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The Joys of Art

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Time to restore the wetlands folks....

Blues Brothers--New Orleans

Redemption on the Bayou

By Editorial Staff
The New York Times
People keep making bets against nature, and in the end nature usually wins. This is as true in the rainforests of Central America, where clear-cutting has led to disastrous floods, as it is in the steep California canyons, where people have no business building houses.

It is no less true of the Mississippi Delta and its biggest city, New Orleans, whose heart-rending tragedy is partly traceable to years of federal efforts to manage the Mississippi River in ways that it did not intend to be managed, keeping it from going where it wanted to go and thus weakening the natural defenses that might have spared the city the worst.

Amends can be made. Before Congress is a $14 billion plan to restore the vanishing wetlands and barrier islands off the Louisiana coast that in times past would have served as a buffer against the storm. The House has approved a modest $1.9 billion down payment on this plan, but it needs a push from President Bush and the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, to ensure Senate approval. The plan would involve some delicate re-engineering of the natural system and is not without risk. Still, it could provide a measure of redemption for years of environmental carelessness for which Congress itself is largely responsible.

The problem, in a nutshell, is this: the Louisiana coast, its protective fringe of barrier islands and coastal marshlands, is disappearing. Over the last 75 years, 1.9 million acres have vanished. Every year, another 25 square miles, an area roughly the size of Manhattan, sinks quietly beneath the waves. In some places, the coastline has receded 15 miles from where it was in the 1920's.

The soil in the delta compacts and sinks naturally. Historically, however, the Mississippi replenished the loss with sediment gathered from its many tributaries and then deposited like clockwork in the delta with the spring floods. Or so it did until 1927, when Congress ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to find ways to control the floods so as to make the river safe for farming, homes and commerce.

As it would later do in the Everglades (with equally disastrous results for the Florida ecosystem), the corps then proceeded to construct a network of dams, levees and canals throughout the river basin. The upstream dams reduced the river's sediment load well below historical levels; the sediment that remained, while considerable, was then routed away from the Louisiana coast by a system of levees and navigation channels. The effect of all these engineering changes was to hurry the river along and, at its mouth, propel its contents deep into the Gulf of Mexico, as if shot from a cannon, bypassing the coastal marshes and barrier islands that most needed its nourishment.

Add to all this the demands of a growing population, plus thousands of miles of pipes and canals dug through the marsh for a booming oil and gas industry, and the result was inevitable: a shrunken, degraded and essentially defenseless landscape.

More is at stake, of course, than the landscape. These may be the hardest-working wetlands in America. They support one of the country's largest fisheries; almost every fish caught in the Gulf of Mexico spends part of its life in the Louisiana marsh. They are the wintering ground or refueling stop for most of the migratory waterfowl that travel the Mississippi flyway. And as everyone who has bought gasoline in the last few days knows by now, they are vital to the production, refining and transportation of much of the nation's oil. Indeed, the oil and gas industry has as much incentive as anyone to protect the marshes from further erosion. Most of its equipment cannot survive in open water.

The conditions are thus ripe for a major effort to restore the Louisiana coast. The program before Congress was hatched by the state's politicians and in its universities and drafted by the Army Corps of Engineers. It is supported by both industry and advocacy groups like the National Audubon Society and Environmental Defense, which helped with its design. It would start small, with three or four carefully calibrated pilot programs to divert water flow to the marshes, then go from there. What it has always required is the enthusiastic support of Washington's political leaders. It is hard to believe that the events of the last week haven't caught their attention.

Even if this shit has to come down to shooting folks....The wetlands will be restored....This is NOT debatable.....IT IS CARVED IN STONE!!!!


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