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/

Sustainable Fisheries

Some of you may remember the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” and perhaps the famous quote “If you build it, he will come.” Meant as motivation to build a baseball diamond in a corn field, the line encourages dreaming big and following your passion. It can also apply directly to environmental protection and restoration. CWPPRA builds wetlands, and ecologically diverse communities come. They may take a long time, but they will come. Creating a resilient environment requires hard work, and the environment will return on investment many times over.

Biodiversity has a massive positive effect on the productivity of a system, [2] and we in Louisiana have some of the most productive wetland ecosystems in the United States. Coastal fisheries today produce about 40% of the world’s wild-caught seafood, according to the WWF, [1] and wild-caught fish rely heavily on a healthy ecosystem to produce populations large enough to harvest.  Unfortunately, many fish communities are over- exploited and have a lot of bycatch, causing  species declines and shifts in the health of the community. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Sustainable fishing is an achievable goal.

By using our bountiful resources and productive wetlands, we can cultivate thriving ecosystems that don’t need much maintenance at all. A perfect model would require no feed, no destructive fishing methods like trawling or wasteful bycatch, and it would have numerous benefits to wetland health such as better nutrient capture, pollutant filtration, food production, biodiversity, and even improved resilience. [3]  Such a complex problem cannot be solved overnight, but focusing on the health of our fisheries will drive them to be more sustainable, and sustainable fisheries will keep our critical $2.4B seafood industry alive. Our coastal zone is a great asset that provides us with plentiful resources, and we have a responsibility to use those resources, such as the fisheries, in a sustainable manner. Programs like CWPPRA emphasize the benefits of sustainability on a large scale and seek to apply those practices in their restoration projects.

 

[1] http://wwf.panda.org/our_work/oceans/solutions/sustainable_fisheries/

[2] http://science.sciencemag.org/content/314/5800/787

[3] https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_barber_how_i_fell_in_love_with_a_fish?language=en

Featured image from https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-deepwater-aquaculture-avoid-the-pitfalls-of-coastal-fish-farms

 

 

Seasonal Change in Wetlands

In honor of the official “First Day of Fall” on Saturday, September 22, let’s fall into seasonal changes in wetlands! When many people think of the transition from summer to autumn, the first thing that pops into their heads is leaves changing colors and seeing more sweaters and long pants. A less common thought is how wetlands change in the later months of the year. From species composition to hydrology, many wetlands undergo radical changes when summer turns into fall. Wetlands in coastal Louisiana are no exception.

For a start, seasonal changes can be observed with migratory species. Many species of birds and some fish and crustaceans use our swamps, estuaries, and other wetlands for breeding habitat in the summer months because of the abundance of food and warmth. On the other hand, some migratory birds like the famous Bald Eagle use the Mississippi River Delta as a wintering ground. [1] Blue Crabs, another species found in wetlands, mate around this time of year before going dormant for the winter. [2] Migratory birds are starting to migrate back to the southern hemisphere around this time to follow food resources.

Decreasing temperatures and humidity also cause plant communities to change. Wetlands experience loss of vegetation from wilting and freezes. [3] Black Mangrove distribution is limited by minimum winter temperatures. You can read more on mangroves and freezing here. Swamps and marshes lose much of their greenery with lower temperatures, which really decreases their water storage potential. Evapotranspiration, or water vapor leaving plants through their leaves, often decreases too, which means that water is not being cycled as quickly as at other times of the year.

Ecosystems in a stable state can weather the changes between seasons and bounce right back to full productivity in their peak season, but sometimes a large disturbance or even small, incremental changes over time can degrade habitat to the point of no return. Degraded wetlands provide less storm buffer, which is a crucial ecosystem service that protects us during hurricanes. It is in our best interests to preserve our wetlands through projects like CWPPRA because they are so critical and invaluable to us.

 

[1] https://www.asc.ohio-state.edu/accad/womenandtech/2007/research_web_pages/LifeCycle/2007lifecycle.html

[2] https://www.bluecrab.info/mating.html

[3]http://www.loyno.edu/lucec/natural-history-writings/winter-swamp

 

Featured Image from https://www.hcn.org/articles/the-disappearing-wetlands-in-californias-central-valley

 

National Honey Bee Day – August 18th

August 18th was National Honey Bee day in the USA, but what’s all the buzz about? Pollinators play vital roles in plant communities, including carrying pollen from plant to plant. How does that work? How do honey bees know which flowers need their help? How do they communicate with other bees? All of that and more to come on this special #WetlandWednesday!

