It’s a fact the people of Louisiana have long lived with. We are losing our wetlands, our coast, and our land. The rate is astronomical, and so is the cost. So, with the release this month of a report from the Tulane Institute of Water Resources Policy & Law that explores community resettlement prospects for areas outside of the levee protection zone, a lengthy article in the New York Times Magazine about the developing Coastal Erosion Lawsuit, and developments last week in the lawsuit itself, its high time to talk about water.
Seeking to restore and protect Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, the Coastal Master Plan, first published in 2007 and revised in 2012, lists over 100 flood-risk-reduction and land building projects that if enacted could produce a sustainable coastline. While unable to completely mitigate centuries of damage, these efforts could very well save communities and industries alike moving forward. But who’s to foot the bill?
Coastal erosion, as we well know, is caused by a number of factors. Formed from sediment deposited by the Mississippi River, our coast is now disintegrating largely due to the dredging of canals and the damming of river tributaries. Early flood protection initiatives, like the construction of levees, has also contributed to the damage, and historian and former member of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority- East, John Barry has placed a share of the blame on Big Oil. The result is a lawsuit levied against 90 oil companies that seeks damages to be paid in the wake of aggressive drilling and dredging throughout the last hundred years.
Opponents of the suit, including Governor Jindal, sought to ban SLFPA-E from filing the suit this summer through Act 544, state legislation passed in 2014 that prohibits “state and local governmental entities from initiating certain causes of action,” but 19th District Judicial Court Judge Janice Clark ruled this Monday that the law as written does not apply to the eastbank levee authority, and she may further rule that it is unconstitutional.
As the suit progresses through the courts, there remains the very real risk of inundation and land loss throughout Southeast Louisiana. The Tulane Institute report suggests that even if the Coastal Master Plan is funded and completed, many families will still be forced to move from their communities because of ever rising sea levels. Those predicted to be hit the hardest by inadequate relocation strategies are disadvantaged minority communities who live in high flood risk areas, and, while the authors of the report acknowledge the need for voluntary relocation, they believe that policy-makers will shy from the subject out of fear of offending their constituents’ love of place.
For more information regarding our coast, please visit Losing Ground, a project of The Lens and Pro Publica that chronicles land loss through interactive maps, historical insight, and recorded testimonials.