Living along a disappearing shoreline, perpetually at risk of extreme flooding, New Orleans residents are painfully aware of the risks that come with living in a city that’s almost entirely below sea level. Protecting the coast itself, and the natural habitats therein, is a huge part of protecting the communities that live there. The task of preserving Louisiana’s wetlands poses complex problems, and requires multifaceted solutions. One small non-profit with a devoted volunteer following, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF), has taken on the challenge.
Lake Pontchartrain covers 630 square miles of southeastern Louisiana, and is only one piece of what is known as the Pontchartrain Basin: a network of wetlands that support a unique variety of plants and wildlife, as well as a thriving fishing and tourism industry. Unfortunately, Lake Pontchartrain and the surrounding wetlands are threatened by pollution and coastal land loss, both of which endanger the diverse plant and animal life unique to the wetlands, and make our communities even more vulnerable to devastating floods. The LPBF was founded to protect the wetlands and the many plants, fishes, and wildlife that live there.
Understanding the Problem
Well, more accurately, the many problems.
Take a look at Lake Pontchartrain’s troubled past for an idea of what we’re facing:
- The lake used to be the site of extensive oil and gas drilling. Even after the drilling ended, oil and gas structures were left in the lake to deteriorate.
- For 60 years, the lake underwent shell dredging, which took a harsh toll on the ecosystem.
- Due to lack of education and knowledge around wastewater management, small businesses and residents have released harmful pollutants into the rivers.
- Urban development has led to paving over hundreds of acres of wetlands, exacerbating flooding problems.
- The cypress swamps, hardwoods, and native species have been greatly diminished by logging.
Thanks to all these levels of human intrusion, the entire wetlands habitat is at risk. And because the wetlands serve as a natural sponge for rainwater, that means we’re putting our own communities in greater danger of flooding – that is, if we don’t actively work to correct the trends.
Well, again, it’s not that easy: there are many solutions. That’s where LPBF comes in.
- Since 2001, LPBF has monitored the water quality of the lake on a weekly basis, and to this day is the only organization that routinely tests the water and measures pollutants. They test the lake in multiple sites for salinity, temperature, and other measures that demonstrate the overall “health” of the lake.
- LPBF also partners with businesses to educate them on proper handling of wastewater. To date they’ve partnered with over 800 local wastewater treatment plants, which have now significantly reduced the amount of contaminated water flowing into the rivers.
- LPBF has been a pioneer of “green infrastructure” in the area, a process that incorporates absorbent, grassy areas into the city as an effective (and literally “green”) solution to overflowing rainwater. For example, concrete canals are being replaced with grass-lined ones, and green spaces are being built next to parking lots to naturally absorb runoff.
- The Director of LPBF’s Coastal Sustainability Program developed the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy, a framework for using both natural defenses (such as barrier islands and marshes) and man-made protections (including flood gates and levees), in combination with wetland and habitat restoration, to create better hurricane protection. Louisiana’s State Master Plan now uses this strategy to protect and improve the coast.
What You Can Do
Join the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation to help protect the wetlands. LPBF is always looking for help to raise awareness at local festivals and events, and participate in litter clean-ups. Become a member or volunteer.
Make a donation. Even a small amount can go a long way to supporting the LPBF, and protecting the environment.
Make positive choices for the environment. Consider the environmental impact of your next vacation. Support local eco-tour companies that share your concern for protecting the habitat. If you’re planning a New Orleans trip any time soon, take a guided tour of the Honey Island Swamp, where professional boat captains share their knowledge of the ecosystem and wildlife. Our staff members also take part in cleaning up the swamp and surrounding area on a regular basis to keep our swamp healthy and our gators happy.
Take a trip to the lighthouse. The LPBF has created a museum highlighting local environmental issues, and the actions that they and other organizations are taking to solve those problems. Impressively, all of this information has been condensed into a beautiful lighthouse on (where else?) the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Take a trip to the New Canal Lighthouse Museum to see everything they’ve done for the area, and take in the beautiful views – it’s a museum experience like none other!