded that Louisiana is in line for the highest rate of sea-level rise “on the planet.” Indeed, the water is rising so fast that some coastal restoration projects could be obsolete before they are completed, the officials said. NOAA’s Tim Osborne, an 18-year veteran of Louisiana coastal surveys, and Steve Gill, senior scientist at the agency’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, spelled out the grim reality. When new data on the rate of coastal subsidence is married with updated projections of sea-level rise, the southeast corner of Louisiana looks likely to be under at least 4.3 feet of Gulf water by the end of the century."


Louisiana’s culture and history are intimately tied to its coasts, with over half the State’s current population inhabiting the coastal zone. Threatened disappearance of this area stands to adversely affect millions, as was highlighted in the 2005 hurricane season. The State has responded in recent years with promotion of coastal resiliency and hazard mitigation strategies, and as with the earliest days of coastal management, continues to pursue a wetland restoration agenda.

Yet despite these spotty initiatives and abundance of knowledge, Louisiana struggles to implement a more comprehensive and effective coastal management plan. Louisiana’s current strategy provides a lesson in paradox, as coastal managers pursue climate change adaptation in a state that barely recognizes the phenomena itself. Many of the proposed adaptation measures focus on resiliency of structures rather than other measures (setbacks, managed relocation) which might provide more long term effectiveness.

Climate Change

Despite the severity of accelerated sea-level rise impacts, especially in combination with high rates of coastal subsidence and the increased incidence of hurricanes, Louisiana has proven especially slow in directly addressing climate change. Louisiana remains one of only 6 coastal states lacking a Climate Action Plan, and additionally has no State Adaptation Plan.

Recently the State has begun embarking on new initiatives, including passage of the House Concurrent Resolution No. 93 in 2009 which established the Louisiana Climate Change Policy Commission (HLS 09RS-1464). Composed of 19 members, the Commission is charged with the development, maintenance, and implementation of a comprehensive state climate change policy. The Bill further requires the commission to submit an updated report of their work by 2010. Adoption of this Bill represents a critical first step towards comprehensive climate change adaptation in Louisiana. Especially important within the Bill’s context is recognition of climate change initiatives in a growing number of states, as well the vulnerability of Louisiana communities to projected climate change consequences such as sea-level rise.

Coastal Zone and Climate Change

The Louisiana coast is no stranger to the threats of accelerated sea-level rise and the increased risk of hurricanes; as early as 1981 the State Legislature established the Coastal Environment Protection Trust Fund, providing $35 million for projects to combat coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion, subsidence, and loss of wetlands. By 1985 the Legislature approved the Coastal Protection Master Plan, mapping a 10 year strategic program for dealing with coastal issues. In 1987 the Louisiana Wetland Protection Panel published Saving Louisiana’s Coastal Wetlands: The Need for a Long-term Plan of Action. The report represents a striking example of progressive beach management, calling for a revision to existing management schemes that tend to overlook the “big picture”. At the time of the report, no investigation had focused on a comprehensive solution to the issue of wetland loss. Management practices instead utilized a case-by-case approach, concentrating only on specific impacts and responses. The report was additionally progressive in the fact that it openly acknowledged the possibility of accelerated sea-level rise due specifically to the greenhouse effect:

“If projections that the greenhouse effect will raise sea level one foot or more in the next fifty years are accurate, the need for immediate action is much greater than previously thought. Global warming has not so far been an important factor in causing wetland loss in Louisiana. However, long-term plans should consider the rise in sea level that could occur in the next fifty to one hundred years.”


The Report further advised that “the possibility sea-level may eventually rise one or more meters is not a reason to give up…it is another reason to implement measures to restore the [delta]." Sea-level rise is a recurring theme within the report, with various tables summarizing the available estimates of global and relative sea-level rise rates.

