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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World Wetlands Day Outreach Event

Getting out and working with students is one of our favorite things to do in the public outreach office, so we are so glad we were hosted by the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center this past Friday, February 1, for World Wetlands Day. Located in downtown Houma, Louisiana, the SLWDC has a beautifully curated wetlands museum exhibit as well as warm and friendly staff. The event was mostly open to Houma area schoolchildren ranging from 3rd to 7th grade with a short period at the end during which the public could participate. Students cycled through and engaged with 7 tables that each had a different focus.

Going around the room, Restore or Retreat taught about coastal erosion with a small model of a barrier island’s sandy beach, then the USDA Agricultural Research Service had students match seeds to pictures of their parent plants. The next table was our host, the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, with a presentation about invasive species. They brought their resident nutria, Beignet, as an example. Next, the LSU Veterinary Teaching Wildlife Hospital brought two hawks and a screech owl, all of whom are residents at their school due to injuries. T Baker Smith demonstrated some restoration techniques like shoreline protection, vegetative planting, and marsh creation. After those techniques, Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) presented how it is important to treat wastewater and how wetlands act as filters, and BTNEP shared a few examples of animals with shells. We brought a game that uses bean bag animals to teach about how some species are confined to a specific habitat, but some animals can use more than one habitat.

The celebration started in response to the Feb 2, 1971 signing of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat, which is an international treaty to recognize wetlands as vitally important ecosystems. [1] On this day, organizations worldwide share a mutual goal to raise awareness and spread appreciation for wetlands near them. We appreciate the opportunity to get out and interact with students and we are proud to have worked with so many other enthusiastic and educational groups. Many thanks to our hosts, visitors, and colleagues- we appreciate all of the work you do to #ProtectOurCoast.

 

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LSU Veterinary School Students taught about wildlife rehabilitation with amputee birds of prey.
Beignet
Beignet, the resident nutria, cannot cause massive marsh damage from his little cage, but he can tear up some carrots.

 

[1] https://www.ramsar.org/about-the-ramsar-convention

Salinity Stress and Tolerance

Living in any habitat comes with hurdles that make it harder for plants and animals to thrive. We call these hurdles “stress”. Coastal wetlands demonstrate several kinds of stresses to both plants and animals. Through many years of evolution, plants and animals have adapted to living with these stresses, also called being “stress tolerant”. Adaptations can be in physical structure changes or on the smaller scale (cellular). Some stresses that come with living in coastal wetlands include salinity (the amount of salt or ions in the water), inundation (flooding at least above the ground, sometimes even higher than the whole plant), and hypoxia (low dissolved oxygen in the water). [1]

Salt water intrusion has been increased by dredging navigation channels among other impacts. Saltwater intrusion makes fresh bodies of water more saline than they usually are. The problem with this is that the plants that live in such places are adapted to live in fresh water and generally cannot deal with increases in salinity more than 1 or 2 parts per thousand (ppt). For reference, the Gulf of Mexico’s average salinity is approximately 36ppt. Some plants, though, can live in full-strength sea water. For example, the black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) has several adaptations that let it keep its cells safe from high salinity. Like smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), black mangroves excrete salt onto their leaves to get it out of their systems.[2] Some fish have similar adaptations in their gills that allow them to keep their internal salt concentrations at safe levels.

Avicennia_germinans-salt_excretion
Salt Crystals accumulate on A. germinans leaves (Photo by Ulf Mehlig, found on Wikimedia Commons)

 

Works Cited:

[1] Bradford, Nick. “Stressed Wetlands.” NEEF, 10 May 2016, http://www.neefusa.org/nature/land/stressed-wetlands.

[2] Gilman, Sharon. “Plant Adaptations.” ci.coastal.edu/~sgilman/778Plants.htm.

Featured image is of A. germinans from Wikimedia commons, courtesy of Judy Gallagher

Audubon Zoo – Earth Fest

Environmental awareness is an important factor in protecting the earth, and the Audubon Institute understands that. With the help of Entergy, the Audubon Zoo has hosted Earth Fest for over twenty years to date, celebrating conservation and environment-friendly practices.

This past Saturday, March 24, CWPPRA was one of many organizations to be represented at Earth Fest along with Wetland Watchers, EnergySmart, Sea Grant, and many more. Each of these organizations brought educational activities to be enjoyed by children and adults alike, such as demonstrations of energy-saving appliances, composting, and beekeeping strategies. Participants could paint with produce from a local farmer’s market, learn about the similarities in bone structures between humans and manatees, and get their faces painted. When they were not busy visiting the zoo enclosures or talking to organizations, guests could enjoy a number of local food vendors or live performers at the pavilion, including Grammy-winning Lost Bayou Ramblers from south Louisiana.

CWPPRA Public Outreach spent the day handing out informational booklets about restoration projects, posters from the Protect Our Coast series, and activity books, as well as playing our popular “Wetland Jeopardy” game with any and all who were interested. Many eager and interested visitors participated in the Earth Fest Earth Quest, a game that led them to ask questions to appropriate organizations in exchange for a stamp. 10 stamps earned them a prize of a young plant to take home and care for. Earth Fest had a wide range of attractions that hopefully inspired all visitors to be more conscious of environmental issues and to help in the efforts to live for a healthier tomorrow.

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Terrebonne Bay Marsh Creation-Nourishment

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Emergent marshes north of Terrebonne Bay have been
eroding as fast or faster than almost any other marshes
along coastal Louisiana. As these marshes convert to
shallow open water, the tidal prism will increase which will
in turn increase the frequency and duration of tides north
of Terrebonne Bay. This increasing tidal prism is likely
to increase the future interior marsh loss rates for those
marshes directly north of Terrebonne Bay. These marshes are
important for their habitat values as well as serving to slow
the progress of highly saline waters that threaten the lower
salinity marshes north and west of Madison Bay and in the
Lake Boudreaux basin. The
continued loss of these marshes has directly contributed to
the ongoing flooding problems of many communities along
Bayou Terrebonne including the town of Montegut.

