By Scott Rogers
American coastal experts have traveled to Vietnam to gain help in saving the Mississippi River delta system.
Experts from around the world will spend much of next week in Vietnam addressing coastal land loss, particularly along the Mississippi and Mekong river systems.
Representatives from the America’s WETLAND Foundation, Vietnam National University and the Netherlands in Building Communique of Cooperation will gather beginning Sunday in Ho Chi Minh City for DELTAS2013VIETNAM, the second World Delta Dialogues involving global leaders since 2010.
The America’s WETLAND Foundation hosted the first World Delta Dialogues conference in New Orleans in October 2010.
According to research by Michael Blum with LSU’s department of geology and geophysics, and Harry Roberts with the LSU Coastal Studies Institute, over the past few centuries, 25 percent of the deltaic wetlands associated with the Mississippi Delta have been lost to the ocean. It was estimated 18 to 24 billion tons of sediment would be required to sustain existing delta surface areas.
“That is significantly more than what can be drawn from the Mississippi River in its current state. We conclude that significant drowning is inevitable, even if sediment loads are restored, because sea level is now rising at least three times faster than during delta-plain construction,” according to the report.
The dialogues in Vietnam this week will revolve around the theme of “unintended consequences,” a term often used in discussing the management of river systems and actions that have later created negative and costly consequences, according to Stephen Gambrell, who serves as executive director of the Mississippi River Commission.
Gambrell will make presentations to illustrate the unintended consequences of river management decades ago that have left coastal areas known as America’s wetlands losing land at one of the fastest rates on the planet.
According to Restore and Retreat, a nonprofit coastal advocacy group in Louisiana, the state is losing 25 to 35 square miles of wetlands per year. At the current land loss rates, nearly 640,000 more acres, an area nearly the size of Rhode Island, will be under water by 2050.
Valsin A. Marmillion, president and founder of Marmillion + Co. and managing director of America’s WETLAND Foundation, is in Vietnam for the five-day event.
He said Ho Chi Minh City officials and citizens have welcomed the Americans and other world coastal experts as the group works to elevate the issue of wetland loss on a worldwide stage.
“To imagine a foundation from Louisiana could find literally the common ground to come together in Vietnam on an issue of such world importance is a humbling experience after knowing the history of our two countries,” Marmillion said.
Vietnam’s MeKong Delta shares many of the same issues as the Mississippi Delta as both are experiencing the greatest rate of land loss on the planet due to land subsidence and sea level rise.
“Worse for us in Louisiana is we also have a triple threat when you combine these two factors with tapping of sediments, fresh water and nutrients that starve our delta,” MarMillion said. “This is what we call ‘unintended consequences’ of placing levees on our big river for flood protection and to support navigation.”
He said the Louisiana-Mississippi delta, a national resource, is on the verge of collapse and after generations of knowing the problem was eminent, no fix has occurred.
He said the group’s goal is twofold. First, they want to alert the world of what is happening in Louisiana’s delta to get the attention required to create solutions. Secondly, the group will leave Vietnam with a “Communique of Cooperation” signed by the world’s leading coastal experts defining how cooperation among leaders of world deltas can bring about the sustainability necessary to keep the deltas viable and functioning for future generations.
“With access to and availability of fresh water fast becoming the number one issue in the world, the filtering mechanisms for water, our deltas, must be protected. If not, we deplete our water supplies and won’t maintain a salt-free water table along the coasts of the world — heavily populated and productive areas that support all national economies,” Marmillion said.
However, he said in the U.S., a politically charged climate has made it hard to establish priorities. But he said federal officials must recognize the need for action.
“America’s wetlands in coastal Louisiana are dying and we are at a critical point where all could be lost. While this would be devastating to Louisiana, it will also cripple the U.S. economy, as commodities from 31 states of the Mississippi watershed will lose export routes. Fisheries will be impacted and the land where people live to support America’s most prolific energy development will be gone. That may sound very dramatic, but it is within view today,” Marmillion said.