Unfortunately the Report falls short when it comes to Measures for Curtailing Wetland Loss. While it does an excellent job of promoting restoration of barrier islands, wetlands, and marshes, it fails to even mention the possibility of managed retreat, shoreline setbacks, or other coastal development standards.

Adaptation

Coastal management and adaptation measures in Louisiana have seemingly been mired in 20 years of stagnation. Instead of comprehensive strategies, adaptation to both accelerated sea-level rise and increased incidence of hurricanes remains focused on addressing specific impacts, and as the Pew Center on Global Climate Change commented in a recent report, “the responses are often not comprehensive nor attributed directly to climate change”. Pew’s report, titled Adaptation Planning – What U.S. States and Localities are Doing, acknowledges that in dealing with hurricane-induced flooding, Louisiana has in fact created impact-specific plans/actions. While many of these actions do not necessarily aim to address or acknowledge climate change, they do focus on the current and long-term realities of hurricanes and sea level rise.

In assessing Louisiana’s Coastal Management Program, the Louisiana Coastal Management Program: Assessment and Strategy 2011-2015 found that few management efforts exist to address the problems of climate change, sea-level rise, coastal flooding, and hurricanes. For example, the state lacks any form of building setbacks/restrictions, methodologies for determining setbacks, or restrictions on hard shoreline protection structures, although there are restrictions pertaining to structure repair/rebuilding. Furthermore the document reports that no significant changes have occurred in any of these categories since the previous assessment. Currently no Louisiana coastal community is required by state law or policy to implement setbacks, buffers, or other land use policies to direct development away from hazardous areas, and thus far none have pursued such standards. Focus instead remains fixed on wetland protection and restoration, as set forth in such legislation as the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act. However, continued human presence in the coastal zone may thwart these initiatives, as continued use of man-made structures such as levees will prove to be necessary. In the long run, the only viable option for these coastal areas may be retreat, either managed or unmanaged.

An excellent resource championing managed retreat in Louisiana is Drawing Louisiana’s New Map: Addressing Land Loss in Coastal Louisiana (2006). While the book advocates managed retreat for coastal Louisiana, it also acknowledges the difficulties associated with implementation and acceptance.

Although Louisiana lacks any form of comprehensive climate change planning and adaptation strategies, some progress has been made since in recent years. The number of communities with mapped inventories of areas affected by sea-level rise, or the amount of data actually available, remains unknown. The State Administrative Code, Title 43 (which includes the Coastal Use Guidelines) makes no mention of sea level rise.

In 2008 the Presidents’ Forum on Meeting Coastal Challenges was held at Louisiana State University. Shaped as a series of seminars, the forum was designed to assist coastal parish and municipal officials in addressing serious threats posed by land loss, sea-level rise, and coastal storms. During the forums, parish officials expressed special frustration with the lack of planning tools they could use to bring about safer development. In response, the Louisiana Sea Grant Law and Policy Program commissioned a study titled Hazard Mitigation and Land Use Planning in Coastal Louisiana: Recommendations for the Future, determined the status of natural hazards land use planning in coastal Louisiana, and made recommendations for improvements to hazard mitigation measures. More information about the Presidents’ forum can be found in the Louisiana Sea Grant 2008 Progress Report.

The Forum additionally spurred the creation of the Louisiana Coastal Hazard Mitigation Guidebook (May 2008), which outlines strategies to reduce, but not eliminate, the risks from coastal natural hazards such as storm surge, other flooding, subsidence and sea level rise. The Guidebook encourages adoption of a flexible approach to hazard planning, noting that in order to thrive in coastal Louisiana, “we must be as dynamic as the natural environment by adapting to its rhythm and changes." Designed to allow such adaptation, the Guidebook also accommodates a wide range of attitudes toward restrictions on the use of property to mitigate hazards. Sensible development is further advocated as a method to mitigate natural hazards. Section 1.1.3 of the Guidebook is dedicated to sea-level rise, and additional chapters are dedicated to the role of coastal restoration and protection.

