Coastal Louisiana: THE UNIFIED VISION

The Governor's Office of Coastal Activities
Post Office Box 94095
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70804
504 342 3968

The Department of Natural Resources
Post Office Box 94396
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70804
504 342 7308

June 1996


For decades, scientists have studied coastal wetland loss. These studies confirmed what many people in south Louisiana have known for generations--coastal Louisiana is dying. Not only have levees cut off freshwater and sediment from the wetlands, but salt water is steadily creeping deeper into the marsh each year. This slow death does more than harm wetlands. It also wreaks havoc on cultural and economic assets that our state and nation depend on.

Landowners have done what they could. Government agencies have tried to make the most of the limited funds earmarked for coastal restoration. But these small-scale achievements have not made a dent in the problem.

Fortunately we can move beyond past limitations and create a new vision for our state. We know that restoring our coast will require a big picture approach. This document describes the big picture approach as well as specific steps we must take to reclaim our coastal land. Because they are large in scope, these solutions will require support from citizens like you if they are to be funded and carried out.

Many coastal restoration plans have been developed for Louisiana in recent years. Although the plans had a common purpose, their different names and affiliations were confusing. At the 1995 Coastal Summit, citizens asked the state to combine these plans into a single document that could serve as Louisiana's roadmap for saving the coast. The Unified Vision was created to meet this need.

To help you decide whether or not to support The Unified Vision, we offer two future scenarios of Louisiana: one describing what will happen if we simply maintain our present course, and one describing the future we can build for ourselves if we choose to save coastal Louisiana.


Louisiana citizens face two possible futures. According to one scenario, we can maintain business as usual and allow the degradation of our coastal wetlands and barrier islands to continue. If we choose this path, the consequences are bleak:

New Orleans, Houma and other coastal Louisiana cities will become more vulnerable to hurricane damage than south Florida was during Hurricane Andrew. Wetlands act as natural sponges that absorb flood waters and slow the momentum of hurricanes and storms. Unless we take action now, in 50 years the marshes that protect these cities will have eroded, leaving our urban areas unprotected.

Drinking water supplies in coastal Louisiana will disappear as rising Gulf water contaminate fresh surface water sources. Unless we make sure that wetlands and barrier islands are there to slow down salt water intrusion, residents of many communities will either be forced to import fresh water or move.

South Louisiana will lose revenue and jobs on an unparalleled scale. Without the wetlands, the region will lose millions of dollars that hunters, fishermen and tourists contribute to the local economy. Today, coastal Louisiana is the nation's oil and gas pipeline hub. But without the barrier islands to serve as both anchor points for the pipeline corridors and protectors of production centers inland, the entire system could be at greater risk.

Millions of birds, fish, and other animals will lose their habitats. The wetlands acreage lost today reduces the number of birds and animals that can winter or live year round in Louisiana's coastal zone. Fish that support Louisiana's multi-million dollar fisheries will also vanish, along with the associated jobs.

Citizens of south Louisiana will lose their homes. The jobs, infrastructure, and natural habitats that south Louisianians depend on today could be gone in 50 years or less. Without these assets, centuries-old communities will be abandoned to the sea.

Fortunately, the doomsday scenario is not our only alternative. We can choose a different future for ourselves and create a positive vision of coastal Louisiana in the year 2040. But we must take action now.

Louisianians are proud of the ties that bind their music, food, and traditions to nature's cycles in the coastal wetlands. Now time is running out, and we must decide just how much this heritage means to us. Are we willing to save the natural system that supports south Louisiana's culture and much of our state's economy? Are we willing to preserve wetlands that are as much a signature of our state as the Everglades are to Florida or the Grand Canyon is to Arizona? Are we willing to make the slogan Laissez les bon temps roulez a possibility not just for us but for our grandchildren?

If the answer to these questions is yes, we must achieve two goals:

Success will require the same commitment that Louisiana and the nation showed after the 1927 flood when we supported construction of levees to protect our communities. By accepting this challenge, we will not only save marsh and sandy island beaches, we will create a progressive future for our state that we can all be proud of.


