Time Running out to Save Gulf Coast Communities?

The wetlands and barrier islands of Louisiana -- nature's way of absorbing tidal surges during tropical storms -- are almost gone. We may not be able to restore them.
October 13, 2008, 10am PDT | Michael Dudley
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"[The] wetlands and barrier islands that once formed the southern fringe of Louisiana have...vanished: 1,900 square miles since the 1930s, an area the size of Delaware, all gone. And it's getting worse. These days the Louisiana coast -- one of the most productive in the country -- is among the fastest-disappearing regions on Earth, dissolving into the Gulf of Mexico at the terrifying rate of 25 to 35 square miles a year.

This is extremely serious, particularly for the Cajun, French-Indian and other coastal communities that have been shrinking alongside the coast. But it is also deeply unnatural, the handiwork of all kinds of efforts to extract as much as possible from the region. The oil companies bear much of the blame since they were the ones that spent the last eight or so decades drilling and dredging the life out of the coast. But the levees and dams that tamed the Mississippi River -- and rerouted the silt that once sustained the coast -- also deserve credit. Together they have left the coast in such tattered shape that storms that might have caused minimal flooding several decades ago became surge-spewing bruisers.

[T]here are ways to patch the holes in the wetlands -- solutions like diverting rivers, and harvesting sediment and redistributing it across the ragged edges of the barrier islands and coast. But all of this requires the kind of massive, coordinated government effort -- and money -- that has yet to materialize. And unless this happens soon, unless government gets serious within the next eight or nine years, 'it will be too late,' warned [Kerry St. Pé, program director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, an environmental group charged with restoring and protecting some of Louisiana's most vulnerable wetlands]. 'It's already too late for many communities.'"

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Published on Thursday, October 9, 2008 in AlterNet
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