Monday, February 3, 2014

The Disappearing of Louisiana, Part 3: Paradise Faded: The Fight for Louisiana




Part 1: Stumbling on History
Part 2: Water Words



This 2007 documentary by Jared Arsement hammers in four solid messages:
  1. South Louisiana is a strategic location for the reliable production and delivery of oil and gas to the United States, for fresh- and saltwater fishing, the export of midwestern agricultural products, and for the mitigation of weather-related disasters. 
  2. Louisiana is literally disappearing into the sea, being subsumed by the Gulf of Mexico.
  3. The disappearance of Louisiana results in the loss of people's land, homes, livelihoods, and the protection of major population centers from storms.
  4. There are remedies to stop the disappearance, but there is insufficient political will to do so

Notes from the documentary: 

Every grain of soil that created the land mass we call Louisiana came from the American east and midwest.

Before 1927, the Mississippi River was like a hose filled with water that moves from side to side, distributing water and silt in a wide swath. 

Louisiana was a by-product of natural flooding.

Since 1927, instead of distributing the sediment throughout Louisiana, it all goes straight to the Gulf of Mexico. (This is because the Mississippi River was channelized.)

Between 1932 and 2000, Louisiana lost nearly 2000 square miles of wetlands. This is the size of Delaware.

Note: My understanding is that as it pertains to Louisiana, the "loss of wetlands" does not mean that there is still land where there used to be wetlands, and that it's just a different quality of land. My understanding is that there is no land, period. It is underwater. Hopefully someone will correct me if I'm mistaken.


Coastal Louisiana. Land loss/gain 1932-2050. Credit: USGS

Note: The red in the graphic above = land lost between 1932 and 2000. Light gray = land gained. Yellow = projected land loss by 2050. Green is projected land gain by 2050.

In the 1950s and 60s, thousands of miles of canals were dredged to accommodate the oil and gas pipeline needs. It likely was not known at that time that the canals would widen because of the dredging, which created deeper and straighter paths for fast water to travel, resulting in bank erosion and channel deepening, which made the canal deeper and wider, which enabled faster water, which ....


Southeast Louisiana. Land loss 1932-2050. Credit: USGS


 A system disintegrated: 

In the past, natural barriers protected Louisiana from the worst of storm destruction: 
  1. Front line defense: Barrier (or channel) islands -> drowning in the Gulf
  2. Second line of defense: Wetlands --> drowning via erosion and invasion of Gulf waters
  3. Third line of defense: Levees --> by themselves, they aren't plentiful enough, stable enough, or high enough to protect people and infrastructure

How do they help? 

Barrier (or channel) islands are like speed bumps - they slow the progress of a tropical storm. 
Barrier islands are narrow strips of land that parallel the coastline and consist of a variety of fine sediments and particulate matter. A barrier island is separated from land by a shallow bay or lagoon and can stretch for tens of miles.
Barrier islands are narrow strips of land that parallel the coastline and consist of a variety of fine sediments and particulate matter. A barrier island is separated from land by a shallow bay or lagoon and can stretch for tens of miles. Source: Rockbandit.

Barrier islands are narrow strips of land that parallel the coastline and consist of a variety of fine sediments and particulate matter. A barrier island is separated from land by a shallow bay or lagoon and can stretch for tens of miles.
How barrier islands protect mainland. Source: University of Texas.



In turn, the wetlands suck energy from the storm by:
  • Reducing wind speed; and 
  • Adding friction to the surge, slowing it and weighing it down


From article in Times-Picayune. Graphic credit: SE Louisiana Flood Protection District


2.7 miles of wetlands can reduce storm surge by one foot. 

The levees protect people and property (if the islands and wetlands are there to do their part).


Remedies

Talking heads in the documentary cited: 

  • Small and large diversions from the Mississippi River channel as it drops through Louisiana (to recapture sediment that is otherwise dumped through into the Gulf) - this would maintain and rebuild land. 
  • Opening and closing channel gates using the Dutch model of flood management 
  • Restoration of barrier and channel islands

Henry Hub

Henry Hub is in/near the small town of Erath, Louisiana.

To illuminate the strategic importance of Louisiana's geological stability, the documentary noted the Henry Hub, place where natural gas prices are set.

From investopedia
A natural gas pipeline located in Erath, Louisiana that serves as the official delivery location for futures contracts on the NYMEX. The Henry Hub is owned by Sabine Pipe Line LLC and has access to many of the major gas markets in the United States. As of June 2007, the hub connects to four intrastate and nine interstate pipelines, including the Transcontinental, Acadian and Sabine pipeline.

The Henry Hub pipeline is the pricing point for natural gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The NYMEX contract for deliveries at Henry Hub began trading in 1990 and are deliverable 18 months in the future. The settlement prices at the Henry Hub are used as benchmarks for the entire North American natural gas market.



The take-away 

In addition to defining the issues, the documentary made these clear arguments for the fixes:
  • Louisiana has the knowledge, experience, and technology to freeze or roll back the disappearing of Louisiana. 
  • Louisiana doesn't have the money to do it. 
  • At the time the movie was made (2007), there wasn't the national political will to help Louisiana do it. 

Louisiana argues that this is not a Louisiana emergency - it is a national emergency.


Related posts

Disappearing Louisiana, Part 1: Stumbling on History
Disappearing Louisiana, Part 2: Water Words
Disappearing Louisiana, Part 3: Paradise Faded: The Fight for Louisiana
Disappearing Louisiana, Part 4: Revetments, Rip-rap, and Other Exotica
Disappearing Louisiana, Part 5: The Control of Nature: Atchafalaya





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