The Japanese Tsunami and what it means to the US

Several areas of the United States are subject to tsunamis, and the coast north of San Francisco through the Canadian border has a history of catastrophic tsunamis. This report from FEMA details the tsunami risk in the United States:

Those who saw the damage from the Hurricane Katrina storm surge have noted that it looks very much like the tsunami damage. While a hurricane surge does not have the initial force of a fast moving tsunami, the wave action during the long period of inundation leads to very similar damage. It is likely that the New Orleans levees will be no more effective than the tsunami walls when the next great storm comes to the Louisiana Coast.  As the Japanese learned, it is failing to work with realistic estimates of wave heights, not construction, that ultimately determines the usefulness of flood walls.

Small storms, big floods – Tropical Storm Allison

Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustav were relatively dry storms. Had they been wet storms like Allison, the damage to Louisiana would have been much greater. If New Orleans received the 39 inches of rain that Houston received during Allison, it would overwhelm the pumps and would flood nearly as badly as with Katrina.

“Tropical Storm Allison produced severe storms, torrential rainfall, and associated flooding across the southern and eastern sections of the United States from June 5 to June 18, 2001.  After making landfall near Galveston, Texas, on June 5, the storm moved inland to near Lufkin, Texas.  Allison drifted back into the Gulf of Mexico on June 9, turned to the northeast, and made landfall again on June 10 near Morgan City, Louisiana.  After causing 24 deaths in Texas and Louisiana, Allison moved across southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, southwest Georgia, and northern Florida, causing 9 more deaths.  By mid-week, Allison stalled over North Carolina and produced more heavy rainfall and flooding before tracking northeast along the DelMarVa Peninsula and moving off the New England coast on June 18.  Seven additional deaths occurred in Pennsylvania and one in Virginia.  Figure 1 shows the path of Tropical Storm Allison, and Figure 2 shows the associated rainfall. Tropical Storm Allison caused more damage than any tropical storm in U.S. history, with estimates in excess of $5 billion.  Most of the damage and fatalities (22) occurred in Houston, Texas.  Storm rainfall totals peaked at 36.99 inches (Port of Houston) in Texas and 29.86 inches (Thibodaux) in Louisiana.  Since this was the area of extreme rainfall and greatest impact in terms of damage and fatalities, the report focuses on NWS performance in southeast Texas and southern Louisiana.”

The Black Swan of Coastal Ecology

This is a presentation at the University of Oregon Public Interest Law Conference, March 5th, 2010:

The thesis is that coastal restoration is impossible on the Louisiana Coast. The only way to preserve the coastal ecology is to allow the coast to retreat as the ocean rises. Continuing to support coastal restoration empowers interest groups whose long term goal is to use levees to hold back the ocean. This will destroy the coastal wetlands, while increasing the costs of the eventual destruction of coastal infrastructure by ocean rise and hurricanes. The Black Swan is that environmental groups cannot accept that the dynamic world of ocean rise makes traditional notions of restoration impossible.

Should we subsidize developing high risk coastal areas?

By Kathy Chu, USA TODAY
DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. — This island’s website couldn’t be blunter: “Dauphin Island is in a precarious position of being a barrier island, in essence an overgrown sandbar. This gives us a potential of being a disaster in the making. We have been hit by numerous hurricanes, Ivan, Frederic, Georges, Danny and many more!”…
The real irony is the claim that New Orleans is different from the other places built in high risk zones –  the problem in New Orleans is that the feds do not spend enough on levees to protect the city. Once the feds begin to subsidize high risk development, it is considered an entitlement and it is the feds fault, not the locals for the bad land use decisions.

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.