A Nameless Louisiana Flood: Tragedy and Case Study

August 22, 2016

By Alison M. Jones

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No Water No Life’s thoughts are with all who’ve lost so much in Louisiana, particularly in eastern Baton Rouge. In our 5 watershed expeditions in the Lower Mississippi River Basin, we have learned much about flooding. This essay analyzes the history, causes and devastating effects of high-water events in Louisiana, and all floodplain areas. We believe the solutions involve us all.

FLOODPLAINS  Approximately 1/6th of Louisiana’s acreage is bayous, lakes, swamps and rivers. Southern Louisiana is a floodplain. As one sign says, “It’s called a floodplain because it’s plain that it floods.” It is perfect habitat for turtles, waterfowl and bald cypress trees.

Periodically, a rain-swollen Mississippi River or hurricanes bring floods. This month’s catastrophe was due to an “inland, sheared tropical depression.” Those most impacted  are not turtles, waterfowl or swamp cypress. They are humans.

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A RIVER TOWN  Baton Rouge, the first bluff north of the Mississippi River Delta, was settled circa 1,200-6,000 BC.  The Native American Mississippian  hunter-gatherers used the river and this flood-safe bluff to trade throughout the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys. Europeans followed and established Baton Rouge in 1699. Since then, families, communities and industries on and around the bluff have both thrived and suffered because of water.

The Mississippi River has driven Baton Rouge’s economy since its busy steamboat days. River transport made Baton Rouge a major U.S. industrial and petro-chemical center. The Port of Greater Baton Rouge is the 10th largest port in shipped tonnage. Now this port is handling the new Panamax ships to carry even greater amounts of grain, crude oil, cars and containers.

But with these benefits of the river – and the rains that feed it – come floods. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 affected 630,000 people. Herbert Hoover called it the “greatest peacetime calamity” in U.S. history. More devastating floods occurred in 1973, 1983 and 2011. The May 1995 Louisiana Flood dumped up to 20” of rain, causing over $3.1 million in damages. Each time, personal and economic damage has affected Louisiana and the U.S.

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SOGGY FOUNDATIONS and POOR PLANNING   For centuries, floods have swept away buildings, businesses, crops, and human lives. Whether a columned plantation or colorful trailer, the loss of a home entails the loss of investments, lifestyles and irreplaceable intangibles from family photos and holiday décor to BBQ patio moments.

Some say that everyone lives in a flood zone. Perhaps. But certainly flooding impacts are spreading wider. TV commentators of this 2016 Louisiana flood simply say the water has nowhere to go. Why?  New land development has created greater floods since construction has diverted natural runoff paths. As economies and populations grew, housing booms focused more on needs than risks. Developers covered wetlands and built on flood plains. Thus, urban and suburban development extended flooding beyond designated zones on FEMA maps.

Could that have been stopped? In the 1990’s and 2000’s Baton Rouge became one of the fastest-growing cities in the South. From 2000 to 2010 Baton Rouge’s population grew by about 33%. Ironically, in 2005 Hurricane Katrina flood refugees from New Orleans fled north, further causing Baton Rouge’s population to surge.

In hindsight, zoning regulations should have been stricter forty or fifty years ago. Wetlands should have been protected. Sprawl should have been addressed and discouraged.  These measures can still be instituted; and rebuilding on soggy ground can still be regulated.

FACING THE WEATHER  How can southern Louisiana and other low-lying regions mitigate, if not protect, impacts of future floods? Engineers, government, low-lying communities and all of us must face predictions of continued record-breaking rainfalls and increasingly high moisture levels in our atmosphere. Such extreme weather events used to be rare, often over 500 years apart. But since last May, eight similar, flood-producing heavy rainstorms have occurred in the U.S., according to meteorologist Eric Holthaus. If indeed this is a “classic signal of climate change, as claimed by Climate Nexus, we must implement immediate remedies.

PREVENTION  Possible solutions are big and small in scope. They can come from top-down and bottom-up efforts. We hear on TV that homes should be rebuilt on higher foundations. The reality is they should be rebuilt elsewhere. That’s the big solution: a complex and expensive remedy needing brave leadership and community commitment. It has been done. After severe floods in 2007 and 2008, Gays Mills, Wisconsin, is now moving its residences and commerce uphill from the Kickapoo River Floodplain. But Gays Mills is a much smaller community than eastern Baton Rouge, and it has taken almost a decade to accomplish and fund.

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MITIGATION  Louisiana and other floodplains can take steps smaller than relocation that will at least mitigate flooding effects. Small acts of sustainability really can lessen the impacts of flooding.

–Roads and parking areas can have porous surfaces, allowing water to seep through.