Chapter 4: Hard Mitigation Planning and Government Implementation highlights the need for hazard identification and mapping. The chapter is also important as it details the various loopholes and shortcomings of the State and Local Coastal Resources Management Act of 1978 (SLCRMA), especially criticizing its ineffectiveness in halting certain coastal development (primarily single-family homes). While the Report does praise the Coastal Management Division’s efforts to reduce coastal hazards through educational programs, it maintains that a more aggressive coastal management program will require amendments to the SLCRMA. In addition, it is noted that parts of Louisiana’s coastal barrier formations, including Grand Isle and parts of the Cameron Parish shore, are exempt from the restrictions of the CBRA because of habitation prior to the law being enacted.

Sinking land and Rising Seas Spell Trouble: Losing Louisiana was a three-part series of newspaper articles discussing sea-level rise and subsidence in Louisiana. Part 3 of the series was dedicated to coastal protection and resilience, and raised the issues of inaction vs. protection.

Louisiana Coastal Program

Although the Louisiana Coastal Program does not currently have sea-level-rise policies or initiatives specific to climate change, the DNR Coastal Management Division does maintain a Coastal Community Resiliency Web page. The Louisiana Coastal Program has, in fact, recognized the shrinking of its coastline as a major problem since the beginning of the program in the 1970s. Unfortunately, this coastal loss is driven by a number of interacting forces (i.e. subsidence, erosion, direct and indirect losses due to anthropogenic causes, accelerated global sea-level rise), making it difficult to address each factor individually.

Recently the Louisiana Coastal Program released the Louisiana Coastal Management Program: Assessment and Strategy 2011-2015, which ranks sea level rise and other climate change impacts as a “high level of risk." Acknowledging that “climate change, increasing number and intensity of coastal storms, and other natural hazards are putting more people and property at risk along Louisiana’s coast”, the Report signals an intent to develop education and outreach programs outlining a flexible approach to hazard planning. The document also identifies improved coastal resiliency and hazard mitigation guidelines, procedures and policy documents as priority needs.

The November 2009 Local Coastal Program Newsletter highlighted the recent initiative to redefine the Coastal Zone, OCM hosted coastal GIS classes, and Louisiana’s efforts towards coastal resiliency. The Coastal Program is also participating in a state/nongovernmental organization initiative entitled America's Energy Coast, which focuses on the restoration of Louisiana’s wetlands and long-term sustainability of the coast.

In mid-2009 Louisiana became a member of the StormSmart Coasts Network, which is a place for coastal decision makers to find and share the latest information on protecting communities from storms, floods, sea-level rise, and climate change.

Louisiana Sea Grant

The Louisiana Sea Grant program has played a major role in advancing the State’s commitment to climate change adaptation. Numerous publications, scientific studies, and discussions relating to climate change and sea-level rise have emerged from Sea Grant’s efforts in recent years. One such example is Louisiana Sea Grant’s Strategic Initiatives. The document address four issues identified as especially pertinent to state, regional and national needs: healthy coastal ecosystems, resilient communities and economies, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture and education and workforce development. Several goals have been chosen for emphasis within each area, and specific two-year objectives have been identified within the Strategic Initiatives Plan.

On January 20-21, 2009 Louisiana Sea Grant co-sponsored and co-hosted: Grand Challenges in Coastal Resiliency: Transforming Coastal Inundation Modeling to Public Security. The meeting was attended by academicians and personnel of state and federal agencies from all over the US. The goal was to train attendees to focus on coastal sustainability and promote collaboration between local and out-of-state experts to find solutions to critical problems associated with coastal protection and restoration in Louisiana. More information about the Presidents’ forum can be found in the Louisiana Sea Grant 2008 Progress Report.

