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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America Recycles And So Do We

Recycling is a great practice at home, but it reaches far beyond taking materials out of the waste stream. Tomorrow, November 15th, is designated as America Recycles Day, so today’s Wetland Wednesday is hopeful about the future of sustainability.

New materials require exploration and processing that can be destructive to ecosystems. Plastics, some of the most common materials in the product stream today, are largely recyclable. As a crude oil byproduct, producing new usable plastics requires a lot of energy. The same goes for many other recyclable materials. Paper products, various metals, and glass all take a lot of energy to produce, then they quickly find their way into landfills instead of being reused. Landfills produce a wide array of chemicals that often leach into the ground due to poor containment practices, and they can contaminate watersheds. Once those chemicals get into a watershed, they can significantly decrease the health of wetlands across huge swaths of land over time. To further the polluting effects, drilling for oil to meet a growing desire for fossil fuels is one of the most detrimental practices to wetlands. More than 5 years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana wetlands continued to lose ground due to the spill’s impact. [1]

Recycling is not a perfect alternative to single-use plastics, and there are other ways to reduce our consumption of resources. For example, mitigating loss of byproducts by finding new and inventive applications can greatly reduce consequences. Large-scale food manufacturing leaves plenty of byproduct as leftover plant material that can be used as livestock feed, potentially as biofuels, or fertilizer. In the meat industry, byproducts are often further processed and commercialized to maximize the use of all parts of animals. CWPPRA and our partners have changed some practices in recent years to be more efficient when using resources, for example beneficial use of dredged material (yes, we recycled our header image). Mandatory dredging of shipping and navigational channels produces a bounty of sediment that was lost in the past, but we can now use that material in restoration projects. This exciting new practice has already been implemented in a few CWPPRA projects to restore marshland and nourish pre-existing wetlands.

Our coast faces many human-caused threats, and its future depends, in part, on practices becoming more sustainable. By using new technologies to better use resources, CWPPRA hopes that Louisiana’s natural splendor and resilience can continue to benefit future generations.

[1] https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70178409

 

Keep Louisiana Beautiful Conference 2016

Keep Louisiana Beautiful (KLB) is the state’s anti-litter and community improvement organization. Affiliated with Keep America Beautiful, KLB’s mission is to “promote personal, corporate and community responsibility for a clean and beautiful Louisiana.” Founded in 2000, Keep Louisiana Beautiful’s focus in on education, enforcement, awareness, litter removal and beautification. The 39 affiliates and 23,000 volunteers improve communities and transform public spaces. Everyone knows that litter is harmful to the environment; however, knowing about the problem doesn’t solve it. In order to create a litter-free Louisiana, everyone must do their part. Keep Louisiana Beautiful provides the tools and resources needed to  improve a community’s appearance and preserve Louisiana’s natural beauty.

Keep Louisiana Beautiful hosted its annual state conference on September 28-29 at the Galvez Building Conference Center in Baton Rouge, La. The conference opened with welcome messages from Tricia Farace, KLB Board Member; Kip Holden, mayor of Baton Rouge; Denise Bennet, Deputy Secretary La. Department of Environmental Quality; and Eligha Guillory, Master of Ceremonies. Following the welcome remarks was keynote speaker Dr. Wes Shultz who discussed how to bring about behavioral change in hopes of increasing sustainability efforts. The topic of recycling was heavily discussed from a variety of different perspectives including Brenda Pulley of Keep America Beautiful who spoke on reusing, reducing, and recycling. Other recycling-based presentations included Refill Not Landfill by Tammy Millican, LSU; How to Make Your Case for School Recycling by Gretchen Vanicor, ULL and Amanda Waddle; Recycling at festivals by Greg Guidroz, Bayou Vermilion District; and Eco Green Events: Integrating Sustainability into Community Events and Planning by Valerie Longa, Alabama Coastal Foundation. The final session of the first day, focused on raising money to fund KLB projects, was presented by Mike Rogers of Keep America Beautiful. The evening closed with the Everyday Heroes Award Banquet, featuring keynote speaker Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser. The conference continued the following day with an opening session by Alexandra Miller of Asakura Robinson who explained planning and tools for communities to cut down on vacancy and blight, as well as calculating the cost of blight by Cecile Caron of Keep America Beautiful. Litter was a primary focal point of the discussions during the second day of the conference with speakers such as Rick Moore, St. Tammany Parish Constable; Max Ciolino, No Waste Nola; and Susan Russell, Executive Director of Keep Louisiana Beautiful. First Lady Donna Edwards along with Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Dr. Chuck Carr Brown and Octagon Media released Louisiana’s new anti-litter slogan “Love the boot, don’t pollute”. The new slogan will be featured as a bumper sticker on all state vehicles and will be available to the public for further exposure and promotion. 

The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act Public Outreach staff attended the conference as exhibitors providing information and materials to be used to educate the public on wetland and coastal restoration. Publications such as Partners in Restoration, Understanding CWPPRA, and Henri Heron’s Louisiana Wetlands were distributed in addition to numerous editions of WaterMarks and two of CWPPRA’s Protect Our Coast posters. 

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