Growing Returns

To preserve its coast, Louisiana must plan for the future

By Dr. Denise Reed, Professor Gratis, University of New Orleans

Coastal Louisiana has changed a lot in the last century. By comparing aerial photographs from the 1930s to today, we can see that change across the coast from an ecosystem once dominated by extensive marshes and lush swamps to one increasingly covered with open water and “ghost forests.”

Each year, our coast creeps farther inland as marshy shorelines erode due to boat wakes, wind and waves. This is called marsh edge erosion, and it’s one of the primary causes of Louisiana’s current land loss crisis.

Future land loss, however, will be driven by different causes. To better understand and prepare for future scenarios, EDF convened a team of scientists from its own organization, the University of New Orleans, Tulane University, The Water Institute of the Gulf and the National Wildlife Federation. Together, we used computer models and data from Louisiana’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan to look ahead 50 years and explore the effects of varying sea-level rise and subsidence rates, known as relative sea-level rise.

The recently published results were illuminating and sobering. Here is the main takeaway for Louisiana:

Climate change accelerates land loss.
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Scientists urge action to increase soil carbon

Soil is one of the most precious and finite natural resources, and maintaining healthy soil is mandatory to provide enough food for the planet in the face of a changing climate.

There is strong scientific consensus on the urgent need to rebuild agricultural soil carbon. That’s the topline message of a comment published this week in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Scientists and farmers know that increasing soil carbon can improve soil fertility, stabilize yields, reduce the need for inputs like fertilizer, and boost resilience to droughts and floods. That’s why so many soil health initiatives focus on building soil carbon.

While the importance of building soil carbon is widely endorsed, there is scientific debate about exactly how much carbon can be sequestered in soils. That is important data to know, but it should not distract us from doing all we can to continue to build carbon in the soil.

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Four ways North Carolina can build resilience year round

Earlier this week, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed a proclamation recognizing the imperative to think anew about how the state lives with climate change. The governor emphasized the importance of building resilience as North Carolina communities continue to recover from an onslaught of devastating hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

Flooding has been the biggest problem this year, from headline-grabbing events like Hurricane Dorian, to intense, fast-forming thunderstorms like those we experienced in June, when 3 inches of rain fell per hour. In fact, June was the eighth wettest month on record since 1895.

September, however, was among the driest months in a decade, contributing to what experts call a “flash drought.” For farmers, flash droughts are problematic because they can cause crop loss, especially when crops have shallow roots after being planted during a wet month. While farmers were able to harvest some crops this fall, other harvests are at risk from the dry weather.

This pattern of extreme rain combined with flash drought is straining already beleaguered farmers and residents. Read More »

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Natural infrastructure is gaining momentum when our country needs it most

(This post was co-authored by Shannon Cunniff and Grace Tucker

2019 has been an unprecedented year for extreme weather, and we’re still in the thick of hurricane season. As disasters have increased, so has the popularity of using nature-based solutions to reduce flood hazard and exposure while also benefiting ecosystems and wildlife.

Along our coasts, healthy natural features – such as mangrove forests, wetlands, reefs and barrier islands – can be used to absorb the shock of storm surge, waves and rising sea levels. Further inland, nature-based features along rivers and in their floodplains can slow and retain water to help protect nearby communities.

In terms of public awareness, funding and policy, natural infrastructure is gaining steam as a critical strategy to help people and property become more resilient in the face of extreme weather. Read More »

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Gov. Newsom can be a climate leader by focusing on resilience. Here’s how.

In pulling the plug on the twin Delta tunnels and scaling back California’s high-speed rail line, Gov. Newsom broke from his predecessor, who fiercely defended the projects as part of his climate agenda.

But that doesn’t mean Newsom can’t build on Jerry Brown’s strong climate legacy. He can, all while charting a different legacy for himself.

While it may be unfair to reduce Brown’s climate achievements to a few bullet points, two themes often appeared in his initiatives: prioritizing policies to slash greenhouse gas emissions, and capitalizing on the state’s ability to impose mandates.

