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Wetland Restoration Planting Project

July 5, 2010

Plant Identification in Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle 2010

With Wetland Scientist Dr. Quentin Carpenter

Background Information

In the wake of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina many of the southeastern Louisiana levees that were exposed to open water failed, while those that were protected by intact wetlands remained undamaged (Day, 2006). With this in mind, the Army Corps of Engineers has been tasked by congress to restore the damage to the Central Wetlands Unit (which includes the Bayou Bienvenue) caused by the building of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), which has been closed in 2010.

Louisiana’s wetlands provide a range of ecosystem services to the community. Wetlands historically have provided protection from storm surges, provided habitat for a 2.6 billion dollar commercial fishing industry, and supported a 1.6 billion dollar recreational fishing industry. In addition, wetlands have provided habitat for over five million migrating waterfowl as well as providing water purification services (Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, 1998) .

The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle (BBTW) has been an area of study for the University of Wisconsin for the past four years. This 427 acre degraded cypress swamp is the result of sixty years of saltwater intrusion and diversion of sediment caused in large part by the construction of commercial canals. Recognizing the need for baseline data to begin the process of restoration, the University of Wisconsin students have been cataloging water and sediment characteristics to clarify a feasible restoration project. Water depths and tidal fluctuations currently limit the types of vegetation that will thrive in the BBWT. Both in filling of the triangle with sediments and active vegetation management will be needed to restore any substantial vegetative community.

Creating a brackish marsh in the BBWT is a logical phase-one wetland restoration project. Brackish marsh plants can aid in land accretion by building biomass and trapping sediments. In addition, brackish marsh can help buffer storm surge, provide aquatic and terrestrial habitat and foster biodiversity. (UW-NOLA Report, 2009)

Our plant search was narrowed to species that are native to brackish or salt-water marshes of southern Louisiana, which exhibit a high range of salt tolerance, ability to grow in anoxic conditions and adaptability to a range of soil textures. In addition we considered a number of physiologic and morphologic characteristics such as mature height, growth rate, vegetative spread rate, and root morphology to gauge biomass production both in the soil (to hold sediment) and above the soil (to mitigate wind energy). Based on these characteristics, three species candidates were chosen for use on the floating platforms: spartina alterniflora (smooth cordgrass), schoenoplectus californicus (California bulrush) and spartina patens. (UW-NOLA group report, 2009)

View of Plantings from the Florida Street Platform

View of plantings from Caffin Street platform. Photo by LJ Pfeiffer

UW Island Planting (L1) Photo by Linda Pfeiffer

Plants on L1 include: Deerpea, Spartina patiens, Smart Weed, Poke weed, Ararantha, Spartina Alterneflora, Echinochbra

The city of New Orleans donated five islands in 2009. We inventoried these islands and found the following plants.

City Island 1

Pokeweed, Iva, Purslane, Cyperus

City planting island 1

City planting island 2

Island C2

Plants on C2 included:

Vigna luteola (Hairypod cowpea) Native to ponds and rivers

Lythrum lineare (Wand Loosestrife), spartina patens, and one unknown plant (below).

unknown plant, small white flowers

(if anyone can identify this species please post the name in the comments section of the blog)

City island plantings 3

This island contained: spartina patens, a large southern amaranth, and an unknown plant (below right)

city island 3 photo by LJ Pfeiffer

unknown plant on C3 photo by LJ Pfeiffer

City planting island 4

plants of C4 photo by LJ Pfeiffer

This island was one of the scarcest islands and contained: spartina patens,Iva frutescens (Marsh elder), and Amaranthus australis (Southern amaranth).

unknown plant on C4 photo by LJ Pfeiffer (right)

City planting island C5

Plants include: spartina patens, Ivy

Fruteschens, and Tropical flatsedge

C5 photo bu LJ Pfeiffer

University Island L2

University planting L2 photo by LJ Pfeiffer

In the foreground you see the thick algae that blankets the marsh at this time of year. Algae is the result of too many nutrients and is a sign of a distressed ecosystem. This island is also very diverse and includes the following plants:

Schoenoplectus maritimus (Cosmopolitan bulrush) Thick tall dark green grasses

Spartina patens (Couch grass) thin light green grasses

Echinochloa crus-galli (Barnyard grass) Light green in foreground with seed head

Dead Cypress tree (Taxodium distichum) in background-killed by excess salinity introduced into the bayou from canal development.

