BATON ROUGE, LA – The saying, “nothing remains constant except change itself,” could have been the theme of the Coastal Wetland Communities Leadership Forum hosted by the America’s WETLAND Foundation (AWF) in partnership with and sponsored by BHP on August 29, 2018, at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. That sentiment runs through the Forum’s a findings report released today; thinking in generational timelines will create better benchmarks for coastal Louisiana and other coastal communities, as future decisions turn to adaptation or retreat.
Devastating flooding in the Carolinas associated with Hurricane Florence emphasizes the costs associated with a failure to adapt to ecosystem changes and are more pronounced with each storm and climate event. In 2012, the North Carolina Legislature passed a bill barring policymakers and developers from using up-to-date climate science to establish rising sea levels in resiliency planning for the state’s coast
In Louisiana, the national trend toward adaptation is not seen as an option by the coastal leaders who recently gathered there, but as a requirement for human habitation. In North Carolina, a period of resiliency initiatives to react to this storm will now have to be followed quickly with adaptation measures based on a new norm if populations wish to avoid an era of retreat from the region.
The report follows the groundbreaking Blue Ribbon Resilient Communities series of Gulf Coast forums convened by AWF seven years ago, the first of their kind nationally in 2011 and 2012.The earlier forums relied on data from a comprehensive study by zip code of likely coastal hazards as a result of climate change leading to sea level rise. The recent convening retraces the findings of the resiliency sessions and calls for adaptation or actions to adjust to the new norm of coastal land loss. The state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s 2017 coastal master plan shows that previous worst-case scenarios of projected coastal land loss have become the best projections today.
The Honorable Gordon “Gordy” Dove, President, Terrebonne Parish said, “We have no choice in adapting to the changes in our landscape,” and reminded the 60-plus coastal leaders that Terrebonne Parish taxed its residents to pay for coastal protection. “These actions demonstrate adapting to change which our voters recognized and willed as protection for their future and future generations,” Dove said.
Key new findings in the report include:
Moving from Resiliency to Adaptation
Coastal stakeholders at the forum presented their views on absorbing coastal challenges with resiliency plans and how the transition to adaptation is the only logical choice for the million-plus residents of the region’s coastal zone. The venue at Nicholls State University helped focus on a new generation who will ultimately design the “new normal” and manage life’s daily arrangements for living in an at-risk environment.
Recovering Ecosystem Assets in Large-Scale Flood Management
Today, ecosystem benefits are present within some levee structures where saltwater intrusion is abated. A refreshed discussion among Parish leaders and coastal scientists is emerging about adaptation strategies and how biodiversity is being restored with the new system in place. This finding suggests because of structural resiliency, adaptation is now possible in the coastal zone with Morganza-to-the-Gulf as a case in point.
Bouncing Forward is Adaptation Hallmark for Future Generations
LSU Sea Grant’s Dr. Robert Twilley described, “bouncing forward” as a deeper consideration of integrated coastal ecosystem and protection design; the ecosystem is considered in tandem with infrastructure projects, again citing Morganza as an example now of what can be achieved if this approach is taken. With an estimated $10 billion to be spent on coastal restoration in the coming years, the opportunities for coastal design excellence have never been greater.
Louisiana Coastal Exchange – Creating Incentives for Private Sector Restoration
A new way for the private sector to opt-in and invest in coastal restoration is seen as key to adaptation. The Louisiana Coastal Exchange (LCX) being launched this fall by AWF is an inventory and reporting of privately funded coastal projects and research efforts in coastal Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast in partnership with NGOs and local restoration companies. The Exchange is designed to advance private investment in transitional coastal projects that hold the line as greater parish and state efforts are completed in Louisiana’s coastal master plan. Included in the listing will be projects available for private funding that are consistent with and complementary to master plan projects. Two new private sector projects in Terrebonne Parish and one recently completed in Lafourche Parish were cited as examples of LCX listings.
Advancement in Re-Introduction of Native Species
The prospect of new local initiatives to re-introduce once prominent native plants was highlighted as a positive adaptation strategy. There is current and ongoing research at Nicholls State University in cooperation with ecosystem resources companies and the federal government to develop seed and hardy plant stocks for native species use in private, commercial, and public landscaping for restoration. Bald Cypress stocks are being reintroduced within terracing and structures designed for more optimal performance.
Generational timelines will create better benchmarks for adaptation or retreat
While there is evidence of adaptation in the region, the scale of the challenges faced will require a new understanding of what it means to live in a modern-day coastal zone. To that end, the concept of generational timelines becomes important in a region where cultural and family unity is a hallmark. “In 2018, we confront revised land loss maps that greatly expand the probability of risk from sea level rise and storm surge by focusing far beyond the Mississippi Delta to the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, New York and California, as well as many small coastal communities,” King Milling, chairman of America’s WETLAND Foundation, said.
Availability of Affordable Insurance
A lingering and prime issue in coastal zones is the availability of affordable insurance. It was often stated that above all other adaptation considerations, the factor of insurance looms over generational decisions. Dirk Guidry, Councilman for Terrebonne Parish, said, “I told my daughter not to build a house in our community – you can’t afford the insurance.”
Berwick Duval, Esq., AWF Board Member, said, “Mother nature is not a Republican or a Democrat. This is not about politics. Flood insurance rates are so high, people can’t buy a home unless they have the cash and banks won’t lend the money. This limits your market and property values drop if you’re in a floodplain. There are winners and losers. The national flood insurance program expires this year and I caution that there are those who want to do away with it.”
The ideas and recommendations from the Forum outlined in the findings report are the first in a new series of programs to be sponsored by AWF to address important actions for adaptation. The Foundation will co-host with the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) a summit on November 7, 2018, in Baton Rouge. The gathering will follow the progress of the state’s coastal master plan and new emerging opportunities and innovations to effectively and efficiently adapt to coastal land loss.
In 2019, AWF will convene an additional three coastal adaptation leadership forums in Louisiana with a focus on issues facing the New Orleans metropolitan region, southeast and southwest Louisiana.
This forum follows the launch of the America’s WETLAND Foundation’s Terrebonne Biodiversity and Resiliency Projects sponsored by BHP and produced by RES. Visit the video archive of the forum on the America’s WETLAND Foundation’s Facebook page