Can River Diversions Restore Marshland?

R. Eugene Turner, Doubt and the Values of an Ignorance-Based World View for Restoration: Coastal Louisiana Wetlands. Estuaries and Coasts (2009) 32:1054–1068.

Christopher M. Swarzenski, Thomas W. Doyle, Brian Fry, and Thomas G. Hargis. Biogeochemical response of organic-rich freshwater marshes in the Louisiana delta plain to chronic river water influx. Biogeochemistry (2008) 90:49–63.

Michael S. Kearney, J. C. Riter & R. Eugene Turner, Freshwater river diversions for marsh restoration in Louisiana: Twenty-six years of changing vegetative cover and marsh area, 38 Geophysical Research Letters (2011)

Tweel, Andrew W, and R Eugene Turner. “Watershed Land Use and River Engineering Drive Wetland Formation and Loss in the Mississippi River Birdfoot Delta.” Limnol. Oceanogr 57, no. 1 (2012): 18–28.

Turner, R Eugene. “Beneath the Salt Marsh Canopy: Loss of Soil Strength with Increasing Nutrient Loads.” Estuaries and Coasts 34, no. 5 (2011): 1084–93.

RE Turner, On the cusp of restoration: science and society, Restoration ecology (2005)

Christopher M. Swarzenski, Surface-Water Hydrology of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in South-Central Louisiana, 1996-1999, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1672.

These papers raise serious doubts about the use of river diversions to restore marshland. It is conventional wisdom that river water will provide sediment to build up the bed of the marsh and nutrients to encourage plant growth. These papers undermine that conventional wisdom through looking at the actual effect of river water on marshes. They found that diversions may weaken marshes, rather than build them up.

Children and Disasters

National Commission on Children and Disasters. 2010 Report to the President and Congress. AHRQ Publication No. 10-M037. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. October 2010.

An interesting report on the special problems of children in disasters. While children certainly have special needs in disasters, these reports on different special populations raise the issue of disaggregating disaster response, especially evacuations. Emergency response and evacuation systems have limited resources and tasking them will multiple strategies for multiple populations will make it difficult for them to serve any populations effectively. This again raises the issue of the importance of mitigation and disaster avoidance as opposed to disaster response.

Insurance Risks and Climate Change – Swiss Re

Insurance can be key in helping communities adapt to and manage the risks associated with climatic events, according to a report by Zurich-based Swiss Reinsurance Co.

The report, released at the opening of Climate Week NY°C 2010 in New York on Monday, says new forms of risk transfer that involve public and private sectors can offer ways for poor communities in developing countries to insure climate risks and losses associated with large natural disasters, the report states.

Climate Week is a “global forum to mobilize an international public-private response to climate change,” according to the conference’s website.

What is the Corp Really Building in New Orleans?

From the University of Colorado Natural Hazards Observer:

Corps of Engineers’ Steven Stockton
Avoiding the Single Line of Defense
Natural Hazards Observer • September 2010

“Where are the visionaries for the future? [Congress’] focus is on a million different areas. It’s not on water infrastructure or on disaster risk mitigation,” says Steven Stockton, director of Civil Works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In a frank and wide-ranging discussion at the 35th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop, Stockton described the many issues the Corps faces, including the overly optimistic expectations the public has for protection by engineered structures like dams and levees. “Building strong is kind of our tagline,” Stockton says. “It’s not just about structural solutions, it’s about building strong collaborative relationships with sustainable resource futures … there is no absolute when it comes to levels of protection. There’s a lot of controversy in New Orleans, where we’re putting in $15 billion there over a three year period developing a very strong and robust and resilient system.” The system includes the world’s largest surge barrier and the world’s largest pumping plant.

“But that provides about a 100-year level of protection, which is relatively low,” Stockton says. “The public either doesn’t want to or cannot grasp exactly what their portion of the risk is.”

National Wildlife Federation and the NFIP

Environmental groups have strong objections to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) because it encourages development in fragile coastal environments. This testimony also mentions the proposed Multiple Peril Insurance Act which create a wind insurance program like the NFIP. Environmental groups oppose this because it would just make it even cheaper to live in high risk areas. Private insurers and re-insurers oppose it because it drive them out of a functioning insurance market.

