The Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration, and Conservation Meets Holds Meeting
Baton Rouge, La - The Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration, and Conservation held a meeting today in Baton Rouge to hear from a collection of scientists on an array of technical topics associated with Mississippi River diversion projects.
Nick Howes, PhD., a scientist and Boston University graduate, and Dr. Ioannis Georgiou of the University of New Orleans, discussed new data on the resiliency of low salinity wetlands during hurricanes. Their research suggests that wave action has more of a detrimental effect on brackish and intermediate wetland types than the more southerly-positioned saline marshes. While wetlands in Louisiana are being lost due to high rates of subsidence, there is potential for rapid loss during single storm events. During Katrina, wave action (shear stress) exceeded soil strength in low salinity wetlands and resulted in large areas of wetlands loss. Their work noted that a combination of weaker roots and shallower rooting depths exacerbated this loss.
Andy Nyman, a PhD. scientist at Louisiana State University specializing in plant responses in wetlands ecosystems, presented information on soil strength and marsh vertical accretion related to river diversions. Nyman's findings suggest soil strength is dependent upon the presence of live root mats, and that marshes receiving more freshwater from diversions have greater production than those in salt water marshes.
Bryan Piazza, PhD. with The Nature Conservancy, spoke about the ecological benefits to fisheries related to river diversions and their operational schemes. He emphasized the need for decision-makers to consider multiple, complex ecological factors as they craft management plans for both existing and future diversions in south Louisiana. His work has provided a definitive correlation between productivity of certain fish species and the operation of diversions, particularly the mimicking of seasonal flooding events that occurred historically in Louisiana.
The last speaker on the agenda was Rick Raynie, as scientist with the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration who presented information on the role of river diversions in coastal protection and restoration. Mr. Raynie advised that re-establishing the deltaic cycle by reconnecting the Mississippi River to the adjacent marshes is the most critical component in the ultimate sustainability of south Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta. He added that continued development of scientific tools and an improved understanding of river dynamics will allow these diversions to maximize efficiency through their operations and continually improve design in planning of future work. Even with decreased suspended sediment loads in the river, models suggest that it is possible to use diversions to build land that is sustainable, even with projected rates of subsidence and sea level rise.
Upon conclusion of the presentations, Commissioners discussed the need to continue to examine the affects of diversions on the ecosystem in order to better incorporate science into coastal policy. The next meeting of the Advisory Commission will take place in early December.