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Management of delta and wetlands contributed to problems after hurricanes


In a guest editorial published in the March-April issue of the international journal Ground Water, hydrologists in Louisiana suggest adoption of evolving management plans that recognize engineering, economic and hydrologic realities is key to sustainable development of the Louisiana coastline.

Authors Richard F. Keim and William J. Blanford state that historical hydrological management of the Mississippi River and its delta is partially responsible for the increased vulnerability of coastal infrastructure and culture, and effectiveness of levees can be improved by combining wetland restoration and flood-protection efforts synergistically into a single effort. Hence, construction of a “category 5” levee, which is proposed by some, is not a substitute for wetland protection.

“The health and susceptibility of any levee system will be matched by the health of the natural systems and care and attentiveness to which we pay to both,” state Keim and Blanford. “Incorporating natural systems as integral to a functional levee system will allow humans to continue to live in precarious coastal communities.”

Keim and Blanford hope that engineering solutions can be found to preserve and enhance natural processes to sustain wetlands, with levees used only to protect concentrated, high-value infrastructure. “To maintain the integrity of those wetlands, with all of their ecological, economic and cultural importance, will require active hydrological management,” add Keim and Blanford. “Including ecosystem restoration in flood control planning is necessary.”

Findings from the research behind this article are being used directly by state and federal regulatory groups to guide the development of strategies for management and restoration of Louisiana’s wetlands, which compose over 40% of the nation’s wetlands. The authors are also beginning research to understand the spatial extent of wetland conditions by mapping ecological and hydrologic conditions from satellite data, a tool in strong demand from regulatory and planning groups.

Heather Noonan | alfa
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