T-P Bob Marshall appreciation thread

The T-P sports section – get a couple of scores, find out how the Saints are doing and who’s hurt this week, not a bad place to find out what’s happening in the world of competition locally and nationally. One could get this information easily online anywhere.

But one main reason that makes me actually open the sports section and READ it is Bob Marshall. Bob is a prolific writer, is knowledgeable of south Louisiana habitats and coastline, and isn’t afraid to tackle tough topics. An excellent example is his recent column on Sunday September 14 concerning the changing landscape of Louisiana marshes. Bob writes about how the sporting seasons are affected by the changes in Louisiana’s landscapes and ties it in with conservation methods while striving to keep the sportsman informed. Here are two examples of his articles concerning fishing and teal hunting.

With the Times Picayune’s substance dwindling, there isn’t too much left worth reading. But for anyone concerned with the state of Louisiana’s wetlands, Bob Marshall’s continual commentary is a must read to remain informed. He gets out into the field and talks to the locals as well as presenting the business end of all things concerning coastal restoration. If you normally just toss the Sports section aside, I highly recommend that you open it and include Bob Marshall in your diet of the Times Picayune.

Changing the landscape of Louisiana marshes
Posted by Bob Marshall, The Times-Picayune September 15, 2008 9:51AM

Water runs through the Davis Pond Project and empties into Lake Catouatchie, providing a controlled flow of fresh water and nutrients from the Mississippi River the Barataria Bay estuary.

As Hurricane Ike’s storm surge created coastal chaos, I couldn’t help thinking back to conversations earlier this summer with Lafitte area anglers upset about the impacts of the Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion Project. Speck fishing had been lousy in the northern part of Barataria Basin, and fishermen were convinced it was because Davis Pond had changed their brackish habitat into a freshwater lake.

They worried because they knew this could just be the start of big changes. Although Davis Pond is considered a helpful element in the state’s plan for slowing the loss of coastal wetlands, scientists say the job will require much larger projects to move sediment that can rebuild dying marshes.

So some in the Lafitte fishing industry were nervous, wondering if the cure for their disease might not kill them. They worried loyal speck customers wouldn’t show up for bass and bream.

“I understand why this is happening, but I’m not sure we can survive if this is what the future looks like,” said Sidney Bourgeois, manager of Joe’s Landing in Lafitte. “Do we really need these big diversions they’re talking about?”

Hurricane Ike provided a powerful answer.

Friday morning residents of Lafitte, lower St. Bernard Parish, eastern New Orleans, southern Jefferson, Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes were chased from their homes and businesses by the surge from Ike. All this from a hurricane whose eye was 250 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, traveling away from the area.

And as they packed up and headed for higher ground, many of our evacuees had the same thought on their minds: It wasn’t like this 20 years ago.

“You damn near needed a direct hit before this road flooded,” said Louie Viavant as he watched the surge begin to cover U.S. 90 adjacent to Chef Harbor Marina, which his family has run since 1959.

“We had storms 20, 30 years ago, but we never evacuated because we didn’t need to. Now, any little thing that gets in the Gulf pushes the water up two or three feet — and that’s just for starters.

“People talk about losing the marsh. They talk about losing the barrier islands. But we’re also sinking. Anyone living out here can see what’s happening. We got to wake up and face facts.”

One of those facts is that the best way to address one of the world’s fastest rates of subsidence is with massive diversions that can move sediment from the river to the sinking wetlands.

That’s why Lafitte and other coastal fishing communities have to understand the magnitude of changes coming their way, because for many they will be huge.

Bigger changes coming

Fisheries biologists involved in the coastal recovery effort say this summer was just a long delayed glimpse of what Lafitte anglers can expect in the future. Although it opened in 2002, construction problems and low river flows prevented Davis Pond from operating at its intended capacity. But this year the engineering hang-ups were solved just in time for one of the highest rivers in decades.

The result was that outflow from the project generally doubled over last year, according to state records.

“This is what Davis Pond was supposed to be doing when it opened,” said Heather Finley, the marine fisheries habitat program manager for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “So, yes, people in Lafitte can expect this (low salinities) every year, and especially in the spring when the river is up.”

