March 18, 2018 by Dr. G
I wrote ten blog posts documenting my journey at OCEANDOTCOMM. You can find those posts through the tag #odotcomm18.
This morning at OCEANDOTCOMM I joined a fieldtrip to learn more about the levee system in southern Louisiana. The trip was led by LUMCON geology faculty member Dr. Alex Kolker. As we were driving out to our first stop, Dr. Kolker helped us understand that in Louisiana, restoration and protection efforts fall under one organization, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). [Since coming back to the LUMCON campus, Dr. Kolker took us through a demonstration of the CPRA Master Plan Data Viewer. This is going to be such an excellent tool to use with students!]
Our first stop was the levee at the Bayou Petit Caillou Floodgate and Highway 56 Rollergate (excellent aerial images online). Recently completed and dedicated in 2016, this earthen levee was built by material from Louisiana and built to withstand a 50-year flood. In addition to the impressive length of this levee (75 miles along its length), I find impressive that it was the residents of the local parish (Terrebonne Parish) that voted and paid for the gates (it was not federally funded). The residents would like to have funding from the federal government to improve the levee and to increase the height of the levee (the gates were built to the target height, but the levee doesn’t reach it). In the meantime, there is rock rubble to stabilize the material where the water flows through, and there are gates that can be manually raised and lowered for regulation as well. This ring levee unfortunately does not include LUMCON in its protection area. Below are photos from this first levee visit.
We continued to see floodgates along the road – a road that had alot of riprap along the edges, as the road is close to washing out.
We also stopped by a closed school. In fact, we saw more than one elementary school permanently closed. Dr. Kolker said that as the area is depopulating, there are fewer children in the local population to attend. We also saw a closed bank, and a closed restaurant… again, these services not being in demand for the lower population numbers. Dr. Kolker emphasized the need for good planning to be in place, to be prepared for these types of changes. He said that Louisiana places a very public emphasis on planning (Katrina was the wake-up call that some needed), and LA SAFE (Louisiana’s Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments) is leading some of those efforts.
We stopped at other levee structures, as well as spending a few minutes at the Chauvin Sculpture Garden (quite the local experience!). We had a final stop at part of the ring levee, a place that showed Chauvin on one side of the levee, an area that had clearly subsided. On the other side of the levee is an area that was once marsh but is now covered in water known as – and a high water level because of sea-level rise. I recorded a short 360+ video, starting on the Terrebonne Bay side. I’m standing on top of the levee.
Geologically, this was a very cool trip – and did I mention that we saw a baby alligator in the water, behind the levee?
In the van on the way back to LUMCON, Dr. Kolker shared his views on coastal optimism. He was the most positive speaker I’ve interacted with since I’ve been in Louisiana on this topic. He started with say that people that have too pessimistic of a view of the world will be less inclined to take action. However, a positive view can lead to positive actions. He continued to say that as a society, we have been successful at making environmental successes – from the Clean Water Act to removing lead in paint to reducing sulfur dioxide emissions to lessen acid rain, etc. When people focus on the problems, they are decent on solving them, and an optimistic perspective means that you can get thing done. Dr. Kolker admits that if sea-level rise accelerates, things will be really challenging, and that there is no way around it. In the end, he went back to emphasizing planning, and that locations that plan and implement their plans will be much better off.
To end on a fun note, here is a photo of me and a couple of my new OCEANDOTCOMM friends in the Chauvin Sculpture Garden.