Watersheds and International Day of Action for Rivers

Water flows from the higher elevations of the northern United States to our low-lying wetlands. Surface elevation, on average, decreases from the northern border with Canada all the way to the mouth of the Mississippi River. What that means is that most of the water that falls between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains drains into the Mississippi and eventually in the coastal waters of Louisiana. We call this area the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB) or the Mississippi River Watershed. [1] A watershed, by definition, is an area that drains to a river or lake. The Mississippi River Watershed encompasses nearly 41 percent of the United States.

Streams and ponds in the higher elevations of our watershed are fed by precipitation (rain, snow, hail, etc.) or springs. Water always follows the path of least resistance, which is downhill. Even on gradual slopes, water will seek out lower elevations. Flow rate is dependent on the angle of the slope, also called the elevation gradient. This explains why rivers in more mountainous regions flows faster than in our very flat land. Of course, some water will evaporate, some water will seep into the ground, and the rest will continue downstream until it gets to the ocean. While there are some exceptions to that rule, such as the Great Salt Lake in Utah and other Endorheic basins (no outlets besides evaporation), most water that falls on land will follow the water cycle that we all learned in grade school.

In Louisiana, the MARB outlets are the mouths of the Atchafalaya and Mississippi rivers and their distributaries. Because the state receives this water runoff through our bayous and marshes, so too does it collect  the trash and other pollution from the watershed. This pollution includes not only typical litter and non-point-source runoff, but also agricultural runoff that carries an abundance of nutrients. Select groups across the state are employing litter collection traps in bayous and streams to prevent trash from ending up in our coastal waters. More about these issues can be found in our articles about hypoxia stress and soil pollution.

The International Day of Action for Rivers will be celebrating healthy watersheds worldwide tomorrow, March 14. [2] We encourage our readers to do a little cleaning in their local waterways year-round but especially tomorrow. There are several groups around the state who organize clean-ups in our local waterways for any who are interested. Some of these groups can be found in our sources. As the third largest watershed in the world, the MARB supports numerous ecosystems and human settlements, and it is crucial that we keep it healthy for all its constituents. Each day, our coastal wetlands protect our cities and ports, so we at CWPPRA strive to return the favor and #ProtectOurCoast.

 

[1] https://www.epa.gov/ms-htf/mississippiatchafalaya-river-basin-marb

[2] https://www.internationalrivers.org/dayofactionforrivers

Featured image from http://www.bayouvermilionpreservation.org/photos.html

 

Action groups:

 

City of Lafayette: http://www.lafayettela.gov/EQ/Pages/Environmental-Outreach.aspx

Bayou Vermilion District: http://www.bayouvermiliondistrict.org/

Sierra Club: https://www.sierraclub.org/louisiana/what-do-you-want-do

BREC: http://www.brec.org/index.cfm/page/GroupVolunteerOpportunities

BTNEP: https://volunteer.btnep.org/

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Holly Beach Sand Management (CS-31)

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The Chenier Plain shoreline was created with sediment transported by the Mississippi River’s periodic westward oscillation. The swales that characterize the Chenier Plain were created by the deposition of these alluvial sediments, and these same sediments also served to extend the shoreline gulfward and create the area’s expansive mudflats.

Chronic erosion in this area is caused by a lack of sand and sediment caused by the channelization and regulation of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers to the east. In addition, the Calcasieu and Mermentau rivers are not supplying coarse-grained sediment to the area, and the Cameron Jetties associated with the Calcasieu Ship Channel deflect the little material that does exist away from the project area.

The project’s goals are: (1) to protect approximately 8,000 acres of existing, low energy intermediate and brackish marsh wetlands north of the forested ridge and (2) to create and protect roughly 300 acres of beach dune and coastal chenier habitat from erosion and degradation.

The project also provides protection for the wooded chenier to the west, which has been purchased by the Baton Rouge Audubon Society. It is being maintained as a sanctuary because of its importance as habitat for Neotropical migratory birds.

The project plan consists of placing approximately 1.7 million cubic yards of high quality sand on the beach to reestablish a more historical shoreline, as well as improve the effectiveness of the existing segmented breakwater system.

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The project is located west of Calcasieu Pass along the Gulf of Mexico shoreline, extending between Holly Beach and Constance Beach in Cameron Parish, Louisiana.

This project was selected for Phase 2 (construction) funding at the August 2001 Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force meeting. Since that time, 1.75 million cubic yards of sand were added to the beach. Sand placement was completed in March 2003.

Project staff installed 102,000 linear feet of vegetative plantings at dune elevation on the Holly Beach dredge platform; 20,400 four-inch containers of bitter panicgrass (Panicum amarum) were planted. The installation of the plantings was completed in August 2003. Cameron Parish believes this project is what saved HWY 82 from being washed out during Hurricane Rita.

This project is on Priority Project List 11.