–Zoning can limit impermeable surfaces for renovated and new development.

–More trees can be planted so their deep roots can absorb excess waters.

–Rain gardens, bio-swales and other green elements can be implemented in residential, commercial, industrial and institutional settings to help absorb and divert run-off.

–Artificial wetlands can be built and existing wetlands saved so nature can again fulfill its role of storing floodwaters.

–Flood maps can be updated for today’s extreme weather.

These mitigations apply all across the country beyond already known flood regions! While global warming may seem like a slow climb up an endless ladder, its effects periodically pull that ladder right out from under us. Some of those moments have names like Katrina, Sandy and Irene. Some events are nameless but just as devastating, as Louisiana now knows.

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FOSSIL FUELS AND FLOODS   Beyond community-based mitigation, there is one major remedy that involves us all. Industrial emissions from across the globe – and even from Baton Rouge plants on the Mississippi River – contribute to climate disruption and the intensification of storms such as Louisiana’s 32-inch downpour this month. Ironically, Louisiana is a state known for its oil and gas industries – and for its floods. Fossil fuels and floods are co-joined in Louisiana, creating a cause-and-effect cycle.

Beyond Louisiana though, our national dependence on fossil fuels makes all of us partly responsible for the losses in Baton Rouge’s flood this summer. Our heavy use of cars and often-excessive consumption contribute to carbon emissions that indiscriminately hurt us all. We can cut back to essentials! Also you can join NWNL in following and sharing news of clean-energy technologies, including “Bladeless Wind Turbines” and solar highways producing crystal-powered energy.

OUR FUTURE   Today, we can all help Louisiana residents with gifts to Red Cross or LEAN – Louisiana Environmental Action Network, a local Baton Rouge organization NWNL has worked with.

Just as importantly, both today and tomorrow, we can all proactively support new, sustainable energy resources.  This will improve the future of existing flood-prone communities from Baton Rouge to Houston; from St Louis to Miami; West Virginia to South Carolina and worldwide.

By supporting measures to stop building in floodplains and efforts to lessen weather-related disasters, we say to Baton Rouge residents that we are one with them – and their children.

 

 


Happy World Elephant Day!

August 12, 2016

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By Christina Belasco, NWNL Project Manager

Today we celebrate and advocate on behalf of the iconic and magnificent elephant. As a keystone species and overall flagship symbol of conservation, the value of these creatures cannot be understated. Elephants are extremely intelligent, loving, and are an irreplaceable part of our natural world and landscape, which is why we must act now to save them from the numerous threats they face.

Elephants are an important key to biodiversity as they create crucial habitat with their seed dispersal. Their huge footprints even create mini pools in the ground for bugs and small flora.

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Elephants are extremely social, and the water hole is an important place to them. Besides being a vital source of life, elephants use the water hole to mingle with one another and play. They form bonds and friendships, just as many other species do.

The greatest threats to elephants are poaching for the ivory trade and habitat loss due to deforestation. We can all stand up to the ivory trade now by refusing to buy ivory and supporting habitat protection and restoration.

Here are two organizations that No Water No Life has personally connected with in its documentation of elephants in the Mara River Basin:

Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Save The Elephants

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Microbeads – Harm Behind the Product

July 7, 2016

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It’s time to rethink the hygienic products we use. Those tiny little beads in our peach scented facial scrub are doing much more than just exfoliating our skin. A large number of studies have shown that these tiny microbeads have extremely harmful impacts on the environment.

Once they get swept down the sink, the beads don’t just simply disappear. Microbeads are too small to be caught in wastewater systems, and end up flowing out to pollute our rivers, lakes, and oceans.

In 2011, a survey of the Great Lakes showed that Lake Eerie had up to 600,000 plastic particles per square kilometer.

Thankfully President Obama signed a bipartisan bill in December that bans microbeads, but it won’t take affect until 2017. Just last week, Canada listed microbeads as toxic, and are likely to pass a ban on the product as well.

In the meantime, be conscious of the beauty and hygienic products you are using!

To find out if a product you are considering purchasing has microbeads, there is an app available from Beat The Microbead that will give information on any product when they are scanned.

Here is a list of common products that contain microbeads.

Change your habits and change the world!


Moving Towards Sanitary Water Solutions in Ethiopia

June 16, 2016

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“Sanitation is more important than political independence.” – Mahatma Gandhi, 1925

More and more people around the world are paying attention to the acronym WASH, which stands for water and sanitation health. WASH is an important part of international aid efforts to raise awareness and focus on the need for clean water in developing countries.

