Restoring coastal Louisiana: the Mississippi River delta system
In the 1860s, National Geographic observed that leveeing off the Mississippi River would undoubtedly cause catastrophic land loss, but that the economic benefits to the entire nation merited reliance on future generations to solve the problem with technology that would be undoubtedly advanced. Morgan Crutcher identifies herself as part of the generation responsible for solving the crisis. “That moment is now,” Crutcher says. “If we don’t shoulder responsibility for saving ourselves, no one else will. But few people outside Louisiana understand the degree of crisis we are facing and how few resources we have to solve the problem.” Louisiana lost 1,800 square miles of land from 1932 to 2010, and although the pace has slowed, it’s on track to lose another 1,800 if nothing is done. The loss is the result of a convergence of factors, from the channelization of the Mississippi River, to oil and gas exploration and production, to sea level rise, subsidence, storms, and invasive species. For five years, Crutcher advocated for science-based solutions as part of the nonprofit Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. She’s now using her expertise to serve the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which is responsible for developing and implementing Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan. First written in 2007 following the 2005 storm season that included Katrina and revised every five years, the plan is a 50-year blueprint for coastal restoration and protection activities, and it relies on governor-mandated support of agencies throughout the state. “Collaboration is key,” Crutcher said. “Part of my job is to understand where we can easily start collaborating with other agencies due to an overlap of priorities.” Another part of Crutcher’s job is building a culture of awareness. “Awareness always increases after a crisis like a hurricane, oil spill, or flood,” she said. “The challenge is how to keep the drum beat going at a steady pace so that long-term restoration and protection goals don’t get overshadowed by more immediate problems.” Background photo courtesy of Jasmine Leflore.