Amaranthus australis (Southern amaranth) We were seeing to five foot plants on the floating islands. The plant has a reddish stem and is an annual which planted itself!

Cyperus surinamensis (Tropical flatsedge) Lighter green grass in foreground

This year our job was to inventory all of the islands and determine which plantings had survived as well as inventory any new plants. Too augment the sparse plants on the city islands (C1-C5) we added more spartina patens, irises, and native marsh plants that we collected from the shorelines.

One canoe of the planting team beginning the day (Kelly, Jenna, Michelle)

Half of the class made up the planting team (Quentin, Ted, Linda, Kelly, Jenna, Michelle) and half of the class went out to test this years water quality at points around the triangle (CeCe, Jennifer, Natalie, Ashley, and Patrick).

One canoe of the water quality testing crew heading out. (Jennifer, Natalie, CeCe)

Behind the canoe you see the rusted metal floodwall built in the 1960’s to prevent flooding of the lower ninth ward. Unfortunately this eight foot wall made it very difficult for residents of the lower ninth neighborhood to access the swamp where they had fished for crawfish, crab, and a variety of freshwater fish. In 2008, the University of Colorado built an access platform to allow visitors and residents to once again be able to visit the bayou.


Cypress Wastewater Restoration Project

June 26, 2010

Visit to Mandeville Wastewater Assimilation Project

June 10, 2010

Mandeville is a fifty-minute car trip from New Orleans over the ‘longest bridge in the world.’ Traveling over the bridge one cannot help but imagine the extensive engineering required to complete a twenty-three mile long bridge. The bridge, almost destroyed by an escaped barge many years ago, now holds a long line of travelers.

On coming into town it is clear that this area was developed more recently than New Orleans. Extensively landscaped yards host a range of brick and wooden homes built within the last thirty years or so. Each house is surrounded by substantial green space and the tree -lined streets are shady and cool. This area did not sustain flood damage and the shaded winding streets appear to be new.

We find our way to the Mandeville Treatment plant where both the mayor and the head engineer greet us.

The class is briefed by the chief engineer-Dave Degeneres, Director of Public Works. Photo by L. Pfeiffer

The city of Mandeville has chosen to design a biological wastewater treatment system in which nitrogen enriched and treated sewer effluent is discharged into the surrounding wetlands providing nutrients for the surrounding Cypress-tupelo swamp while purifying the wastewater.

The Mandeville facility incorporates community education and habitat restoration into the treatment site. Here the restoration is showcased via a boardwalk. photo by L. Pfeiffer

Jennifer and Natalie discuss the possibility of sign construction for the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle project. photo by L. Pfeiffer

Examples of signs include those which explain how wetland plants cycle nutrients, plant identification,  and descriptions of wildlife in the area.

photo by L. Pfeiffer

Our first stop is the overflow pond, complete with turtles and a small alligator.

An Overflow pond. photo by L.Pfeiffer

The overflow pond (pictured above) provides a holding area for excess water created during runoff from rainstorms or storm surge. This biological treatment facility accepts sewage from eight existing treatment plants, which in the past, had discharged directly into local water bodies. This plant has increased storm water drainage capacity for the city and decreased both the point source and non-point source pollution.

photo by L. Pfeiffer

An extensive pipe system (on the left of the boardwalk) carries treated fresh water and nutrients out to the marshlands. Fresh water is important to offset the salinity of the ocean water introduced to this marshland from post-hurricane tidal surge. Hurricane Katrina introduced an eight-foot tidal surge, followed three weeks later by a seven- foot tidal surge during Hurricane Rita. These storms and the resulting salt water severely degraded the wetlands causing plant loss and soil erosion.