In Ethiopia the need for clean water is great, but communities are struggling to find access to clean water for drinking and sanitation all around the country from the Omo River Basin in the south to the Nile River Basin in the north.

Ethiopia has a population of nearly 99 million, and just under half of this population lacks access to safe water. Even more shockingly, two thirds of Ethiopians lack access to clean water and facilities for sanitation.

Water supplies are often contaminated as they come from shallow, unprotected ponds that are at times shared with animals. Rainwater also washes waste from surrounding areas to the source. This has a plethora of negative impacts on communities’ health and safety.

In rural parts of the country, women and children have to walk up to six hours to collect water. The jugs women and children carry back to their village filled with water weigh up to 40 pounds.

Addressing the severity of these major issues, there are a few groups working to provide Ethiopia with clean water solutions that NWNL supports.

Soapply is a company based in the United States that sells organic and non-toxic soap. With each purchase of their soap, Soapply funds up to $10 worth of water, sanitation, and hygiene initiatives in the Blue Nile region of Tigray in northern Ethiopia.

In other parts of Africa, the Hippo Roller has become a popular way to transport large amounts of water easily. Their large cylinders roll on the ground and are pushed with a metal handle bar. This takes much of the load off villagers transporting water and allows them to carry up to 5 times as much water as a bucket.

No Water No Life encourages you to save water at home and spread awareness of solutions to water availability and sanitation issues elsewhere!


USGS Studies Pharmaceuticals in our Streams

June 3, 2016

CA: Santa Barbara, Medicines

 

Blog by Christina Belasco, Project Manager

The USGS just released a study of 59 streams in the Southeastern United States ranging from Georgia to Virginia. Alarmingly, the study showed that every single one of these streams tested positive for pollution by pharmaceutical compounds.

These compounds have a wide variety of negative impacts on the entire aquatic ecosystem including altering the base of the food web, affecting neurotransmitters for many aquatic insects, and affecting the reproductive health of fish.

One of the main causes of this pollution is homeowners’ tendency to flush unused medications down the toilet. There are alternatives to this harmful habit.

There are many community based drug “take-back” programs you may use to dispose of your medicine – call your local government to find out more information. Otherwise disposing your medicine in the trash is the best option. Take action today to prevent your medicine from polluting local waterways.

Share this information with your friends, and let us know how you help keep your streams clean.

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Map of tested streams courtesy of USGS


Earth Day is a Positive Day

April 22, 2016
Blog by Alison M. Jones, NWNL Director

For conservation photographer Gary Braasch, who authored Earth Under Fire, every day was Earth Day. Here are his words, taken from our 2011 NWNL Interview on Climate Change with Gary.

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“OK, change your light bulbs — BUT then change the laws.”

“We have so many tools – hundreds of technologies that can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. What we are missing is the political movement.”

“Each person needs to talk to their neighbors; get involved in politics; learn basic facts about climate change and how it affects their community and the nation; and be willing to talk about it.

“The history of environmental protection is a HISTORY OF SUCCESS. We are all living healthier lives; the air is cleaner; and the water is cleaner, despite all the issues we still have. That’s because of the laws we put in.”

As Gary said, each of us must believe we can make a difference.

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HAPPY EARTH DAY!


Raritan River Week!

April 12, 2016
New Jersey, reflections of sycamore trees in Lamington River, tributary of Upper Raritan River

New Jersey, reflections of sycamore trees in Lamington River, tributary of Upper Raritan River

We love the Raritan River!

Celebrate RARITAN RIVER WEEK
April 16-30, 2016!

Check out the events page for rain barrel workshops, nature walks, stream cleanups, composting/gardening sessions and more for people of all ages to enjoy! There’s also a great list of resources for the region which includes maps of parks and protected areas, a book list, and lesson plans for teachers.

Did you know that there’s a Quarterly publication called Raritan too?Raritan offers writers and readers the opportunity for sustained reflection and aesthetic pleasure, uncluttered by academic jargon. Founded in 1981 by the distinguished literary critic Richard Poirier, and supported by Rutgers University, Raritan aims to reach the common reader in everyone and to provide a particular experience of reading, one that nurtures an engaged and questioning approach to cultural texts of all sorts: literary, artistic, political, historical, sociological, even scientific.”

USA: New Jersey, Raritan River Basin

USA: New Jersey, Raritan River Basin


World Water Day: Water and Jobs

March 22, 2016

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Happy World Water Day from No Water No Life!

World Water Day is a day dedicated to spreading awareness of the importance of fresh water through social media, educational events, campaigns, etc. In the past, the annual themes of World Water Day included sanitation, cooperation, energy, culture and more. This year, the theme is “Water and Jobs,” focusing on the power that water and jobs have to transform people’s lives.

