Coastal Law and Science at LSU

Coastal law brings together many legal specialties, including property law, oil and gas law, federal and state environmental law, public health law, and aspects of national security law. But law alone is not enough. Developing effective coastal policy also requires understanding the natural processes that shape the coast and its future. These include geology, meteorology, climatology, environmental science, ecology, and risk assessment theory. There are several nationally prominent scholars working on these topics at LSU. There is also a local community of experts with experience in the private sector and at government agencies. Several are participants in this blog. The LSU Law Center and other departments on the LSU campus offer a broad selection of courses to students interested in coastal law.



“This fall, construction is set to begin on a $4 million pop-up floodwall near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It’s designed to be assembled quickly in the event that torrential rains cause the nearby Potomac River to spill into the city. (Four years ago, heavy storms led to the flooding of buildings like the National Archives and the offices of the IRS.) The ten-foot wall is high enough that it should be able to stop even monster floods like the one in 1942 that caused millions of dollars in damage.

But the new barrier will have one glaring flaw. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the wall’s design doesn’t take into account future sea-level rise caused by climate change. As the planet warms and the ice caps melt, the seas will begin advancing. In a tidal river like the Potomac, whose height rises and falls with the oceans, that can make a big difference when major storms hit. Every foot of sea-level rise will reduce the floodwall’s effectiveness, making the capital more vulnerable to storm surges.”

Marsh land destruction not foreseeable cause of Katrina damage

In re the Complaint of Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., — F.3d —-, 2010 WL 4013336 (5th Cir.(La.) Oct 14, 2010)

In this consolidated limitation action, Claimants, Hurricane Katrina floodvictims, filed claims against the Limitation Petitioners, private companies thatoperated twenty-two dredging vessels along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet pursuant to contracts with the United States Army Corps of Engineers.Claimants suffered damages from the flooding of Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes when several levee systems failed as a result of the erosion of protective wetlands allegedly caused by the Limitation Petitioners’ negligent maintenance dredging operations. The Limitation Petitioners moved to dismiss the claims under FEDERAL RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 12(b)(1) and 12(c). The district court granted the motion to dismiss, finding that the Limitation Petitioners owed no duty to the Claimants because the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina was not a foreseeable result of the allegedly negligent conduct of any Limitation Petitioner. Claimants timely appealed. We affirm the judgment of the district court.

Florida’s Beaches – Caught between the ocean and a hard place

Florida is facing the same problems with global warming that face Louisiana: as the beaches try to retreat inland with ocean rise, they are stopped by armoring on developments. For Louisiana, this means the end of the wet lands. For Florida, it means the end of the beaches. For a good discussion, see:

Robert E. Deyle, Katherine C. Bailey, and Anthony Matheny. Adaptive Response Planning to Sea Level Rise in Florida and Implications for Comprehensive and Public-Facilities Planning. September 1, 2007.

Thomas K. Ruppert, Eroding Long-Term Prospects for Florida’s Beaches: Florida’s Coastal Management Policy. August 19, 2008. Research for this white paper was funded by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at

Can Mississippi Diversions Restore Lost Land?

Missouri River: Recognizing and Incorporating Sediment Management, National Academy Press 2011

Historically, the flow of sediment in the Missouri River has been as important as the flow of water for a variety of river functions. The sediment has helped form a dynamic network of islands, sandbars, and floodplains, and provided habitats for native species. Further downstream, sediment transported by the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers has helped build and sustain the coastal wetlands of the Mississippi River delta. The construction of dams and river bank control structures on the Missouri River and its tributaries, however, has markedly reduced the volume of sediment transported by the river. These projects have had several ecological impacts, most notably on some native fish and bird species that depended on habitats and landforms created by sediment flow.

Missouri River Planning describes the historic role of sediment in the Missouri River, evaluates current habitat restoration strategies, and discusses possible sediment management alternatives. The book finds that a better understanding of the processes of sediment transport, erosion, and deposition in the Missouri River will be useful in furthering river management objectives, such as protection of endangered species and development of water quality standards.

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.