One of the goals of this treatment facility is to preserve natural and scenic marshland and provide an intact wetland ecosystem to absorb storm surge and protect the surrounding community. It is estimated that 25-50% of Cypress-tupelo swamps have been lost due to logging and salt-water intrusion, causing the population of Louisiana to be more vulnerable flooding from hurricanes. Intact swamps act as a barrier to slow the force of post-hurricane storm surges and protect the floodwalls and levies.

photo by L. Pfeiffer

The swamps play a critical role in the history of New Orleans. When we interview older local residents, they tell stories of spending the entire day in the swamp catching catfish, crawfish, garfish, and logger head turtles in the bayou.  Restoration of these wetlands through wastewater assimilation will not only help protect the residents from storm surge, it also will restore the possibilities for residents to fish and gather seafood which once played a critical role in regional diets and is the foundation of the world renown New Orleans cuisine.

The Process of Wastewater Treatment.

Wastewater enters the plant from the city of Mandeville and surrounding areas where it is filtered to remove non-biodegradable materials. It is then aerated and piped through a series of three ponds like the one pictured below. Large waste particles settle out into the ponds. .  The current ponds have been in existence for over twenty years and are just now showing signs of algae growth.

photo by L. Pfeiffer

The next step in the process is called ‘nitrification’ where ammonia is removed from the water by running the water through this sprinkler system (pictured below) to oxidize the water. It is then drained and through the large rocks below.

photo by L. Pfeiffer

From here the ‘nitrified’ water travels through a series of pipelines and is discharged into the marsh.

On our tour we witnessed both fish and alligators enjoying assimilation water. Wetlands serve as nurseries for small fish and crustations.

An alligator peeks up through the water. photo by L. Pfeiffer

The subtropical climate in Louisiana provides optimal conditions for use of nutrient assimilation as a method for wastewater treatment.  In a recent study on Cypress tree growth at the Cypriere Perdue Swamp (St. Martin Parish) from 1920 to 1990, there was a significant difference in tree growth (mean basil increment) of baldcypress trees in the nutrient rich waters of the wastewater treatment site compared to a Cyprus forest with no treatment assimilation project (Hesse and Doyle, 1998).

Here we see young Cyprus trees established at the Mandeville treatment site.

Young Cypress Trees. photo by L. Pfeiffer

This project with increase the cities wastewater treatment capacity from two million gallons daily to four million gallons daily while preserving the Chinchuluba Basin floodplain. The benefits include increased growth of marsh grasses, plants and trees, which in turn provide habitat to waterfowl.

photo by L. Pfeiffer

photo by L. Pfeiffer

Our guide, engineer Dave Degeneres. photo by L. Pfeiffer

The city planners and engineer (Dave) at Mandeville have successfully demonstrated how we can develop sustainable treatment systems which restore and preserve native ecosystems while providing a critical service for local communities. Thanks Dave!


Dave DeGeneres, Director of Public Works, Mandeville, Louisiana

Report by Greg Gordon, Director of Environmental Services (2001)

Mandeville Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Project


It’s Complicated…

June 22, 2010

It is a simple fact and a wearisome truth.  I repeat it with a sigh and tired eyes and a thick heart.

In New Orleans, everything is complicated.

Every.  Blessed.  Thing.

And when I mean every blessed thing, believe me, dear reader, that I mean every blessed thing.  When Google maps lies, when stores don’t exist, when left turns are myths and it takes four and half hours for three competent and assiduous young women to find a simple bottle of Mr. Bubbles bubble bath, you notice something is awry and that something is a little off.

And while I won’t sit here and bemoan the fact that it took me an uncomfortably long time to procure the aforementioned bathtub necessity, I will sit here and bemoan the fact that these sorts of difficulties aren’t confined to the humorous; they extend to the serious.

Like why we can’t rebuild the Lower Ninth.  Like why we can’t pay John Taylor.  Like why we can’t save our wetlands.