Recently, Louisiana Sea Grant published A Strategic Plan for 2009-2013 (also see here). Shaped by several recurring themes, including the hurricanes of 2005 and 2008 and sea-level rise due to global climate change, the Plan seeks to address such issues as hazard resilience, sustainable coastal development, and restoring coastal ecosystems. Particularly important was the Plan’s acknowledgment of coastal wetland loss due to global climate change induced sea-level rise.

One of the Plan’s main focus areas is Hazard Resilience in Coastal Communities. This focus area openly acknowledges that increased sea level rise and number/intensity of coastal storms are putting more people and property at risk along Louisiana’s coast. Two main goals addressed within this focus area include:

  1. Goal: Widespread understanding of the risks associated with living, working, and doing business along Louisiana’s coast
    Strategies:
    • Investigate interactions among sea level rise, subsidence, and storm surge, including implications for saltwater intrusion, coastal flooding, agriculture, human health and safety, and cultural changes.
    • Develop models of successfully resilient communities, including contributions of community demographics, economic base, insurance coverage, building codes, education programs, heath care resources, fishery infrastructure, and development.
  2. Goal: Community capacity to prepare for and respond to hazardous events in Louisiana
    Strategies:
    • Facilitate implementation of improved land use and waterfront planning, building codes and disaster preparedness in Louisiana coastal communities by developing and distributing best practices information.
    • Understand, quantify, and predict impacts of both natural features, including wetlands and upland vegetation, coastal/nearshore morphology, beach dunes, and barrier islands, and man-made structures in providing defense against tropical storms and storm surges.


Coastal Initiatives Related to Climate Change

Although the following initiatives are not all necessarily aimed specifically at climate change adaptation, they are currently the only mechanisms by which Louisiana is pursuing some form of coastal hazard mitigation. As previously mentioned, these efforts focus overwhelmingly on wetland restoration and protection.

Statewide, efforts to reverse land loss due to erosion, subsidence, coastal storms, flooding and sea level rise are guided by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s Integrated Ecosystem Restoration and Hurricane Protection: Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, which was approved by the Louisianan Legislature in 2007 as the official strategy document for restoration of land loss in Louisiana. It was incorporated into the State of Louisiana’s Hazard Mitigation Strategy in 2007. This Master Plan was developed to coordinate the efforts of local, state, and federal agencies to achieve long-term and comprehensive coastal protection and restoration. The Master Plan presents a conceptual vision of a sustainable coast based on the best available science and engineering. The report also recommends improving the collection and management of basic coastal data in the State, as well as including a greater understanding of the net effect of sea level rise coupled with subsidence.

The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration (LACPR) technical report, prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), complements the State Master Plan by presenting detailed technical evaluation and comparison of outputs for those components within the USACE’s mission. The report advocates a "multiple lines of defense" strategy that involves using natural features such as barrier islands and marshes to "complement" engineered structures such as levees and elevated houses to protect property and people.

In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, hurricane protection, wetland restoration, and coastal community resilience issues were thrust to the forefront of coastal managers’ agendas. To address coastal hazard planning and hazard avoidance, the State has since advanced several legislative and regulatory programs. This fact sheet from the office of Louisiana Senator Reggie Dupre highlights Louisiana's top coastal accomplishments since Hurricanes Rita and Katrina.

Prior to the hurricanes, safeguarding Louisiana's coast meant separate planning for hurricane protection and coastal restoration. Act 8, enacted in 2005, directed that the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to consider both "hurricane protection and the protection, conservation, restoration, and enhancement of coastal wetlands and barrier shorelines or reefs" and further defined the "coastal area" as the Louisiana Coastal Zone and contiguous areas that are subject to storm or tidal surge. In time for submission to the May 2006 legislative session, the CPRA completed its first assigned task - the first annual coastal protection plan for the state integrating both hurricane protection and coastal restoration projects.