There are many kinds of pollinators, from birds to bugs to bats! A mutualistic relationship between pollinators and flowering plants allows the pollinators to collect food and allows the plant to spread its pollen to other individuals. Different animals have different strategies of carrying pollen. Honey bees use some very complex methods of finding, harvesting, and spreading pollen within plant communities. There are almost 20,000 described species of bees; some live in colonies and some do not, some pollinate only one plant species and some pollinate multiple species. The most cultivated of the honey bees (genus: Apis), the Eastern Honey Bee (A. mellifera), is a colonial bee species that does not specialize on one plant. In flight, bees build up an electrostatic charge on their fine, branched hairs. When bees climb into flowers looking for sugary nectar, their charged hairs attract pollen even from a couple of millimeters away! The charge and the branches in their hairs help to keep the pollen attached when the bee leaves in search of its next bounty of sugar.

How do honey bees find flowers? Using a combination of visual, chemical, and communicated clues, bees are highly specialized to find the flowers that are just right for them. Compound eyes do not have the high definition visuals that human eyes have, but they can see ultraviolet light. Some flowers have ultraviolet patterns on their petals called “nectar guides”. [1] When in flight, bees will not always see color, but they can still see shapes and can recognize nectar guide shapes, as well as smell aromas from the flowers. Bees can also communicate instructions or coordinates for finding flowers through “waggle dancing”! [2]

Honey bees pollinate throughout wetlands across the world and have major positive impacts on ecosystem health. Native trees and shrubs of Louisiana that are dependent on pollinators like the European honey bee include Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera), Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora, our Louisiana state flower), and Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor). Some smaller flowers that need bee pollinators include Wooly Rosemallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpus), Coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba), and Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans). [3] Honey bees are also vital in pollinating about 90% of agricultural crops nationwide! Without pollinators, our Louisiana wetlands would not be as productive and vibrant as they are, and we need the help of pollinators to #ProtectOurCoast!

 

[1] https://www.bumblebee.org/bodyEyehtm.htm

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waggle_dance

[3] http://pollinator.org/guides

Featured image from https://www.louisianabeesanctuary.org/

LEEC 2017

The Louisiana Environmental Education Commission, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Louisiana Environmental Education Association hosted the 20th Environmental Education State Symposium on February 3-4, 2017 at the Embassy Suites by Hilton in Baton Rouge, La. The theme of this year’s symposium was “protecting Louisiana’s endangered species.”

The Louisiana Environmental Education Commission (LEEC) provides environmental education news from across Louisiana, including information on environmental education programs, workshops, and grant opportunities.  The state symposium furnished opportunities for formal and non-formal environmental educators from Louisiana and surrounding states to meet and share teaching techniques as well as multiple concurrent sessions for various topics and grade levels. Keynote speaker Dr. Jessica Kastler, Coordinator of Program Development at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory’s Marine Education Center, used individual cases of endangered species to engage the audience in explorations of the process of science while cultivating environmental stewardship. In addition to the keynote speech, presenters in 15 concurrent sessions provided lesson demonstrations, hands-on workshops, and/or exemplary programs. The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act Public Outreach Staff was among exhibitors with a multitude of materials to assist teachers of all grade levels in furthering their students’ knowledge in environmental education and coastal protection.

CWPPRA

What are the strengths and the successes of CWPPRA?

  • Addresses the urgent need for on-the-ground coastal restoration in Louisiana
  • Constructs coastal restoration projects that protect critically impaired wetland areas
  • To date, has constructed 108 projects with a total of 152 active projects that will protect and restore approximately 100,000 acres of land
  • Has 25 years of experience in coastal restoration, acting as the State’s only consistent Federal restoration funding authority
  • Upon completion, projects provide benefits which meet local and state restoration planning goals
  • Initiated and supports the State’s only coastwide monitoring program to evaluate the efficacy of restoration projects on an ecosystem scale
  • Serves as the foundation for the development of restoration science and identification of project needs that have become the platform for other restoration funding programs

Visit the CWPPRA project page to learn more about successful projects in your area.

Cameron Meadows Marsh Creation and Terracing

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Significant marsh loss in the Cameron Meadows area is attributed to rapid fluid and gas extraction beginning in 1931, as well as Hurricane Rita and Ike. Rapid fluid and gas extraction resulted in a surface down warping along distinguished geologic fault lines. During the hurricanes of 2005 and 2008, the physical removal of the marsh coupled with subsequent low rainfall has resulted in the conversion of intermediate to brackish marsh to approximately 7,000 acres of open water. In addition to these losses, significant marsh loss has resulted from saltwater intrusion and hydrologic changes associated with storm damages.