The Federal Sponsor is NRCS

The local sponsor is CPRA

Mardi Gras is Like Coastal Restoration

We hope our readers had a safe and enjoyable Mardi Gras! This week’s Wetland Wednesday is about consuming, growing, and persisting in honor of our signature holiday. Mardi Gras is traditionally a festival celebrates life and resources before the coming Lenten fast. While fasting during Lent, the calories and nutrients your body stored during Mardi Gras are used to keep your body functioning properly. [1] In a way, Mardi Gras is an investment in the future.

In this regard, CWPPRA has a similar goal to Mardi Gras. We are building up coastal Louisiana’s sediment reserves to keep our state safe during trying times in the foreseeable future. We can compare Lent to a storm event like a hurricane (and not the kind you find on Bourbon Street), because they both deplete the invested material: fat and nutrient reserves during lent and land during a hurricane. While our coast deteriorates to open water, CWPPRA is trying to keep our historic culture and settlements from succumbing to the lack of new sediment. It is our hope and our mission to strengthen Louisiana’s coastline to the point where it can protect our coast and our way of life, including our festival celebrations.

Louisiana has such a diverse set of cultures that reside in our coastal zone, and we would hate to see any more of these cultural hubs be displaced like the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe. [2] We are observing the consequences of coastal land loss in real time now more than ever before. There will be more land lost and more severe consequences from failing to protect our coast. Louisiana’s cultural diversity and supportive nature are things we are all proud of, so join CWPPRA in restoring some of the natural buffer that helps us weather the storms and keeps us functioning properly.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mardi_Gras

[2] https://www.thevermilion.com/news/like-a-cancer-isle-de-jean-charles-land-loss-forces/article_7eba1bf6-235b-11e9-b859-3f310ddf6acb.html

Featured Image by John Rowland from https://www.theadvocate.com/acadiana/entertainment_life/mardi_gras/article_62177a9e-fe09-11e6-97ad-db4c0116fc38.html

Cooking with Invasive Species

Louisiana is a great place to institute a culture of dining on invasive species because, in addition loving good food, we’ve got plenty of them.  In a state where hunting is common and nutria are rampant, the Coastwide Nutria Control Program (LA-03b, nutria.com) pays people to harvest nutria. There are many benefits to a program like this, including food, environmental protection, and partial income for indulging in a hobby for many sportsmen. On the science side, our nutria program maintains a database of regions where nutria are trapped or hunted that can aid in assessing their damage. [2] The tasty meat from nutria can also be used in cooking, so it doesn’t go to waste. The 2017 documentary “Rodents of Unusual Size” features coastal Louisiana natives, chefs, and others trying to limit the damage done by Louisiana’s nutria population. [3]

There are also plenty of recipes for feral hogs since they are the same species as domestic pigs, Sus scrofa, a staple in American cuisine. Feral hog meat can be substituted into any recipe that calls for domesticated pork, like a classic roast (pictured from Cook-off for the Coast 2019), however it’s important to make sure the hog was thoroughly inspected after harvest since they can carry parasites and diseases harmful to humans. Other invasives that have accessible recipes with a quick search on the web include apple snails (a delicacy in some parts of the world), water hyacinth, and multiple species of Asian carp.

Creative solutions to growing problems come in many forms. Harvesting invasive species as a food source is a multi-benefit solution in the fight against damage from invasives. While some scientists disagree with this method of invasive control, saying it has too little of an effect on invasive populations [1], putting invasive species on the dinner plate can help spread awareness of the issue and provide incentive for increased harvests. CWPPRA embraces new solutions to land loss in Louisiana, and we urge our readers to explore alternative food options that may help in our fight to #ProtectOurCoast. Who knows? You might find a new favorite food.

 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/world-on-a-plate/2015/feb/06/cooking-cant-solve-the-invasive-threat

[2] https://nutria.com/site24.php

[3] https://boingboing.net/2013/04/29/meat-from-a-20-kb-swamp-rat-t.html

Little Lake Shoreline Protection/Dedicated Dredging Near Round Lake (BA-37)

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The Little Lake mapping unit has high wetland loss caused by shoreline erosion, subsidence, and channel construction. The project is located in an area protecting approximately 3,000 acres of fragile interior marshes between the Little Lake shoreline and Bayou L’Ours Ridge. Project area wetlands are subject to high shoreline erosion rates (20 to 40 feet per year) and subsidence deteriorating interior marshes. Without construction, the project area marsh was expected to convert to mainly open water over the next 20 years.

The project’s goals were to:
1) prevent erosion along roughly 4 miles of Little Lake shoreline;
2) create 488 acres of intertidal wetlands along the Little Lake shoreline;
3) nourish and maintain 532 acres of intermediate marsh; and
4) reduce land loss rates by 50 percent over the 20-year life of the project.

The project consists of two major features, a shoreline protection structure and a marsh creation and nourishment area. The 25,976 ft foreshore rock dike was constructed by placing rocks on top of a geotextile foundation. The dike was constructed using three lifts and include gaps every 1,000 to 1,500 ft for fisheries access.

