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Protecting and Sustaining an Urban Coast: The Critical Role of Law and Policy

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At the time of its founding, New Orleans was surrounded by a vibrant swamp marsh system. Over time, subsidence and hydrologic changes degraded those wetlands, leaving a remnant wetland that provides less and less value as a storm buffer, water quality buffer and as fish and wildlife habitat. For a v ariety of reasons, community and government organizations are interested in rehabilitating those wetlands. Restoring that system is not just a technical challenge it is a legal one since much of the area is subject to some claim of private ownership and wide variety of governmental programs and projects with diverse and sometimes conflicting purposes. A basic appreciation and understanding of the legal landscape is as essential to protecting and sustaining this “ urban coast” as are sound science and engineering.

New Orleans is at a critical point in its existence. It faces profound challenges and exciting opportunities and must work on both fronts with a combination of focus and urgency. This will entail working with both the Federal and State governments to secure the necessary program authorizations, modifications and appropriations. It also must act promptly at the local level to define its needs and minimize its exposure to water and storm driven risk. Those actions will make the City and its residents safer sooner and they will also provide direction and impetus for State and Federal action. Those linkages can serve as the basis for developing a coordinated strategy for advancing the City's water resources and community protection agendas at all levels.

Such a strategy should be grounded on four principles:

A clear and purposeful vision of how safe and resilient the City wants to be and how it wants to capitalize on its water resources assets

Clarity about what decisions it wants to shape or compel.

Targeted communications and advocacy with adequate technical, financial and staffing support.

A realistic plan for financing the work that needs to be done

This paper will concentrate on the first two elements of the strategy. The communications and advocacy aspect of the strategy should be conceived in the context of the first two elements and can borrow from the lessons taught by other successful governmental affairs efforts mounted by other cities. This is an important time for the City to consider developing such an effort.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-01-01

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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