The primary goal of this project is to fill shallow open water
areas and nourish marshes north of Terrebonne Bay/Lake
Barre thereby reducing the tidal prism north of Terrebonne
Bay and
interior land loss from tidal scouring. Specific Goals: 1)
Create 365 acres of intertidal marsh in shallow open water
and nourish 299 acres of fragmented marsh within the
project area reducing
water exchange between Terrebonne Bay and interior lakes
during tidal and small storm events. 2) Reduce erosion along
16,000 ft of the northern Terrebonne Bay shoreline.

The proposed features of this project consist of filling
approximately 365 acres of shallow open water and
nourishing approximately 299 acres of very low or
fragmented marsh with material hydraulically dredged from
Terrebonne Bay/Lake Barre. Containment dikes will be
degraded/gapped within 3 years of construction to allow
for greater tidal and estuarine organism access. This project
could be one part of a phased comprehensive plan to protect
the northern shoreline of Terrebonne Bay and the interior
marshes from further erosion and reduce the tidal prism.
The project would result in approximately 353 net acres of
marsh over the 20-year project life.

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This project is located in Region 3, Terrebonne Basin,
Terrebonne Parish, along the northern shoreline of Lake
Barre/Terrebonne Bay near Bayou Terrebonne continuing
east a short distance past Bayou Chitique.

This project is on Project Priority List (PPL) 20.

The Terrebonne Bay Marsh Creation-Nourishment project sponsors include:

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

 

Benefits of Wetlands

Wetlands have long been considered an obstruction to development. Nearly a century ago, it was believed that wetlands did not provide substantial benefits to the environment and were deemed worthless. Wetlands were drained or filled to make room for further development, such as roads and homes. Today, scientists recognize the environmental benefits that wetlands provide and are encouraging us to preserve this environmental resource. Although we are still losing wetlands, our improved understanding of this dynamic ecosystem and the benefits it provides seems to be contributing to a decreasing loss of wetlands.

Wetlands are valuable in the fact that they provide water purification, flood protection, erosion control, groundwater recharge and discharge, and streamflow maintenance. Along with these benefits, wetlands provide habitat for a large percentage of threatened and endangered species, as well as fish and other wildlife. How a particular wetland functions and benefits the environment depends on its location and type. Wetlands take many forms including marshes, estuaries, bogs, lakes, coral reefs, and floodplains, just to name a few. Wetlands also provide recreational benefits, such as fishing, birding, nature photography, hiking, and kayaking. If you are feeling anxious to seek outdoor activity, look no further than the wetlands near you.

A partially filled or otherwise damaged wetland only reaches its minimal potential to provide all of these environmental benefits. If we want wetlands to continue to perform their ecological functions to the best of their ability, we have to protect them. Take action to help preserve one of the most biologically diverse but undervalued ecosystems.

 

Environmental Education

In honor of National Environmental Education week, this week’s Wetland Wednesday highlights the

Louisiana Environmental Education Commission

The Louisiana Environmental Education Commission (LEEC) is a primary resource for all educators and citizens in furthering their environmental knowledge and awareness. The mission of the LEEC is to create a comprehensive and balanced environmental education initiative that results in environmentally literate citizens who effectively and constructively solve existing environmental problems, prevent new ones, and maintain a sustainable environment for future generations.

Throughout the year, the LEEC provides many opportunities for both students and teachers to participate in environmental education activities:
Environmental Education Symposium: This annual two day conference includes workshops, concurrent sessions, exhibits, and keynote speaker on formal and informal environmental science education. This professional development opportunity for educators stimulates new classroom ideas and techniques, provides an opportunity for educators to network, and provides additional information on other professional development and classroom opportunities. Lodging assistance is awarded to applicable educators in order to help offset the cost of attendance. The LEEC partners with the Louisiana Environmental Education Association (LEEA) to plan & develop this symposium. – February

Educator / Professional Development / Research / Green Schools Grants Program: Teachers, university students, and informal educators can apply for competitive mini-grants ranging from $1000 to $5000 for a total of approximately $50,000 in awarded funds.  Grants that are funded are based on sound scientific principles, have an environmental focus, and impact Louisiana students, educators, or Louisiana issues. Recipients are invited to present their ideas/findings at the Environmental Education Symposium. – March/April

Green Schools Program: The LEEC and the Louisiana Department of Education have an MOU in place to partner on promoting green initiatives in K-16 schools/universities, complementing the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Green Ribbon Schools initiatives. LDWF staff actively works with schools and universities around the state to encourage and offer guidance on the implementation of these ED pillars: (1) reduce environmental impacts and costs, (2) improve health and wellness, and (3) provide effective environmental and sustainability education. – ongoing

Art and Language Arts Contest: This K-12 student contest focuses on an environmental theme which is chosen annually by the LEEC. Information and applications are disseminated throughout school systems, home schools, and informal education venues. An awards ceremony honoring the winners, their families, and their teachers is held at the Governor’s Mansion in June. The winning entries are used to produce a calendar for the following year, which is distributed throughout the state.  – January thru June

Workshops: The LEEC periodically hosts professional development workshops for environmental educators. To be offered in summer 2017 is Watershed Webs, which is a 4-day workshop for teachers of students in grades 5-12. It focuses on the dynamics of watersheds, water quality, trash, and our new WET tracker app. Teachers in the coastal parishes/counties of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas are eligible to participate. The Watershed Webs workshop series is funded through a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration B-WET grant.