USA: California, Kettleman City, sign about effects of drought and no water

“Today, almost half of the world’s workers – 1.5 billion people – work in water related sectors and nearly all jobs depend on water and those that ensure its safe delivery. Yet the millions of people who work in water are often not recognized or
protected by basic labor rights.”

– United Nations Water

To find out more about World Water Day and how you can help spread awareness, you can visit the UN Water website.


White House Celebrates World Water Day – holds first White House Water Summit

March 22, 2016

by Lana McGee Straub, NWNL Guest Blogger

Leaders from across the United States will gather at the White House Tuesday, March 22, 2016, to commemorate the first ever White House Water Summit. With recent events caused by climate change and aging infrastructure, “water is a critical area of focus,” said John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Flooding in the east and drought in the west, as well as the quality crisis in Flint, Michigan has created a growing dialogue on water says Holdren. This is why the White House is hosting the first White House Water Summit. Leaders from across the United States, including tribal leaders, representatives from state and federal agencies, academia, as well as non-governmental organizations will all gather to discuss how they can work together to find innovative solutions to ensure water sustainability. “Water is a shared resource,” says Holdren. “And as such it is a shared responsibility.” These agencies are on the front lines, says Holdren, and the White House has issued a call to action for those agencies to work together to build a sustainable water future.

As part of this call to action, the President has drafted Water Resource Challenges and Opportunities for Water Technology Innovation in December 2015. Yesterday, he tackled the issue of drought and resilience by drafting the Presidential Memorandum: Building National Capabilities for Long-Term Drought Resilience. “Accompanying the memorandum,” says , Alice Hill, Senior Director for Resilience Policy, “is an action plan – that action plan guides the implementation of policy goals…it delineates 27 new activities that departments and agencies will undertake to support drought resilience within existing resources.”

“We’ve issued a call to action across all sectors to come up with solutions for water innovation, specifically to come up with ways to ensure that water is there when and where you need it,” said Ali Zaidi, Associate Director for Natural Resources, Energy and Science. Water efficiency and innovation has lagged for decades according to Zaidi. “Today we waste 7 billion gallons of water every single day that is clean and treated.” Zaidi said. “We clean it, we treat it and we lose it.”

Lost efficiency is due to aging infrastructure – leaky pipes. Zaidi says we are not investing near enough in research and development of water innovations. “Clean energy R&D gets 50 times more investment than clean water R&D. That just shows how little we’re investing in something that we clearly value and need at the end of the day,” said Zaidi. He’s excited that the budget puts 33 percent more money into water innovation. During the White House Water Summit, they will be showcasing entities outside the government who are making their own commitments to innovation, which includes $4 billion in private capital committed to water infrastructure innovation, which is slated to save over 100 billion gallons of water over the next decade.

The Water Summit will be streamed live from the Whitehouse.gov website beginning at 9 a.m. EDT and can be found at https://www.whitehouse.gov/live/white-house-water-summit


The eternal dance of water

March 18, 2016

Our waterways dance through lush green forests, industrial cities, into vast oceans, even underground and dried up river beds leave their trails as they drift across the earth, supporting all life.

Ethiopia: aerials of Lower Omo River Basin in flood stage

Ethiopia: aerials of Lower Omo River Basin in flood stage

Mexico: Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, aerial views of Old Maya canal from Gulf of Mexico into Lake Campechen. LightHawk

Mexico: Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

USA:  Louisiana, Atchafalaya Basin, Morgan City

USA: Louisiana, Atchafalaya Basin, Morgan City

Zambia, confluence of tributaries of Zambezi River, aerial view

Zambia, confluence of tributaries of Zambezi River

USA:  Louisiana, Aerial photo of Atchafalaya Basin area, St Martin Parish, electric lines and posts for old RR track on Right, next to Interstate 10 elevated highway - bridge - causewauy over Lake Henderson (aka Henderson Swamp), wetlands with bald cypress standing in water (Taxodium distichum, aka  baldcypress, bald-cypress, cypress, southern-cypress, white-cypress, tidewater red-cypress, Gulf-cypress, red-cypress, or swamp cypress), a deciduous conifer

USA: Louisiana, Atchafalaya Basin, St Martin Parish

USA  California, aerial view of confluence of San Joaquin (on R) and False River (on L), NE of Antioch

USA California, confluence of San Joaquin and False River

Namibia: Naukluft Park and mountains in Namibia Desert, aerial scenic

Namibia: Naukluft Park and mountains in Namibia Desert

Inspired by The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge – dance.

Posted by Jasmine Graf, Associate Director of No Water No Life.


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