But here’s the thing the entire coastal fishing community needs to grasp: Davis Pond is just a small example of what’s coming.

With a maximum flow capacity of 10,650 cubic feet per second (cfs), Davis Pond is not even a major “land building” project. Like the Caernarvon Project (8,000 cfs) south of New Orleans, Davis Pond was planned and designed more than 20 years ago with the main purpose of regulating salinity rates in a large basin.

Their impact on coastal land loss has been limited. They easily accomplish the mission of lowering salinity levels deep into the basins. And they have had a dramatic impact on wetlands immediately below the outfall canal. Anyone visiting Lake Lery south of Caernarvon of Lake Cataouatche just outside the Davis Pond canal in the last few years has seen that turnabout. Lakes that had become homes to specks and reds soon were chock full of bass and bream and featured thriving plant communities reminiscent of healthy freshwater wetlands such as the Atchafalaya delta.

But even Davis Pond’s 10,650 cfs is far too low to ferry sediment in the quantities required to actually begin land building farther down the basin. A look at the project claims makes it obvious that was never the intention: It boasts the capacity to build one square mile of land per year in a basin that is losing 11 square miles per year.

That shortcoming was never considered a liability during the planning stages because the state was still in denial about the catastrophic nature of the problem — and the radical medicine required for any possible fix. But Hurricane Katrina helped both the scientific community and state government come out of the closet and admit we are in an emergency life-or-death struggle. Two years ago coastal researchers gave us a deadline: If we are not actively rebuilding wetlands within 10 years, they said then, the Gulf will consume so much of southeast Louisiana marshes, the problem will be too big to fix.

If that happens, they said, communities outside the hurricane protection levees — places like Lafitte — would have to be moved. And the wetlands that are the foundation supporting our great fishery production would be gone.

Just last month Gov. Bobby Jindal weighed in, calling those forecasts “optimistic,” and pledging the time for studies was over, the era of action was here.

The consensus now is that rebuilding wetlands can be accomplished in two ways — both of which ultimately require large river diversions.

The fastest method involves transporting dredged sediment from rivers via pipelines to specific points in the marsh, a process that can add acres in just months. But these pipelines have a limited reach, and the rebuilt land will eventually subside and be reclaimed by the Gulf if it is not steadily nourished by a flow of freshwater and sediments from the river.

That’s where the diversions come in. Those are needed to maintain any dredge-built land, and they are the most efficient solution to address wide areas of some basins.

But to move the volume of water that could ferry enough sediment to out-pace subsidence and sea-level rise, these projects must be built on scales that dwarf Davis Pond, currently the largest diversion.

The Myrtle Grove Diversion Project is an example. Designed to move loads of land-building sediment from the river to the marsh, its design capacity will be around 100,000 cfs — 10 times the size of Davis Pond.

If Lafitte fishermen noticed a change from Davis Pond flows that seldom averaged more than 6,000 cfs this summer, imagine what will happen in the marshes between Myrtle Grove Estates and Manilla Village when 100,000 cfs of Mississippi River water comes barreling through.

The state is so convinced of the new deadlines, it supported congressional action that now requires the Davis Pond and Caernarvon projects to be redesigned with the goal of building land, not just regulating salinity levels.

Biologists say the diversions will be turning the clock back in these basins 50 to 100 years. Specks, reds and brown shrimp will be gone most of the year. Bass, sac-a-lait, bream, ducks, geese, mink and otter will return.

“It’ll be like the old times,” they say.

The problem is those were times few fishers and hunters using the marsh today ever saw. That’s why it’s important for them to understand what’s coming, and begin adjusting ahead of that curve.

“I’ve been having a lot of discussions with fishermen this year, especially around the Lafitte area, and the one thing I’m trying to stress of them is that they have to get used to this, and adjust,” Finley said. “I think there will be opportunities for them and their businesses. They have to adjust to the new reality.”

Hurricane Ike provides supporting evidence.


~ by maringouin on Tuesday, September 16, 2008.

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