From a small northwestern observatory…

Finance and economics generally focused on real estate

Louisiana, oil spills, and the Atchafalaya

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I spent most of last week based out of New Orleans, with trips north (into St. Tammany Parish) and southwestward into the Atchafalaya Basin.  It’s this latter foray that I wanted to discuss today — probably one of the most significant and rich ecosystems in the U.S., and yet one that hardly anyone knows about.  From a real estate perspective, it’s both beautiful and critically important.

Courtesy USGS

The Atchafalaya is the largest swamp in the United States, located basically where the Atchafalaya River pours into the Gulf.  It spans all or part of 15 parishes (Louisiana has “parishes” rather than “counties”).  The Atchafalaya has a growing delta system and fairly stable wetlands, which is significant for several reasons.  Louisiana, believe it or not, has 25 percent of the forested wetlands and 40 percent of the coastal wetlands in the 48 contiguous States but accounts for 80 percent of wetlands losses according to the USGS.   The State’s coastal area (wetlands, estuaries, and barrier islands) is under stressed conditions resulting from a complex array of adverse natural environmental processes and human-related activities. Every year, the Louisiana coastal area, one of the world’s most productive ecosystems, loses as much as 20 to 25 square miles of land.  Thus, about 1,000 to 1,500 square miles of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands have been converted to open water during the past half century. The processes and activities that have contributed to this conversion include long-term erosion and land subsidence (sinking of the land) caused, in part, by compaction of Mississippi River Delta sediments and by large storms that strike the area about every 5 years, rising sea levels, changes in human population, energy development, flood control, and maintenance of navigation channels. As wetlands, estuaries, and barrier islands vanish, the State loses important natural buffers protecting New Orleans and other populated coastal areas from storms and flooding.

As you might guess, what with Hurricane Katrina, various oil field contamination disputes, and the BP Oil Spill, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in and around the Atchafalaya.  If you ever get the chance to go, don’t miss it!  Nonetheless, we’re still assessing the damages resulting from the oil spill and resultant economic effects.  Stay tuned — this research continues!

 

 

Written by johnkilpatrick

August 13, 2012 at 10:08 am

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