The marsh creation and nourishment phase of this project consisted of containment dikes, marsh creation in open water areas, and marsh nourishment over existing marsh. Approximately, 920 acres of marsh were created and nourished through placement of 3,165,121 cubic yards of sediment from Little Lake. The marsh creation area was planted with 17,000 Spartina alterniflora (smooth cordgrass) plugs.map.jpg

The project is located in the central Barataria Basin in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana. The project area is bounded by the East and West Forks of Bayou L’Ours and the southern shoreline of Little Lake from Plum Point westward to Breton Canal.

This project was selected for Phase I (engineering and design) funding at the January 2002 Task Force meeting and for Phase II (construction) funding in November 2003. Construction was completed in 2007.

The project is listed on Priority Project List 11.

Competitive Dominance Pt. II

Last week, Wetland Wednesday focused on dominant species in wetlands and conditions that contribute to competition. Last week we talked a lot about plants, but animals can be dominant in wetlands as well, for example the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis).

Alligators are one of the most recognizable predator species of swamp and marsh habitats, but they haven’t always been as numerous as they are now. Alligators were endangered as recently as 1987 due to human impacts, especially hunting. [1] Since their conservation proved so effective, they are no longer on the endangered species list, but instead are now “of least concern”. It is impressive to see such a strong recovery for an endangered species, and their recovery was successful for many reasons, including their lack of strong competitors. Very few animals compare in size or bite strength. As apex predators, they have essentially free reign over other species when they reach maturity, although there is some competition between individual alligators. Productivity in swamps and marshes is extremely high compared to other habitats, so there is plenty of food to go around, but they still compete with birds of prey and other large aquatic animals like alligator gar and alligator snapping turtles (those names probably aren’t coincidental…).

As we mentioned last week, dominant species are not always native. Invasive species like nutria, or coypu, often out-compete native muskrats for similar food sources and homes. Since nutria are larger than muskrats, fewer species can prey on them. [2] Invasive species like nutria can disrupt communities of native species to the point of local extinction in some cases, especially in island ecosystems. [3] Not all introduced species are invasive; some do not significantly impact their new homes. Invasive species are detrimental by definition. Nutria were originally introduced by humans, which means their dominance over native muskrats is a byproduct of human activity. Similarly, zebra mussels and apple snails were introduced by humans and out-compete native species in coastal Louisiana.

Many species face the threat of population decline due to human activity, whether directly or indirectly. In a way, nearly all species on the planet are in competition with humans for food, territory, etc. or compete against one another to survive amid human impacts like climate change. Humans have done a great job altering landscapes to become livable for us, but those landscapes aren’t always good for native species. This kind of disruption has consequences to our own safety, however. Degradation of coastal marshes in Louisiana has been a consequence of human activity, and the risk of lowered wetland protection from storms poses a threat to our settlements. Since we have invested so much in where we live, it is in our best interest to reverse some of the damage we have done to those areas. CWPPRA is dedicated to coastal restoration because it is a responsibility we owe to both the environments we have disrupted and our communities that have come to depend on these environments.

[1] http://www.endangered.org/animal/american-alligator/

[2] https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/wildlife_damage/content/printable_version/fs_nutria10.pdf

[3] http://www.pacificinvasivesinitiative.org/site/pii/files/resources/publications/other/turning_the_tide.pdf

Featured image from http://www.louisianaherps.com/american-alligator-alligato.html

2nd Annual Cook-Off for the Coast

Thanks to the Meraux Foundation, the second annual Cook-Off for the Coast played out beautifully on Saturday, February 9th, 2019. CWPPRA was one of many outreach and educational groups hosted at Docville Farm in Violet, LA for an afternoon of good food, good music, and great enthusiasm for coastal restoration. All profits raised by the event went to Chalmette High School and Nunez Community College coastal restoration organizations which will use the funds to continue propagating and planting black mangroves in St. Bernard Parish and installing artificial oyster reef breakwaters just north of Comfort Island east of the current delta. We were set up next to our partner CPRA and under the same tent as Louisiana Master Naturalists of Greater New Orleans, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the LSU AgCenter. Across the lot from us were Restore the Mississippi River Delta, CRCL, and various other restoration-minded groups.

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The theme for this year’s cook-off was wild game so all the food that was prepared had some kind of wild game in it, including tuna, oysters, hog, etc. Each of the cooking groups brought something unique to the table, including duck tacos, crawfish eggrolls, and deer/hog gumbo. As the public got tastes of the coast, they could wander through the exhibition of restoration/protection groups. At our table we had our #ProtectOurCoast poster series and stickers, some relevant issues of WaterMarks, and activity books for our younger visitors. Visitors could also compete in Wetland Jeopardy. After learning about coastal issues and restoration efforts, visitors could enjoy more food or go into the dance hall where Michot’s Melody Makers were playing their traditional Cajun music.

As the day came to a close, everyone gathered in the dance hall to award the best dishes as decided by the public. Awards were given for the best overall dish as well as best dish in 3 categories: Crawl, Fly, and Swim. With so many good contenders, the decision must have been difficult for the voting visitors. We would like to congratulate all the participants for getting involved with such a meaningful cause and preparing such delicious food. We’d like to thank the visitors and other exhibitors, as well as the Meraux Foundation, for the opportunity to share our love of wetlands and food- we cannot restore our coast without them.