That is what we are.
Not out of desire, but out of necessity.
After years of writing about the Louisiana wetlands, speaking about them, taking people out to see them, advocating for them, and replanting them, I’ve finally reached the conclusion that the coast of Louisiana is not going to be restored to the 1950’s landscape necessary to give bayou people the natural barriers that previously protected us from storm surge and rising tides.
Today, coastal communities flood from south winds and high tides, which work together raising water levels not just in the bayou, but in the ditches along the highways and our front yards, and actually into our yards. This high water has nothing do with hurricane-driven storm surges, which is another category of flooding.
Another water factor we contend with on a near-local level, is the forced drainage from cities north of us. On a much larger scale, coastal Louisiana is the watershed for about two thirds of the nation. We are the spout at the end of that funnel. We get all that water and everything that is in it.
To bring it home and make it very personal to you, since you’ve chosen to return here to read more about bayou life time and again, my parish (Terrebonne, meaning “good earth”) doesn’t have a whole lot of good earth left, and sits smack dab in the middle of the most rapidly disappearing wetland IN THE WORLD. The blue arrow indicates the approximate location of my home, which sits on a bayou that flows into the Gulf of Mexico, which is rapidly becoming our front yards.
If you would, take a moment to let all of this information soak into your brilliant brains. Now look at the map and find your home. Do you have a river near your home? If so, chances are some of the sediment from your river will travel down this way via the Mighty Mississippi. Ideally, it would end up replenishing this dying delta; but the ideal does not happen. What happens is, the sediment that manages to make it this far downriver (through all the locks and dams) ends up off the continental shelf in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM).
At the right price, man could use this sediment to humanly restore coastal marshlands, which could then be planted for speedy establishment, or left to self-seed, which takes longer, naturally. The point is, even though the sediment loads are much less than what they were before the Miss. was levied and dammed, the river is still dredged for navigation, and THAT sediment is then barged and dumped off the shelf. At least that is my simplistic understanding.
Again, none of this sediment is being used to restore the wetlands that once protected us from high tides and/or storm surge; and while I say that to you, I forget that most of you probably do not understand the concept, so let me explain.
Let’s say I live 21 miles from the GOM (which I do). For every 3 miles of healthy marsh, 1 foot of tidal surge is absorbed. Or say it like this: For every 3 miles of healthy marsh, a storm-driven wave is reduced by 1 foot.
Question: If there were 21 miles of healthy marsh between my house and the GOM, what is the highest wave that would be absorbed before it reached my house?
Answer? A 7-foot wave.
Next question: My house is 21 miles from the GOM. It sits 4 feet off the ground, and if there were 21 miles of healthy marsh between my house and the GOM, and a 9-foot storm surge came along, how many feet of water would there be under my house?
Answer? 2 feet of water
Next question: If my house is 21 miles from the GOM, sits 4 feet off the ground, and 9-foot storm surge put 1 foot of water inside my house, what conclusion could you draw as to the existence of the marsh between my house and the GOM?
The only conclusion you can make is that the healthy marsh does not exist any longer, and that we are now operating in a deficit. Coastal Louisiana is literally sliding into the GOM.
With no immediate reassurance that major restoration will take place using dredged sediment materials, there is only one thing left for the bayou people and coastal residents to do: ELEVATE OUR HOMES.
We are not opposed to doing so, but know this. The cost to elevate an existing home is probably more than it cost our parents to build a home. The price tag of elevating a brick home on a slab is more than it could cost to demolish and start over, in most cases. Don’t believe me? Some of my bayou neighbors just paid about $120,000 to have it done. I’ve talked to other folks who have paid up to $160,000 for this service. The magic number for elevating a 1000 sq. foot wood-frame house starts at $30,000 and goes up from there.
Before you let that critical thought and the question it evokes go from your brain to your lips, I must first ask you some thought-provoking questions. Do you have family where you live? Have you been there your whole life? Maybe your family has a farm, so you’ve stayed to run the farm. Maybe you are now running your parents’ business? Maybe where you live there are geographically specific vocations? Regardless of which of these applies to you, you LIKE where you live. It is home, for whatever reason. So please do not ask me why we stay or why we don’t just leave. That is just uncaring and unthoughtful.
This is home. Many of us have lived here for generations. The family shrimping, crabbing, or oyster business has been passed down. We can’t do what we do anywhere else in the country. Just ask the fishermen at Chesapeake Bay if they want to share their fishing grounds with us. Better yet, go on up to Maine and ask those lobster fishermen if we can get in on their action. It just ain’t happening, folks.
Many of our bayou people aren’t educated. I know in modern-day America it seems impossible that someone in their thirties can’t read. But it’s true. They can certainly do math, because they learned it working on the boat weighing, counting, multiplying price times pounds; calculating fuel in gallons per hour, etc. Not having finished school or not earning a college degree does not make our lifestyle less significant than that of those who are more educated. Would you agree with that?
And, uhum, don’t answer this with your mouth full; but how many of you love you some seafood? Did I make my point?
So we stay. We love our lives. We love the bayou and the ever-encroaching Gulf of Mexico and her beguiling brine. It’s becoming a love-hate relationship, I fear.
I’ve decided, until legal authorities advise me otherwise, that I am going to be very open with you all. Through a combination of repetitive flooding, flood insurance claims, grant programs, giving people, a loving God, good friends, and sheer force of will (there’s that tenacity again), we are rebuilding here on our three acres of Louisiana wetland about 12 above the flood plain.
Thus starts the ongoing series: People on Pilings or How BW Rises Above the Adversity of living in a repetitive loss community with no hope in sight for restoration of much-needed natural marsh protection.
Anybody interested in knowing more in 2010?
On Cloud 9,
Oh, and Happy New Year!