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.


~ by maringouin on Monday, August 27, 2007.

10 Responses to “Wetlands and Hurricanes”

  1. Hell, yes.

  2. I don’t have Tim’s exact words, but I don’t recall him saying we should IGNORE the wetlands, only that we shouldn’t rely on it as the only fix to our problem. I think we should save the wetlands too, but I don’t think it should be – or can be – our only line of defense against storms. Saving the wetlands is always going to be a compromise.

  3. Great finds! Will have to go through your links and pull our some trends from Excel myself.

    Remember I asked Ruppert during the talk to re-state his assumption, and he clearly stated that wetland restoration cannot be the only shield against storm surge. If that is indeed the extent of his allegation, I agree. If not, we’ll have to talk with him again.

    I will be posting his presentation and others to my server soon and will link to them on the RT blog.

    Thanks for coming!

  4. I agree with you all, and I specifically remember him stating that wetlands restoration is pretty difficult to achieve – once wetlands are gone its pretty much over.

    To Liprap and Maitri, thanks for all the intensive work in putting forth RT-2, and from this gathering helping to initiate dialogue from all angles – you all are to be commended.

  5. “It was interesting that a later speaker, Joshua Clark went on and on about the priority of coastal restoration”….
    and has been criticized as scientifically uninformed and suggested he stick to “poetry and fiction” in another blog’s comments.

    The commenter should take a stand and stick to it. Reminiscent of political fingers in the wind.

  6. the beauty of wetlands lies in the eyes of the beholder I suppose

  7. “The commenter should take a stand and stick to it. Reminiscent of political fingers in the wind.”

    Yeah, we should all be inflexible like our president, you know, like “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists”. 😉

  8. First of all, please don’t grossly misquote me. Although you say you’re not sure of the exact words, you use quotation marks to imply that these are my words. They are not.

    For instance, you quote me saying, “wetlands restoration would not be beneficial to diminishing hurricane storm surge.” I said no such thing. If you had been paying attention, you would recall that I showed several slides of what I would call a portfolio of responses–measures that can and should be considered to reduce our risk of flooding. Environmental features is included in that list.

    As I explained in a response to your comment on my blog, my presentation was about storm surge protection. Unfortunately, wetlands do very little to reduce storm surge. This is not my opinion, and it is not a political agenda. This is fact. We can get much higher levels of protetion by using soil to build levees than we can by using that same soil to build wetlands. We can save more people from flooding by spending money on raising houses than we can by spending comparable amounts of money on building wetlands.

    This is not to say that wetlands are useless. This is only saying that if you’re shopping for storm surge protection, you’re not going to buy a lot of wetlands. There may be other reasons to build wetlands, but this just isn’t a very strong one.

    I finally had a chance to look through all those references you gave. A lot of nice information, but only one or two looked at the actual question of how much storm surge reduction do you get from wetlands. Nothing I saw refutes my presentation of the facts.

    To be fair, you should either post a correction or at least remove the quotations from around the words that are not mine in this blog entry.



  9. Quotations removed per request, hence the statement prior that this was very loosely transcribed. I was listening intently to your presentation, yet I did not write down or record every word you spoke.

    As I posted on your blog, we must agree to disagree on this topic. Wetlands and storm surge are not isolated factors in coastal ecosystems, there are many more factors that come into play concerning a living coastline. You explain this in your post here, but your presentation was perceived as wetlands are not essential, solely in reference to surge. Someone listening to this who might be uninformed on all the other benefits of coastal ecosystems would be prone to dismiss the significance of wetlands. Plus, levees might protect a metropolis, but it starves the swamps of sediment, another factor leading to their disappearance.

    The links corroborate all the reasons wetlands are crucial, not just absorption of storm surge be it 4 inches or 12 inches per mile. The fact remains that the edge of Louisiana is disappearing. As this happens, the culture, business and a unique way of life inherent to this state will too.

  10. Thanks for making the changes.



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