The southern part of the Pontchartrain Basin was built 5,000 thousand years ago. Benefiting our nation since the founding of New Orleans in 1718, today the region provides approximately 30% of our nation’s fisheries, and 30% of the nation’s oil and gas supply. The coast that protects these valuable resources must be saved!
By the 1700’s the Mississippi River had shifted paths back and forth several times - spreading sediment and creating land at the end of an ever-changing delta. The Pontchartrain Basin stretches out into the Gulf of Mexico as a 10,000 square mile watershed from the Mississippi River to the Pearl River and includes 16 Louisiana Parishes and 4 Mississippi Counties.
In 1718 the need for a port city to transport materials up the Mississippi River and back out into the Gulf of Mexico to other ports resulted in the founding of New Orleans. The river had produced 6,000 square miles of land with slightly raised ridges on which the original towns were built. It wasn’t until 1904 when Baldwin Wood invented huge drainage pumps that New Orleans had the ability to drain the surrounding wetlands. The city grew rapidly and to this day the Port of New Orleans is one of our nation’s largest.
After the 1927 massive flood of the Mississippi River, huge levees were erected along the river. This was a good news – bad news story. Good news, the land will never flood, homes can be built safely on the ground. Bad news, the land will never flood, so no new sediment will be added as natural subsidence occurs.
In the 1930’s logging of cypress trees in the coastal swamps for their valuable wood resulted in saltwater intrusion which prevented new cypress from growing. Ultimately the loss of the cypress destroyed the buffer against storms that the coastal swamps provided the urban areas.
As the century continued, oil and gas became prominent economic drivers and critical resources for our nation. Access to these was provided by navigation canals and pipelines which crisscrossed South Louisiana marshes. Unfortunately, in the process the coastal marshes were lost when spoil banks were left randomly throughout the area, disastrously altering the natural hydrology of the region. Saltwater intrusion increased and more land was lost.
In the 1940’s nutria, an invasive species of rodent brought in from South America, added to the coastal woes. A voracious eater of wetland vegetation roots, the nutria has annihilated miles of protective marshland.
On August 29, 2005 the lives of over a million people changed in a day when Hurricane Katrina came across the Pontchartrain Basin. Without a robust coast to help protect the area, winds over 130 miles per hour and storm surges of 15-25 feet, floodwalls and levees were overtopped and breached. Over 80% of the urban area flooded. Three weeks later Hurricane Rita again flooded the region. Because of the hurricane season of 2005, 79 square miles of the Pontchartrain Basin and 217 square miles of Louisiana coast had been lost.
Looking back through the 20th Century, the country has to face the challenges to the coast that man unknowingly created in the name of progress. To a large degree, the reduced coastal hurricane protection for South Louisiana was the result of poor decisions made in the 1900’s.
The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation launched the Save Our Coast campaign.
COASTAL SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAM
Although LPBF has been active in coastal restoration since its inception in 1989, it was in June 2005 that a formal program with a director was created. This aggressive commitment to the coast was triggered by the realization that the coastal wetlands were getting worse in spite of ongoing authorized restoration programs.
A plan was devised by LPBF called the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy. This strategy recognizes natural and manmade lines of defense combined with wetland habitat restoration to provide hurricane protection as well as coastal restoration.
Following the hurricanes of 2005, LPBF looked carefully to its Comprehensive Habitat Management Plan. The CHMP consists of over 100 projects and is the blueprint for restoration of the habitats in the Pontchartrain Basin. The CHMP projects were prioritized choosing the 10 habitat restoration projects that would also provide flood protection for the Greater New Orleans area. These projects became known as the Pontchartrain Coastal Lines of Defense Program.
Additionally, LPBF has partnered with other agencies to reach out across the entire coast of Louisiana to present project suggestions to protect all of our citizens in the State from future storms and to keep our coastal region economically and culturally sustainable for the future. Please see Louisiana Coastal Lines of Defense (pdf) for more information. Also, visit the new Multiple Lines of Defense web site www.MLODS.com.
5 LPBF Pontchartrain Coastal Lines of Defense Projects included in Corps' plan!
The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has prepared the MRGO Ecosystem Restoration Plan Draft Feasibility Report to address adverse affects of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. This plan incorporates five of LPBF's Pontchartrain Coastal Lines of Defense projects. View a summary of LPBF's comments on the Corps' plan or read LPBF's technical report.
John Lopez, Ph.D.
Coastal Sustainability Program Director
Dr. John Lopez is a coastal scientist who has been LPBF’s Director of the Coastal Sustainability Program since June 2005. He has multi-disciplinary training in Geology, Engineering, and Biological Sciences and has handled project assignments for CWPPRA while working for the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Dr. Lopez developed the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy which integrates flood protection and coastal restoration. He has chaired the Lake Pontchartrain Artificial Reef Working Group that has constructed nine reefs in the lake. Dr. Lopez received the Conservationist of the Year Award in 2008 from the Louisiana Wildlife Federation and the Coastal Zone 05 Conference Award from NOAA.
Environmental Atlas of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin
Pontchartrain Basin Wetland Restoration Projects Map
LA Coastal Zone Map (pdf 24 MB)