In 1998, the State of Louisiana and its Federal partners approved a coastal restoration plan entitled Coast 2050: Toward a Sustainable Coastal Louisiana. That document presented strategies jointly developed by Federal, State, and Local interests to address Louisiana's massive coastal land loss problem. For the first time, solutions were proposed to address fundamental ecosystem needs in order to prevent the loss of this natural treasure. By implementing the plan’s regional ecosystem strategies, it is envisioned that a sustainable ecosystem will be restored in coastal Louisiana, in large part by utilizing the same natural forces that initially built the landscape.

In August 2002 the America’s WETLAND Foundation launched the Campaign to Save Coastal Louisiana (also see here), a public awareness campaign designed to highlight the impact of Louisiana’s wetland loss on local, state, and national scales. Building on the interrelationship between climate, energy, and coastal resources, the campaign acknowledges the issues of sea-level rise, subsidence, natural ecology, and hurricane protection. In response to these issues the Campaign includes sustainable development and coastal restoration goals, as well as a range of outreach activities. In the future the Campaign also plans to hold summits on climate, energy, and the coast.

In September 2009 Louisiana Sea Grant, in coordination with Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida Sea Grants, published the Gulf of Mexico Research Plan (GMRP). The mission of the GMRP is to identify priority research needs for the Gulf of Mexico through broad constituent input and to implement strategies to address those needs. The GMRP ranked these research priorities, framing them within five overarching themes (listed alphabetically):

  • Ecosystem Health Indicators
  • Freshwater Input and Hydrology
  • Habitats and Living Resources
  • Sea Level Change, Subsidence, and Storm Surge
  • Water Quality and Nutrients


With regards to the topic of Sea Level Change, Subsidence, and Storm Surge, the GMRP defined the following research priorities: (a) determining and predicting the physical impacts of climate change on coastal and upland areas in terms of sea level change, rate of elevation change, shoreline change; (b) Examine the public’s perception of sea level change; (c) identify the optimal use and allocation of sediment and evaluate the rates of shoreline change; (d) determine how storm surge, subsidence and sea level change affect ecosystems, native coastal habitat, wetland composition … coastal flooding…; (e) predict socioeconomic impacts of climate and sea level change.

General Reference Documents

An informative publication is Ten Principles for Coastal Development (2007) by the Urban Land Institute.

The Coastal States Organization (CSO) has published two reports relating to climate change adaptation. The first is Coastal Community Resilience: An Evaluation of Resilience as a Potential Performance Measure of the Coastal Zone Management Act (July 2008). (No link to this could be found.) Developed by CSO staff and CSO’s Coastal Resilience Steering Committee, the document demonstrates the value of resilience to coastal management and offers concrete recommendations for enhancing resilience at the state and local level. The second document is The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs in Adaptation to Climate Change (September 2008)(PDF, 732KB). The report includes detailed results of a 2008 adaptation survey designed to obtain up to date information on the status of adaptation planning, priority information needs, and the anticipated resource needs of the coastal states, commonwealths, and territories.

In April 2009, the Heinz Center and Ceres announced the release of their Resilient Coasts - A Blueprint for Action, to outline steps to reduce risks and losses in the face of growing threats. The Heinz Center and Ceres produced the blueprint with a coalition of leading insurers, public officials, risk experts, builders, and conservation groups. The blueprint is endorsed by many groups, including The Travelers Institute, The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Wharton School, and the Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. The blueprint includes policy changes and common sense actions that could reduce economic losses from future storms and rising sea levels by as much as half along U.S. coastlines. The blueprint outlines specific recommendations, including: enabling planning for climate impacts by providing the necessary science and decision-making tools; requiring risk-based land use planning; designing adaptable infrastructure and building code standards to meet future risk; strengthening ecosystems as part of a risk mitigation strategy; developing flexible adaptation plans; maintaining a viable private property and casualty insurance market; and integrating climate change impacts into due diligence for investment and lending. The coalition urges the Obama administration, Congress, local leaders and the private sector to see that blueprint actions are implemented through regulation, investment, education, and other means.

