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December 2015

RAND Gulf States Policy Institute

From the Director

A dock in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico

Photo by Gary Cecchine

Sadly, there is less of our Gulf coast to love. But we are better understanding what this really means to our livelihood and existence here in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Louisiana, for example, has lost approximately 1,880 square miles of land between 1932 and 2010 according to U.S. Geological Survey and Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) estimates. At that pace, another 1,750 square miles could be lost by 2050. Or as some of my neighbors in the sports-obsessed Gulf States point out, about a football field worth of coastal land is lost every hour or so.

This land loss is the result of many factors that can't be fixed quickly, easily, or cheaply. For example, the Mississippi River has been channeled by levees to prevent flooding. That's a welcome development to those of us threatened by periodic flooding, but this river management also deprives both coastal and upland areas of sediment deposits that are essential to building land. The loss of this sediment also causes subsidence, or a reduction in land elevation, which is particularly important in the face of inevitable sea-level rise. The problem isn't just management here in the terminal end of the river: Upriver dams in use today were built mostly in the early 20th century to ease river navigation, yet these dams also retain land-building sediment far upriver. Also, thousands of miles of canals cut in the Gulf marshlands to support economically important oil and gas exploration and extraction have unfortunately furthered coastal erosion.

Policymakers and local stakeholders have been facing this quandary for some time: How can we restore and preserve our coast while also protecting our communities from flooding and supporting economically important industries?

My colleagues recently partnered with Louisiana State University (LSU) to address an important underlying question about this quandary: How much might land loss due to coastal erosion cost? In Economic Evaluation of Coastal Land Loss in Louisiana, RAND researchers examine the economic assets that are most at risk of coastal land loss in the next 25 to 50 years. As typical with RAND research, they addressed this question in the light of different future scenarios. This work can help policymakers understand how much our Gulf community stands to lose if our coast is taken over even further by the sea.

In a recent Q&A with two RAND study team members, we learn more about this study, its findings, and potential impact.

It's not all doom and gloom, my friends. We're working diligently—with many of you as partners—to ensure a viable Gulf coast in the future. On that note, I wish you all the best for the 2015 holiday season and look forward to working and talking with you in 2016. Feel free to share your thoughts with me at Gary_Cecchine@rand.org.

All the best,

Gary Cecchine

Recent Work

10 Years Post-Katrina: Current and Future Flood Risk in Greater New Orleans

Flood wall construction along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, New Orleans, Louisiana

A new report from Drs. Jordan Fischbach, David Groves, and Kenneth Kuhn presents estimates of flood risk in New Orleans and quantifies the accomplishments of post-Katrina efforts to improve coastal defenses. The authors find that progress has been made in reducing risk to flooding, but it may increase in the future unless levees are maintained or further upgraded.

Read more »

New Orleans, Katrina, and Community Resilience (The RAND Blog)

Local residents take pictures as President Barack Obama visits an area reconstructed after Hurricane Katrina

RAND's Anita Chandra and Alanzo Plough from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation discuss the impact New Orleans has made in shifting a national paradigm from emergency preparedness to one of community resilience—the capacity of communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from adversity such as natural disasters, an economic downturn, or a pandemic.

Read more »

The RAND Gulf States Policy Institute provides objective analysis to federal, state, and local leaders in support of evidence-based policymaking and the well-being of individuals throughout the U.S. Gulf States region. We invite your suggestions for researchers, projects, centers, and funding or collaboration opportunities to highlight in future issues. Write to director Gary Cecchine at Gary_Cecchine@rand.org.

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