Coastal Desk

Southeast Louisiana is sinking under the waves faster than any coastal landscape in the world. With so much at stake for Louisiana and the nation, WWNO has made coastal news a priority.

Since mid-2014 our Coastal Desk reporting team has been producing frequent news reports and in-depth features covering coastal erosion and restoration; hurricane protection; offshore energy and other coastal businesses; wildlife and fisheries impacts; and coastal communities and culture.

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and local listeners.

Rainstorms seem to be getting more intense. In New Orleans, every time it rains, people worry about flooding. A new study from LSU finds that storms in Louisiana are getting bigger and wetter, dropping more rain over a shorter period of time.

WWNO’s Tegan Wendland talked with state climatologist Barry Keim and LSU research associate, Vinny Brown, who looked at climate data going back to the 1960’s.

Even though Barry didn’t turn out to be as bad as many people feared, it still caused damage in several Louisiana parishes. Now, the state of Louisiana is asking the federal government to help pay for the costs of preparing for the storm and post-storm cleanup.

A strong majority of Louisiana voters believe in climate change, according to a new poll sponsored by several environmental groups.

About 1,000 “chronic voters” in Louisiana were surveyed by phone for the poll, which was conducted by political consulting firm BDPC LLC + Pinsonat for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition.

The Trump administration is making major changes to the Endangered Species Act, which could affect some plants and animals in Louisiana.

The act, passed in the 1970’s, protects endangered plants and animals. At that time, the “pelican state” almost lost its state bird. The brown pelican was on the brink of extinction. Then, officials went to Florida and brought back juvenile pelicans to reestablish them in Louisiana. In 2009 they were officially taken off the list of endangered species.

One of the ways the state plans to rebuild land on the Louisiana coast is by sediment diversions -- diverting the silt, sand, and dirty waters of the Mississippi River into the marsh.

For years, many in the commercial fishing industry have claimed that the influx of freshwater funneled through diversions would ruin their industry. Now, some fishers feel they have proof: the damaging impacts of the 2019 Mississippi River Flood.

This year’s dead zone is the eighth largest on record in the Gulf of Mexico, though it’s size could have been impacted by Hurricane Barry last month.

The dead zone is an area of hypoxic, or low-oxygen, conditions that forms at the bottom of the Gulf every year. Fertilizers, which wash off of Midwestern agricultural fields and down the Mississippi River, fuel algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico. As the algae dies the water loses oxygen, killing fish and other sea creatures.

Two disaster-related bills proposed this week in Congress could offer relief for Louisiana communities affected by extreme weather. One would create a permanent safety net program for commercial fishers who have suffered losses due to environmental damage. Another would create a special fund meant to help cities and towns build more resiliently.

Commercial Fishing and Aquaculture Protection Act of 2019

Environmental disasters can cause commercial fishers to lose money. This year, for example, Mississippi River flooding has dramatically reduced the catch of several kinds of seafood in both Mississippi and Louisiana.

Residents and a pair of environmental activist groups are suing St. James Parish over an alleged secret meeting that plaintiffs claim violated Louisiana Open Meetings Law.

Wanhua Chemical US Operation, LLC has proposed construction of a polyurethane facility on a 250 acre tract of land in Convent, Louisiana. On May 20th, 2019, the St. James Planning Commission voted 5-3 to approve the company’s industrial land use application for the site.

Louisiana’s coast is a unique mix of cultures. For hundreds of years Europeans, Africans and Native Americans have lived off the land and water. But that land is disappearing, battered by storms and rising seas, and people are migrating north.

Now, the state is trying to preserve some local traditions before they disappear.

The Water Institute is a Baton Rouge-based research institution that works with the state and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority on issues like land loss and river diversions. One of its former scientists is now under investigation by the FBI.

The Times Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate broke the story. WWNO’s Tegan Wendland talked with reporters Della Hasselle and Bryn Stole about the implications for coastal research.

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