Our state is at a crossroads. We can begin retreating from the coast and slowly abandon our investments in south Louisiana. Or we can begin a strategic advance to the coast that reclaims south Louisiana as an economic and cultural center. If we choose the latter option and begin work now, we can look forward to reaping tangible rewards for our efforts before the end of this decade.

Increased hurricane protection. Refurbished wetlands and barrier islands will shelter inland cities from hurricanes. As storms like Opal and Andrew continue to destroy communities that do not have this natural buffer system, our investment will pay for itself many times over.

Abundant, clean water. Healthy wetlands will filter pollution and keep salt water away from the intake valves of our drinking and industrial water systems.

Stable employment for Louisiana citizens. Family run businesses and large industries will grow knowing that the wetlands resource base they depend on is secure.

A resurgence of birds, fish, and other animals. Many species are already making a comeback. Healthy wetland and barrier island habitats will insure that this trend continues.

Support for the vibrant communities of coastal Louisiana. Whether they are Cajun, Vietnamese, or Native American, these communities offer a kaleidoscope of cultures that is world renowned. Providing citizens in coastal Louisiana with the tools they need to flourish will protect one of our state's most valuable resources.

Holding the line against further coastal wetland and barrier island destruction is important. But we can do more than just preserve what we have today. Our strategic advance to the coast can create new land and new opportunities that will make Louisiana an economic and cultural leader in the 21st Century.


Rebuilding our coast will require massive construction projects that will in turn create new jobs and investment opportunities. From engineers to construction workers, thousands of Louisiana citizens will be employed to complete the work of rebuilding the coast. Meeting this challenge will also create markets for industrial suppliers, transportation services, and other businesses that support construction efforts.

As we rebuild, we will lay the foundation for a more dynamic economy than Louisiana has ever known.

Seafood processing. With wetlands and barrier islands on the rebound, Louisiana seafood processors will have the fish and shellfish stocks to expand their operations at home and abroad.

Eco-tourism. Thriving natural habitats will allow us to promote coastal Louisiana as a recreational center with the nation's best opportunities for hunting, fishing, boating, bird-watching and other leisure activities.

Retirement mecca. Coastal Louisiana's landscape, climate, culture, and recreational opportunities will be promoted to aging baby-boomers as a place that can meet all of their retirement needs.

Agriculture. As coastal erosion is curtailed and new land is built, Louisiana's agricultural base will be protected.

Minerals. The nation's demand for energy is increasing, and policy makers predict that natural gas will become the energy of choice by the 21st Century. By meeting this demand, Louisiana's vast natural gas reserves will bring billions to the state's economy.


The economic engine created by our coastal restoration efforts will demand that we invest in south Louisiana for the long haul. As part of this commitment, we must develop stable roads, bridges, and communication networks that can support economic growth and long-term residency for our citizens. As always, the durability of this infrastructure depends on our commitment to protect wetlands and barrier islands.

Improved highways and bridges. Roads and bridges will be constructed and maintained to support local industries and not simply to serve as convenient hurricane evacuation routes. Citizens' access to roads will be improved as will exchange points that can accommodate Louisiana's expanded role in trade.

Ports and waterways. Coastal Louisiana is an international maritime marketplace connecting the entire Mississippi river valley with ports worldwide. Rebuilt coastal wetlands will protect the large network of waterways and channels that make Louisiana ports the largest cargo tonnage handlers in the nation.

Improved communication networks. South Louisiana will develop an information superhighway built around digital and fiber optic networks. We understand that this technology will be just as important to businesses in the 21st Century as roads and bridges are today. By investing in communications networks, we will insure that south Louisiana's economy attracts innovative, clean industries--industries that will help our state remain at the forefront of international commerce.

Investment anchor points in Louisiana communities. As the natural gas industry and others are created, many Louisiana cities will become regional anchor points for capital investment. These communities will also serve as hubs for jobs built around oil and gas exploration, production and marketing. Citizens of Louisiana will make this possible by supporting investment in an infrastructure that promotes production and marketing of natural gas. Rebuilt wetlands and barrier islands will be in place to protect exploration and processing facilities from storm damage, allaying businesses' fears about investing in the coastal zone.


