A Terrebonne resident and nonprofit leader will head to Vietnam later this month to discuss the challenges faced by those who live on river deltas worldwide.
Rebecca Templeton, executive director of Bayou Grace, a nonprofit based in Chauvin that serves the bayou communities, is participating in the international conference.
The America’s Wetland Foundation and Vietnam National University are hosting the conference, called “Deltas 2013 Vietnam: World Delta Dialogues” from May 19-23 in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
The conference aims to convene a gathering of representatives from across the globe to discuss watershed management. International delegates will discuss solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing Vietnam and its delta, the Mekong River system, and major deltas and watersheds worldwide.
The first World Delta Dialogues conference was held in 2010 in New Orleans. More than 400 scientists, engineers, planners, business executives, civic leaders and government officials came from all over the world to discuss the sustainability of delta communities. Following the conference, the America’s Wetland was invited to co-host a second conference in Vietnam.
Templeton said she’s excited for the opportunity to see how other delta communities have adjusted to the same sorts of challenges south Louisiana faces.
“For all of us to effectively meet the challenges that sea level rise and climate change create, the more connections we can make nationally and internationally, the better,” Templeton said.
Hosting the meeting in Vietnam elevates the problem of coastal land loss in Louisiana to the world stage, said Houma native Val Marmillion, managing director of the America’s Wetland Foundation, a coastal-advocacy group.
“It will bolster our argument that America’s wetland is in urgent need of restoration,” Marmillion said.
A study released by Entergy and the America’s Wetland Foundation found the Gulf Coast could face $350 billion in losses over the next 20 years if no action is taken to protect communities from coastal erosion, sea-level rise and worsening storms.
With the majority of the world’s population expected to reside on major river deltas in the next 50 years, the bleak forecast for sustaining these valuable landscapes demands increased urgency.
It also means countries can share science and technology aimed at dealing with coastal problems by pooling their resources.
Many compare the environmental problems facing coastal Louisiana’s Mississippi River delta to those in the Mekong River delta in Vietnam.
The low-lying Mekong delta is extremely susceptible to floods resulting from climate change, and researchers have predicted many parts of the delta could be flooded by 2030 if sea levels rise by just a few feet. The construction of dams upriver have also trapped sediment and changed the water flow, allowing less sediment to reach the lower river valley, causing erosion and water quality control problems.
The area also is vulnerable to typhoons, similar to Louisiana’s hurricanes. Residents there farm rice and sugar cane. They also have a large shrimping industry, like coastal Louisiana, Marmillion said. But an increase in tropical storms and flooding in coastal areas is affecting their crop yield, Marmillion said.
At stake is a river basin that supports millions of lives and billions of dollars in economic potential as Vietnam and its neighbors continue to develop and grow.
Templeton will conduct a panel discussion with Oxfam America on community resilience in the face of rising sea levels, climate change and coastal land loss.
Relative sea level rise in southern Terrebonne and Lafourche is happening at one of the fastest rates in the world because of sinking land caused by the leveeing in of the Mississippi River.
“I think (community resilience) is everything,” Templeton said. “I think coastal Louisiana, and particularly southern Terrebonne Parish — we are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to problems future communities will face. What I hope that we can show is that communities can face those challenges and be resilient in the process.”
Nikki Buskey can be reached at 857-2205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.