Testimony of David R. Conrad Senior Water Resources Specialist National Wildlife Federation Regarding Legislative Proposals to Reform the National Flood Insurance Program Before the Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity House Committee on Financial Services U.S. House of Representatives April 21, 2010.

Introduction to the National Flood Insurance Program

In the late 1960s, the federal government set up a national flood insurance program to deal with the failure of the private market for flood insurance. (Failure in the sense that no one wanted to actuarially sound rates for flood insurance.) It was a carrot and stick program to reduce development in areas at risk of flooding. The carrot was the availability of partially subsidized insurance and the stick was the requirement that communities that wanted to participate in the flood insurance program institute land use restrictions to limit future high risk construction. Through time, political pressures made it difficult for the program to enforce the land use restrictions and to charge realistic rates for coverage. Thus a program that was intended to reduce risky development eventually morphed into a program that subsidized risky development. This paper is a good introduction to the program and its legal issues, by an expert:

Ernest B. Abbott, Floods, Flood Insurance, Litigation, Politics – and Catastrophe:The National Flood Insurance Program, Sea Grant Law and Policy Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1 (June, 2008) 129-155.

A recent review of where the money goes:

Perhaps not surprisingly, Louisiana is the big winner in the flood insurance game. What is startling is the amount spent on rebuilding in the same high risk regions so that program makes makes multiple payouts on the same house.

Financial report for the first 2 years of the program:

United States. An Examination of Financial Statements of the National Flood Insurance Program, Fiscal Year 1970: Letter from Comptroller General of the United States Transmitting a Report on the Examination of Financial Statements of the National Flood Insurance Program, Federal Insurance Administration, Department of Housing and Urban Development, for Fiscal Year 1970, Pursuant to 31 USC 841. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 1972.

CRS Report – Potential BP Liability for the Oil Spill

“Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20, 2010, Congress has given much attention to the compensatory liability provisions of the Oil Pollution Act and, to a lesser extent, those of the Jones Act and the Death on the High Seas Act. However, federal laws possibly relevant to the oil spill also impose civil and criminal money penalties, which may reach dollar amounts in connection with the Gulf spill greater than those for compensatory liability. This report summarizes selected federal civil and criminal penalty provisions that may be found violated in connection with the Gulf spill and related worker fatalities. It does not purport to be exhaustive. CRS stresses that it has no knowledge of the facts surrounding the Gulf spill other than what has been publicly reported; hence the provisions listed here are only an informed guess as to those that ultimately may be found violated.”

Robert Meltz, Federal Civil and Criminal Penalties Possibly Applicable to Parties Responsible for the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, CRS Report – August 16, 2010

Hurricane Katrina – Was Flooding Really a Surprise?

(Hurricane Katrina resources)

One of the post-Katrina myths is that no one expected the city to flood. It is true that no politician ever used the f-word when calling for evacuations. This was the single deadliest mistakes in the response to Katrina – New Orleans has never suffered widespread deadly wind damage, so the only scary reason to leave is the threat of flooding. In 2002, the TIMES-PICAYUNE ran a very bold and brave series of articles about risk of hurricane flooding in New Orleans:

Washing Away – This story made it clear that New Orleans was at high risk of flooding, that the levees were in terrible shape, and that even a moderate hurricane could inundate the city.

GOING UNDER (Graphic) – Hurricane Betsy flooded New Orleans with attic-high water in 1965, accelerating a massive public works effort to protect the
area from storm surge and flooding. But advances in computer modeling show that dangerous weak spots in the levees could result in a catastrophic flood. Erosion and subsidence make south Louisiana all the more vulnerable to hurricanes.

LAST LINE OF DEFENSE: HOPING THE LEVEES HOLD (Graphic) – Army Corps of Engineers officials say hurricane levees in the New Orleans area will protect residents from a Category 3 hurricane moving rapidly over the area. But computer models indicate even weaker storms could find chinks in that armor.

Roger D Congleton, The story of Katrina: New Orleans and the political economy of catastrophe, 127 Public Choice 5–30 (2006).

Great analysis of the politics leading to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.