In January 2010 the National Association of Counties released Building Resilient Coastal Communities: Counties and the Digital Coast which highlights many of the Digital Coast resources that counties use to address coastal flooding, habitat conservation and land use. More resources, tools and data are available through the NOAA Coastal Services Center Digital Coast website.

More recently, NOAA Coastal Services Center has developed a Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer as part of its Digital Coast website. Being able to visualize potential impacts from sea level rise is a powerful teaching and planning tool, and the Sea Level Rise Viewer brings this capability to coastal communities. A slider bar is used to show how various levels of sea level rise will impact coastal communities. Completed areas include Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, with additional coastal counties to be added in the near future. Visuals and the accompanying data and information cover sea level rise inundation, uncertainty, flood frequency, marsh impacts, and socioeconomics.

StormSmart Coasts is a resource for coastal decision makers looking for the latest and best information on how to protect their communities from weather and climate hazards. StormSmart Legal is a new addition to the StormSmart Coasts Network that provides information about property rights, regulatory takings, and permissible government regulation in coastal areas.

In December 2012 NOAA's Climate Program Office released a report Global Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States National Climate Assessment. The report was produced in response to a request from the U.S. National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee. It provides a synthesis of the scientific literature on global sea level rise, and a set of four scenarios of future global sea level rise. The report includes input from national experts in climate science, physical coastal processes, and coastal management.

NOAA's Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth website is organized into 10 chapters describing different elements essential for communities interested in implementing coastal and waterfront smart growth. By clicking on the individual chapters, you can get a description of each Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth Element, how this relates to the Coastal and Waterfront Issues, Tools and Techniques you can use in your community, and Case Studies of successes. Each chapter contains a navigation box allowing quick access to the information and the ability to download the content of each page. A 2012 report by NOAA and EPA on Achieving Hazard-Resilient Coastal & Waterfront Smart Growth presents ideas shared by smart growth and hazard mitigation experts related to building hazard-resilient coastal communities.

EPA has a website devoted to preparing for rising sea level and other consequences of changing climate. The premise of the Sea Level Rise Adaptation website is that society should take measures to make our coastal development and ecosystems less vulnerable to a rise in sea level. The papers on this site demonstrate that numerous low-cost measures, if implemented, would make the United States less vulnerable to rising sea level. This site includes (or links to) the material available on the agency’s Climate Change Impacts and Adapting to Change website and key reports from other government agencies.

Coastal Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities (USGS-NOAA, January 2013) emphasizes the need for increased coordination and planning to ensure U.S. coastal communities are resilient against the effects of climate change. The report examines and describes climate change impacts on coastal ecosystems and human economies and communities, as well as the kinds of scientific data, planning tools and resources that coastal communities and resource managers need to help them adapt to these changes. Case studies are presented for Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

In December 2012 the Lincoln Institute released Coastal States’ Climate Adaptation Initiatives: Sea Level Rise and Municipal Engagement (Working Paper). This paper explores how states and municipalities interact to address sea level rise, providing an overview of the state of practice, some reasons for different levels of action, and some of the needs of municipalities. It includes recommendations for ways states can provide adaptation support to municipalities.

Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience: Using the Full Array of Measures, (pdf, 1.2 MB) published in September 2013, discusses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' capabilities to help reduce risks to coastal areas and improve resilience to coastal hazards through an integrated planning approach. Federal, state, local, non-governmental organization and private sector interests connected to our coastal communities possess a complementary set of authorities and capabilities for developing more integrated coastal systems. The effective implementation of an integrated approach to flood and coastal flood hazard mitigation relies on a collaborative, shared responsibility framework between Federal, state, and local agencies and the public.

A good general reference site for coastal hazards is a Coastal Hazards website maintained the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, in North Carolina. This site has a substantial amount of coastal hazards information, including maps, photos, and a reference list.

In particular, see Saving Louisiana's Coastal Wetlands: The Need for a Long-term Plan of Action (1987)



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