Don’t let dead zone delay coastal work

21 October 2010

Maybe you look at it this way:

A recent bit of news casts doubt on the opinion of some Louisiana observers, including this editorial page, that a newly named federal commission doesn’t need a year to develop a strategy for coastal restoration.

Scientists have discovered another dead zone, much smaller than the massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, in Chandeleur Sound.

The apparent cause: As the flow of fresh water into southeast coastal areas was increased to reduce the impact of the BP oil spill, more nutrients were carried into the Gulf and its attending bays and sounds.

The nutrients consume oxygen, just as the organic matter stirred up by hurricane strikes sometimes leads to fish kills in inland streams. Because a greater flow of fresh water is considered an important way to renew coastal features such as the Mississippi Delta, the thinking goes, the problems are too complex to tackle recklessly.

We’d stand by the opposite position: That the new commission should move ahead as quickly as possible. Just as this new dead zone underlines the difficulty of solving the problems robbing Louisiana of its coastal land, it adds urgency to the need for a solution. That means getting to work as quickly as possible.

The commission’s brief is to use billions in penalties levied against BP to restopre the entire Gulf Coast. No section of that five-state stretch of coast is more fragile than Louisiana’s, and the clock is ticking loudest here, particularly in the areas to our southeast.

Freshwater infusion may be a problem as well as a solution, but it’s just one problem and one solution.

Others have been studied, restudied and studied again: Manmade waterways that cut across fragile marshes; saltwater intrusion and hungry nutria that kill marsh grass, allowing land to wash away; hurricanes that hasten erosion and then do more damage next time because a vital buffer has eroded; and more.

The fact is that the ultimate solution to the big dead zone seems to require a level of interstate cooperation that goes far beyond the workings of the new coastal commission.

That will require time, and every day sees the loss of more wildlife habitat, hurricane protection, the nurseries for commercially important fish species and an important piece of our natural heritage.

The feds turn loose of grant and offshore royalty money only grudgingly. So, while the money seems likely to be available to do great things for the coast, we must do what we can as fast as we can.