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Army Corps releases crucial guide for reducing flood risk and increasing resilience

This week, the Army Corps of Engineers formally released an important resource guide, “Engineering with Nature: An Atlas.” This isn’t your typical government issued atlas of maps and figures. It’s an important first step toward broadening understanding, consideration and acceptance of natural infrastructure as a flood risk reduction and resilience strategy.

The glossy compendium of 56 Corps projects illustrates that restoring nature and using nature-based features and processes – such as dunes, wetlands, reefs, functioning floodplains and rivers – can efficiently yield real economic, environmental and social benefits.

Here are four ways the atlas helps to advance natural infrastructure solutions. Read More »

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Four recommendations for new governors on preparing for disasters and building resilience

Most politicians know that reelection can rest on successfully navigating a disaster response.

A bitter truth is that, as climate change continues to make weather events more intense and frequent, it is increasingly likely that governors will be grappling with critical tests of resilience brought on by more extreme weather events, natural disasters, crumbling infrastructure and cyber threats.

But the paradigm is shifting from disaster response to disaster preparedness, as it is becoming clear that the human and economic toll of not being prepared for disaster may be just as consequential as the immediate response.

The good news is that new leaders taking office this month now have a New Governors’ Resilience Playbook, thanks to a bipartisan committee of 18 governors known as the U.S. Climate Alliance. These experienced leaders advise incoming governors on how to build long-term resilience during their first year in office and recommend a 10-step program based on best practices. The best practices gathered in the New Governors’ Resilience Playbook will help any new governor tailor resilience efforts to meet their state’s needs. Click To Tweet

Aimed at busy executives, the playbook is a quick read with lots of good advice about leadership, timeliness and governance. At its core, the message is that new governors need to focus on accelerating actions that build resilience to better prepare for disasters before they strike.

The resilience playbook includes four overarching takeaways for new leaders. Read More »

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Three ways the farm bill will help western states adapt to drought

The bipartisan farm bill that President Trump signed into law today contains far-reaching provisions to conserve water and build drought resilience in the American West.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and other western lawmakers recognized the importance of providing more funding to support the region’s crucial and increasingly stressed water systems.

Western legislators secured planning and cost-share funding for groundwater recharge work in California, a critical improvement in the law as producers begin the challenging task of bringing groundwater basins back into balance under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

The new provisions in the farm bill also could help farmers and water agencies develop and fund projects that improve drought resilience and planning in the Colorado River basin, where the river supplies water for 40 million people and 6 million acres of farmland each year.

Here are three key provisions that stand out for helping to enable farmers and water managers in the western U.S. adapt to a world with less water: Read More »

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The farm bill: A preview for how America can make progress on climate

When most Americans think about our nation’s notable environmental policies, they probably think about the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act or the Endangered Species Act. They probably aren’t thinking about the farm bill.

But they should be.

President Trump just signed into law the 2018 farm bill – an $867-billion piece of legislation upon which millions of Americans depend for global trade, food production, nutrition assistance and conservation funding.

Most people don’t know that the farm bill is in fact the single largest federal source of funding for conservation on private working lands.

Importantly, Republicans and Democrats worked together to make sure those funds didn’t take a cut, and the 2018 farm bill went even further to recognize the role that America’s vast farms and ranches can play in building resilient land and water systems that will allow people and nature to thrive on a changing planet.

Here are two key reasons why I believe the 2018 farm bill could be a watershed moment for conservation in America. Read More »

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Three ways Zinke failed as Interior Secretary. Why the next Secretary will likely fail, too.

This blog was co-authored by David Festa and Dan Grossman.

Two years ago, a colleague of ours penned a blog titled, “How Interior pick can make good on Trump’s promise to honor Theodore Roosevelt.”

Looking back now, it was optimistic for any of us to believe that Ryan Zinke could fulfill the responsibilities of the Interior Secretary, when it’s clear that the Trump administration has no respect for America’s natural resources and cultural heritage.

Here are three reasons why Zinke failed as Interior Secretary, and why we are deeply skeptical that his replacement will succeed, either.   Read More »

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