And speaking with Tulane lawyer Mark Davis, the Director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy cemented this fact.

We went to Tulane to meet Mark Davis on Monday, June 13th, and the first thing I noticed about him was that his voice was tinted with the quintessential gallows humor that colors the smiles and expressions of many people here in New Orleans.  He knew that nothing in New Orleans is easy.  Mr. Davis’ wry smile had been through the ropes and maneuvered the hurdles and seen the mess on the ground many times before, but the visible passion for his work brought a certain levity to his words.  Because of this, his presentation was extremely intriguing.  Mr. Davis painted for us the legal landscape of wetland restoration and the land tenure and water issues that dominate that picture.

Perhaps the best way to approach the information and questions that he presented us with is to use an analogy.  Think of your shower, dear reader.  Do you see the shower head, the melty bar of soap, the hardened froth on the ledge?  Good.

Now look to the drain.  The legal landscape is very similar to the clump of hair (which everyone pretends not to see to avoid touching it) which is chilling on the top of that drain, preventing water from going down.  Analogously, land and water rights clog up the process of restoring the wetlands. One can have the greatest plan in the world to restore the wetlands of Louisiana, but if the land and water rights aren’t sifted through, that plan is going to sit until it rots and loses its teeth.  One may not know who owns a certain parcel of land, or there might be no title.  The land could be divided between thirty relatives whose consents must all be sought and granted in order for a transaction to happen.  Sometimes, the owner won’t sell.  Sometimes, the owner doesn’t know he or she owns the land.  What happens when it floods?  Are the waters navigable enough to cede the land to the state?  What about the streets plotted out in Bayou Bienvenue?  Must the permission of the owners of these elusive plots be sought before any restoration work is done?

Mr. Davis described this issue in much more eloquent terms without the help this rather crude image, but the conclusions are the same.  The legal landscape is messy.  It’s hard.  It’s so dang complicated.  And while I personally find the legal minutiae invigorating and intriguing, it is also disheartening and exhausting.  As an environmental lawyer, I feel one must learn to accept a large percentage of hardships and failure in his or her professional work; a certain level of complication.  And although Mr. Davis has not turned me away from my interest in pursuing environmental law, he definitely gave me a new perspective.  There is urgency to solving this complication that I am attracted to; the important wetlands of Louisiana’s coast are disappearing at an alarming rate.

But with this, dear reader, the clump of hair grows bigger.   The shower floods.

And if nothing can be done, the next time a hurricane hits, Louisiana will too.

Planting in the Wetlands: A Restoration Story

June 20, 2010

Getting up early to drive to Turtle Cove was not easy, but we all managed to get out the door in a somewhat orderly fashion.  By 9am, I was sitting in an air conditioned room, in the office space of Rob Moreau, head of the Turtle Cove Research Station.

Turtle Cove Research Station - Office Space

Turtle Cove. Photo by Kelly Schultz

After giving a brief presentation on the state of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, Rob delved into the many causes of their degradation (many of which have anthropogenic origins).  Some of the major causes of wetland loss are the construction of levees along the Mississippi River, oil and gas development, runoff, saltwater intrusion and sea level rise.  Currently, 80-90% of annual wetland loss in the United States takes place in just one state – Louisiana.  With these losses, benefits from wetlands such as flood protection, nutrient cycling and natural wastewater treatment are also lost.  Rob stressed the importance of the oil and gas industries to Louisiana, claiming that they are “the backbone of Louisiana’s economy.”  With 25% of the nation’s wetlands and as a supplier of 25-40% of the nation’s seafood, Louisiana faces considerable harm due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

With this background knowledge of the wetlands, we set out to help load the wetland grasses onto the boat that would be planted along the mud-covered lips of the island.  The pontoon boat ride over to the island was breezy and laid back; and chatting with the locals, we floated towards Lake Maurepas.  Once we set to work of planting, the real adventure set in.   The grueling physical experience of planting wetland grasses is just as you would imagine it – hot, smelly and oh-so-squishy.  Splitting into teams of two, we pierced holes into the sinking mud and planted. Within minutes, I had discarded my shoes and could be found thigh-high in the sun-warmed slime.

