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DOI Officials Visit Northern Gulf Coast to View Federal Lands Affected by 2005 Hurricanes

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Mark Myers, Doug Domenech, and Kirk Rhinehart in seaplane
Above: Seaplane tour of southern Louisiana wetlands. Left to right: Mark Myers (USGS Director), Doug Domenech (DOI Deputy Chief of Staff), and Kirk Rhinehart (LADNR). [larger version]

The Department of the Interior (DOI) manages about one-fifth of all the surface land in the United States, much of it as wildlife refuges and national parks. When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita swept ashore along the northern Gulf of Mexico in 2005, they caused severe damage not only to human infrastructure but also to public lands managed by two DOI agencies—the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Park Service (NPS)—in southern Louisiana and coastal Mississippi. Restoration decisions being made in the region by the states of Louisiana and Mississippi and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will affect these lands. Eight DOI officials visited the northern Gulf Coast to gather information and to meet—and facilitate joint activities with—the USACE New Orleans Division and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LADNR). The DOI team included David Lehman, Senior Advisor to the Secretary; Doug Domenech, Deputy Chief of Staff; Kameran Onley, Assistant Deputy Secretary with DOI ocean responsibilities; Tim Petty, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science; Chris Kearney, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget; Mike Olsen, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals Management; Todd Willens, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and Paul Gugino, Special Assistant to the Solicitor. Mark Myers, USGS Director, and Suzette Kimball, USGS Eastern Regional Director, also participated in the fact-finding tour. 

Remnants of the Chandeleur Islands aerial photo showing damanged homes
Above left: Remnants of the Chandeleur Islands (Breton National Wildlife Refuge) decimated by Hurricane Katrina. [larger version]

Above right: Loss of infrastructure and housing on the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. [larger version]

Upon arrival in New Orleans, the DOI officials were given a series of short presentations: a brief overview of Louisiana's coastal history by Dawn Lavoie, Gulf of Mexico Science Coordinator for the USGS; a short discussion of restoration projects funded by the State of Louisiana and the USACE by Kirk Rhinehart, head of LADNR's Coastal Restoration Division; a review of NPS issues in the Louisiana National Parks by David Muth, Chief of Planning and Resource Stewardship, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve; and a post-Katrina update on the eight southern Louisiana FWS Refuges by James Harris, senior biologist for FWS. The group then boarded seaplanes and flew over the city of New Orleans, southern Louisiana wetlands and restoration projects, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, and Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. Narrators in the four seaplanes were Rhinehart, Lavoie, Shea Penland (Director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences, University of New Orleans [UNO]), and Kate Rose (also UNO).

Dave Muth discusses transition from forest to open marsh at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
Above: Dave Muth (NPS, left) discusses transition from forest to open marsh at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. [larger version]

The first field stop was at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (Barataria Preserve), where Muth pointed out the habitat change after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita brought down two thirds of the canopy cover. Projects sponsored by the NPS and the State (funded under the Breaux Act) include the Barataria Basin Landbridge Shoreline Protection Project, designed to reduce shoreline erosion and protect the intermediate to brackish marshes in the preserve.

At the second field stop, Chuck Villarubia, LADNR project manager for the Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion Project, and Rhinehart demonstrated how the water-diversion system works by turning on the flow from the Mississippi River. During the demonstration, a record-high discharge of 13,900 cubic feet per second (cfs) was reached. Charlie Demas, USGS director of the Louisiana Water Science Center, monitored the discharge. The Davis Pond structure consists of four 14-ft gated square culverts, inflow and outflow channels, east and west guide levees, and a rock weir. When fully functional, the Davis Pond system will divert fresh water and nutrients, via controlled flow, from the Mississippi River into coastal bays and marshes to imitate historical spring floods, combat land loss, reduce saltwater intrusion, and establish favorable salinity conditions for wetland restoration.

Chuck Villarubia and Kirk Rhinehart of Louisiana Department of Natural Resources explain operation of pilot diversion at Davis Pond to Department of the Interior visitors
Above photos: Chuck Villarubia and Kirk Rhinehart of LADNR (first and second from left in photograph at left) explain operation of pilot diversion at Davis Pond to DOI visitors. [larger version]

Charlie Demas addresses the group on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain
Above: Charlie Demas (USGS, left) addresses the group on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain (lake is behind photographer). [larger version]

At the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, Demas described conditions after Hurricane Katrina with illustrations of storm surge, data collection and sampling, and search-and-rescue operations by USGS volunteers from the Louisiana Water Science Center and the National Wetlands Research Center.

The formal part of the information tour by DOI officials included a meeting with the New Orleans District office of the USACE, in which discussion centered on how DOI can contribute to restoration activities in the region and specifically how to support planning responsibilities of the State and the USACE. The USGS plays a large role in the Science and Technology Program that supports the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Ecosystem Restoration Program. In addition to providing scientific information, the USGS hosts the Science Board, a body of nationally recognized scientists who come together to ensure the application of rigorous scientific principles and processes to the LCA Plan and provide national perspective and oversight.

Related Web Sites
Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion Project
Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem (LCA)
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

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Submarine Ground Water on Maryland's Eastern Shore

Outreach ISIS Teachers Visit Wood's Hole

Meetings DOI Officials Visit Federal Lands Affected by 2005 Hurricanes

Coastal Sediments '07 Conference

Awards USGS Researcher and Academic Collaborator Win Best Paper Award

Honoring the Commitment to Excellence

Staff Pete Swarzenski Joins Western Coastal and Marine Geology Team

Erinn Muller Receives Master's Degree

Publications New Book on Contintental-Margin Sedimentation

August Publications List

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