NEW ORLEANS — A scientific report issued by Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration predicts that the Louisiana coast could see about 3 feet of sea level rise along the already low and vulnerable Louisiana coast by 2100 — a prediction that leaves this Cajun coast drowning and under siege from storm surge for decades to come.
The forecast is part of a new report from a science panel of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the state's governing body over the coastal zone, meant to guide future planning. The report builds on progress made since Hurricane Katrina to improve the state's ability to manage its coastal crisis. Louisiana has lost about 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930s and continues to lose about 25 square miles a year.
Based on current global sea-level rise models, deltaic sinking and other regional factors, the report warns that Louisiana is "particularly sensitive to sea-level rise due to the unique geology" of this delta state.
The new report estimates that on average the coast will face a 3-foot increase in sea-level rise over the next century, with some places seeing as much as 4 feet or more.
The Bird's Foot delta, a remote estuary and national wildlife refuge at the mouth of the Mississippi River, is the most at risk, according to maps in the report. The Bird's Foot delta contains the oil and shrimp town of Venice, ship channels and important wetlands.
Denise Reed, a coastal geologist at the University of New Orleans, said the state's estimates were conservative and that the rate of change, if accelerated by glacier melting, could be much greater.
"We're going to have to make adjustments and deal with it," Reed said. "It's important for the state to say that sea level rise is here and we need to get our arms around it."
Any report on sea-level rise — which implies recognition of global warming — that comes out of the Louisiana Capitol is welcome, experts said.
"I think people in Louisiana are in denial," said Len Bahr, a former science advisor to five Louisiana governors. "People in south Louisiana are fairly naive and they are hearing nothing but denial that we have had anything to do with global warming from most of our elected officials."
Louisiana's congressional delegation and state Legislature are staunch skeptics of global warming science. The governor has not endorsed it, either. The new report itself does not acknowledge global warming.
"They don't deny that sea level is coming up, but they just don't have to accept the human causes," said Paul Kemp, the Baton Rouge-based vice president of the National Audubon Society.
He credited this report, and other recent efforts by the state and federal governments, for marshaling up-to-date and sound scientific data.
"And the data is pretty inescapable," Kemp said.
Katrina exposed rampant use in the state of inadequate engineering standards and out-of-date elevation benchmarks used before the catastrophic storm for everything from evacuation routes to levee heights. Since the storm, officials have gone to great lengths to bring in better science and engineering.
Louisiana also is working with the White House to develop a long-term plan for a comprehensive restoration of the eroding Mississippi delta.
Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority: http://bit.ly/yKHVFB