The goal of the project is to restore approximately 400 acres of coastal marsh habitat and reduce the fetch by constructing approximately 12,150 linear feet of earthen terraces. Sediment will be hydraulically dredged from the Gulf of Mexico and pumped via pipeline to create approximately 380 acres of marsh (295 acres confined disposal and 85 acres unconfined disposal). Funds are included to plant approximately 180 acres. Approximately 12,150 linear feet of earthen terraces will be constructed in a sinusoidal layout to reduce fetch and wind-generated wave erosion. Terraces will be constructed to +3.0 feet NAVD88, 15 feet crown width, and planted. Terrace acreage will result in four acres of marsh above Mean Low Water.

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The Cameron Meadows Marsh Creation and Terracing project is located in Region 4, Calcasieu/Sabine Basin in Cameron Parish, approximately five miles northeast of Johnson Bayou and five miles north of the Gulf of Mexico.

This project is on Priority Project List (PPL) 22. The 30% Design Review meeting was completed July 2015 and the 95% Design Review was completed in October 2016. In January 2017, the CWPPRA Task Force approved CS-66 for Phase II Construction.

The Cameron Meadows Marsh Creation and Terracing project sponsors include:

Keep up with this project and other CWPPRA projects on the project page.

Island Road Marsh Creation & Nourishment

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The Terrebonne Basin is an abandoned delta complex, characterized by a thick section of unconsolidated sediments that are undergoing dewatering and compaction, contributing to high subsidence, and a network of old distributary ridges extending southward from Houma. Historically, subsidence and numerous oil and gas canals and pipelines in the area have contributed significantly to wetland losses. Since 1932, the Terrebonne Basin has lost approximately 20% of its wetlands. One-third of the Terrebonne Basin’s remaining wetlands are estimated to be lost to open water by the year 2040. There has been a significant reduction in the marsh platform in the vicinity of Island Road (1.60%/year based on USGS data from 1984 to 2011) that has provided some historical wave energy protection. Island Road is the only land access to the Isle of Jean Charles located west of Pointe Aux Chenes which serves unique Native American and minority communities that historically relied on fishing for their livelihood.

The restoration concept provides for the creation and/or nourishment of approximately 383 acres of emergent saline marsh that will form a land bridge along portions of the perimeter of Cutoff Canal, Twin Pipelines Canals, and Island Road.

The proposed project’s primary feature is to create 364 acres and nourish 19 acres of saline marsh. Sediment will be hydraulically pumped from a borrow source near Lake Felicity. Containment dikes will be constructed around the marsh creation area to retain sediment during pumping and will be degraded and/or gapped no later than three years post construction. Half of the newly constructed marsh (182 acres) will be planted following construction to stabilize the platform and reduce time for full vegetation.

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The Island Road Marsh Creation & Nourishment project is located in Region 3, Terrebonne Basin, Terrebonne Parish.

This project is on Priority Project List (PPL) 23.

The Island Road Marsh Creation & Nourishment project sponsors include:

Keep up with this project and other CWPPRA projects on the project page.

 

Land Loss

Did you know:

If nothing more is done to stop land loss, Louisiana could potentially lose approximately 700 additional square miles of land, or an area about equal to the size of the greater Washington D.C. – Baltimore area, in the next 50 years.

From 1932 to 2000, coastal Louisiana lost 1,900 square miles of land, roughly an area the size of the state of Delaware. The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act has protected, created, or restored 95, 954 acres of Louisiana wetlands, while greater than 351,676 acres have also been enhanced. CWPPRA is continuing to work toward the resounding success of coastal restoration.
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Wetland Vegetation

Spanish Moss
spanish-moss-2

Frequently included in the visionary imagery of Louisiana’s swamp landscape is gray, vine-like vegetation commonly seen draped on cypress branches. Thought to be a moss, Spanish moss is actually a bromeliad related to pineapples and succulent house plants in the same taxonomic family. Similarly, Spanish moss is not native to Spain, as is commonly thought; it is, however, native to South America and the Caribbean and grows from Texas to Virginia in the U.S. Inclined to moist areas, an ideal habitat for Spanish moss is a tree residing in a tropical swampland. Spanish moss is a rootless epiphyte—although Spanish moss is located on tree branches, it does not obtain food or water from the supporting tree as a parasite would. Spanish moss spreads and propagates from fragments known as festoons which are carried by wind or birds and initiate growth after landing in suitable conditions. An abundance of wetland wildlife utilize Spanish moss for survival needs, such as birds building nests and spiders and frogs hiding from predators.

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