Wetlands and Hurricanes
One of the presenters at Rising Tide 2, Tim Ruppert gave an excellent synopsis of the state of New Orleans’ levee protection system. His presentation was succcinct and very pertinent, until he lost me here – and this is VERY loosely transcribed
Wetlands have not proven to absorb as much hurricane storm surge as civic leaders lead people to believe. Leaders say that for each mile of wetlands, a foot of storm surge is absorbed. Studies from the ACoE study and USGS Lovelace study determine that wetlands barely absorb approximately one to four inches of storm surge per mile. Therefore wetlands restoration would not be beneficial to diminishing hurricane storm surge.
I froze. I couldn’t believe an engineer would dismiss wetlands restoration. First off an ACoE study was cited? That immediately calls to mind credibility because it certainly seems that the ACoE track record disregards any other data but their own. That leaves this assertion the presenter made based on only one more scientific article. Was there scientific research conducted in either one of these articles? I asked if there was any international data corroborating this, and the only thing I heard was something along the lines of sand and the Netherlands. It was difficult to hear in the back of the room.
So I went to Google Scholar and started looking. I missed the author for the ACoE citation during the presentation, but I searched for USGS Lovelace article and found 2 authors, WM Lovelace who wrote in the early 1990’s and a JK Lovelace that wrote in the mid 2000’s. Aside from these abstracts, here are some other article findings – not all address specifically the correlation between storm surge and wetlands but they are scientific articles that for the most part write about the importance of wetlands. Besides If the 1-4 inches of storm surge absorption per wetland mile hold true, I’d rather have that with 40-50 miles of wetlands rather than a seawall around the New Orleans city limits holding open gulf water back.
The main thing that concerns me is this assertion that wetlands restoration does not assist in buffering storm surge detracts from the OTHER reasons that wetlands restoration is important. Like restoring habitat so the seafood industry can continue to thrive. Protection of coastal fishing towns that are slowly dropping off into the sea, cause the denizens of these coastal towns that hang on the fringe of the state are the ones fishing and crabbing and oystering and shrimping so the country can be flush in seafood. And the most important thing in addition to diminishing storm surge is the way additional lands and marshes and swamps drain the energy of these storms, by cutting off the supply of warm, tepid, hot water that continues to fuel these big storms. If anyone last week who was glued to the TV watching Hurricane Dean’s progress through the Yucatan peninsula noticed, as soon as the storm hit and passed through the peninsula, by the time it emerged ~ 250 miles west at the opposite side of the peninsula it was knocked down from a Category 5 to a Category 1 hurricane. Doesn’t take a scientist to make that connection. Plus it has been reiterated ad nauseum, and has finally caught on in the public psyche, sediment=wetlands and levees=water. How can that be refuted? Narrowly focusing on the disregard for wetlands restoration does not acknowledge the whole paradigm, the land mass and/or disappearance of south Louisiana.
And that is what is disheartening. It seemed like the receptivity to all the other important reasons to restore wetlands besides a “no” vote was closed. It was interesting that a later speaker, Joshua Clark went on and on about the priority of coastal restoration, and also unfortunate that Mr. Clark was not in attendance for Mr. Ruppert’s presentation. Not to mention all the life long fishermen, shrimpers, oystermen, and crabbers who live on the edge that have repeatedly lamented the loss of the wetlands and the impact on this state’s future. To dismiss wetlands restoration as unimportant does a disservice to us all that live here. We deserve restoration just like the Chesapeake estuary and all other declining wetlands (Iraq’s wetlands for example) receive.