Almost every day, news from around the world reinforces one of the most frustrating and dangerous paradoxes about our state: When it comes to its chances for coastal survival, Louisiana refuses to listen to its own best advice.
I’m talking here about the work of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. It has been given the responsibility for devising and implementing strategies to protect Louisiana communities and industries from a crisis gripping every coastal landscape on the planet: Accelerating sea level rise due to global warming.
And in a state not known for many positive things outside of football (Go, Tigers!) this agency has become recognized as one of the world’s leaders in the scientific, engineering and management breakthroughs for climate change adaptation.
A recent example was a headline that rightly shocked coastal countries everywhere: “New elevation data triples estimates of global vulnerability to sea-level rise and coastal flooding.”
Researchers have discovered the technology long used to estimate ground elevations for much of the planet has been off by as much as 6.5 feet. That means as many as 150 million people could be living below the high tide line by 2050. The report included a long list of major cities that would have to rush adaptation plans to meet the much more immediate threat.
No U.S. city was on the list — not even in Louisiana, with a coastal landscape sinking at one of the fastest rates in the world. That’s because our nation has been using better technology to accurately measure elevations. And Louisiana has been a leader in that area by developing the country’s most comprehensive and advanced landscape monitoring system.
Since 2005, the CPRA’s Coastal Monitoring Reference System has grown to include almost 400 stations spread across the coast with instruments measuring a wide range of environmental data including water levels, land gain and loss, elevation, types of vegetation and more. All of this is connected to a central website that gives real-time information on most of those subjects. And it is available to the public at https://lacoast.gov/crms/#. The system isn’t cheap. The stations cost about $10,000 each while operation and maintenance comes to $10 million to $12 million a year, agency officials said
But the system was seen as an indispensable tool to measure the efficacy of the hundreds of projects in the state’s 50-year, $91-billion master plan for coastal sustainability. It will allow the agency to ground-truth the accomplishments its computer models anticipated for projects, including river sediment diversions. They can use the data to adjust how projects are operated, how to change the designs of future projects — and how to close any that may not be providing the expected results.
CRMS was also instrumental in Louisiana getting the lion’s share of settlement money from the Deepwater Horizon disaster because its records provided an accurate baseline for what the spill damaged. That was something the other Gulf states were hard-pressed to produce.
This is just one product the makes Louisiana’s coastal effort standout as extraordinary compared to other states. The facts gathered by the monitors are added to the wider range of fact-based research from around the country and the world that jointly produce each updated version of the Coastal Master Plan. That document — which first goes through scientific peer-review before heading to the Legislature — lays out the risks the state is facing as its sediment-starved, canal-eviscerated coast sinks while the Gulf begins to rise more rapidly.
The last version of that plan was released in 2017. It made clear that Louisiana’s world-leading, cutting edge coastal science effort had concluded much of the state below U.S. 90 could be under water by 2067 unless the world acted quickly to dramatically reduce fossil fuel emissions, the engine driving the rapid sea level rise.
So here’s the paradox: The political party controlling the state Legislature and its congressional delegation, the GOP, continue to fight regulations to reduce those emissions.
And that’s why this is a paradox that isn’t just frustrating, but dangerous to our future.