Achieving our vision requires a big picture approach. In the past, our coastal restoration efforts have been small scale; money was spent on projects that produced valuable but limited results. At the time this was the best we could do. Now we must develop a new plan of action based on what we have learned.

Common sense indicates that we must work with nature if we are to preserve and rebuild our wetlands. Before Louisiana's extensive network of levees was built, the Mississippi River's annual floods spread fresh water and sediment across the deltaic plain and provided the raw material for coastal wetlands. Although we cannot allow the floods to return, we can mimic this natural process while protecting Louisiana communities.

In fact, not only can we stop further erosion of coastal wetlands and barrier islands, we can actually add new land to what we have already. Impossible? Our coastal scientists and engineers don't think so. They have designed a three-point plan for systematically rebuilding coastal Louisiana using methods that take advantage of natural wetlands building processes.

The three elements in this plan are all equally important. They must each be accomplished if we are to successfully restore our coast.

Restore functions of Louisiana's barrier islands, cheniers, and other shorelines. Barrier islands and shorelines are Louisiana's boundary against the sea and our first line of defense against storms. Without these protective buffers, inland areas and billions of dollars in public and private investments will be vulnerable to wave and wind damage. Barrier islands and shorelines also serve as vital habitat for important species such as migrating songbirds and the brown pelican, our state bird.

We have the technology to rebuild Louisiana's barrier islands by the year 2000. But even the most successfully rebuilt island can be damaged by a hurricane. As taxpayers we must understand that barrier islands will inevitably erode as they bear the brunt of storms. We must be prepared to repair barrier islands periodically so they can maintain their protective function.

Restore natural waterflow. Fifty years ago, we did not understand the importance of natural waterflow in the chenier and deltaic plains. Projects begun in the 1930s to change the region's plumbing have created expensive problems in the 1990s. To correct this, we must design projects that imitate nature but do not flood communities, endanger existing infrastructure, or disrupt navigation. Reconnecting waterways and modifying man-made channels will allow us to manage flow and maximize the controlled use of fresh water and sediment to improve wetlands.

Divert fresh water and sediment into coastal wetlands. We must divert fresh water and sediment into coastal wetlands using reconnected waterways. The diversion projects will only operate in late winter and spring during high water stages. The project will use excess water from the Mississippi River and other coastal waterways that now goes into the Gulf; water needed for navigation and drinking supplies will not be affected. Diversion projects will be accomplished without flooding communities or damaging infrastructure.

Rebuilding barrier islands and shorelines, reconnecting natural waterways, and diverting fresh water and sediment will cost billions of dollars. The investment required will be on the same scale as a single B2 Bomber, ($2.1 billion); the Denver Airport, ($4.5 billion); or the Red River Waterway, ($2 billion). We refuse to believe that our coastal resources and communities are worth any less.

Our choice is clear. We can pay the price to restore our coast now, or we can pay later when we lose billions in infrastructure and economic and cultural assets. Fortunately, if Louisiana citizens agree that our coastal wetlands, communities, and economic opportunities are worth saving, we can more easily persuade the nation to help us get the job done.


In 1989, Louisiana citizens overwhelmingly voted to establish a wetlands restoration trust fund. Since then, the fund has allowed us to plan and finance some coastal restoration projects. We have made a good start, but the wetlands restoration trust fund cannot supply enough money to finance the three point plan described above. Even the $35 million that Congress provides each year through the Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) was only intended to be a first step. We must now take our commitment to the coast a step further.

Rebuilding the coastal wetlands and barrier islands will require funding from the state and federal government. In these days of budget buts, funding will not come unless Louisiana citizens tell their elected officials to cut through the red tape and make coastal restoration a priority. As a citizen, you have the power to make this happen.

For more information about the state's Unified Vision and ways you can be involved in coastal restoration efforts, contact:

The Department of Natural Resources
Coastal Restoration Division
P.O. Box 94396
Baton Rouge, LA 70804
(504) 342 7308


The Governor's Office of
Coastal Activities

P.O. Box 94095
Baton Rouge, LA 70804
(504) 342 3968