Planting Wetland Grasses

Michelle Hu preparing mud to plant wetland grass. Photo by Kelly Schultz

By the end of the two-hour session, our UW team, including UW alumnus George Shinners, had successfully planted 600 grasses in the midday heat.  We trudged back to the pontoon boat, carefully checking for hidden snakes and sinkholes until we were able to find a spot of clear-ish water to rinse off the larger clumps of mud.

Our 600 plants cannot compare to the football field of wetlands lost every 38 minutes, but allowing a group of students to come out and discover the immensity of benefits that wetlands can offer is beyond value.  Our trip has always focused on the wetlands and its relationship with the community of the Lower Ninth.  By emphasizing and expanding on the significance and uses that wetlands possess, we and future generations will be better able to protect them from destruction and in turn, stand to benefit from their existence.

Newly planted wetland grasses

Wetland grasses planted by UW group on island in Lake Maurepas. Photo by Kelly Schultz

For more information on wetlands, visit these sites:

The Story of the Murals

June 17, 2010

The oak trees on the North Claiborne Avenue neutral ground in February 1966. Photo: THE TIMES-PICAYUNE ARCHIVES

In the 1950s Interstate 10 was constructed over Claiborne Avenue.  The creation of this massive structure devastated one of the first free African-American communities.  This thriving business district in the Treme neighborhood was one of the wealthiest African-American neighborhoods in the city that supported many local businesses and residential homes.   The neutral ground in the middle of Claiborne Avenue held four rows of stunning live oaks.  All of this was destroyed with the construction of I-10.

Today there are several beautiful murals painted on the pillars under this section of Highway 10.  The murals are brightly colored with large images telling the history of the people who lived in the surrounding neighborhoods.  The outside pillars have large oak trees painted on them to represent the trees that once lived there.  Many of the images depict important moments of history in the fight for civil rights.  There are pictures of happy families sitting at tables covered with crawfish, corn, mushrooms, potatoes and garlic.  There are paintings of the shops owned by African Americans and pictures of Mardi Gras Indians.  The murals are there to remind people in the present day that there was a strong vibrant community that was torn apart by the building of the highway.

Paintings representing the live oaks that once lined the street. Photo: Linda Pfeiffer

Photo: Linda Pfeiffer

The murals were painted on the bridge in 2002 to represent and honor the community that part of the city used to sustain. The construction of the highway completely destroyed the market and meeting place of several of the neighborhoods in that part of town. The area under the massive highway used to be a place everyone came to meet, socialize, buy and sell goods. The construction of the highway has contributed to degradation of the surrounding neighborhoods. A large part of the community structure has been destroyed.

The neighborhoods that surround the highway are suffering.  They struggle in the same ways that neighborhoods made up of mostly minority populations are struggling all over the United States.  They have lost their sense of togetherness.   By dividing these communities, the sense of a connection with like-minded people gets cut off.   The collective goal of people who have the same needs gets diluted.  The ability to support each other and provide services is greatly disrupted.  The construction of this highway has undermined the success and progress of the African-American community in this neighborhood.  They have lost the ability to utilize the strength of a common struggle.  Their chance of finding out how they can become a part of a system, that has continuously worked against them from the start, is torn apart.

Photo: Linda Pfeiffer

Last Saturday a couple few of us visited this area of the Treme neighborhood.  We had the privilege to participate in interviews of a couple of older men who remembered the thriving community.  They shared with us their sadness of was had happened to their neighbors and friends since the construction of the highway. They spoke of a place that is unrecognizable in present day.

Photo: Linda Pfieffer

There is a call of action by different organizations to remove this section of highway to allow the communities to become one again.  Interstate 610 was built in the 1970s and is a more direct route for through traffic.  The Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP) is a multi-level planning process that is attempting to coordinate community needs with governmental agencies in the recovery and rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.  The UNOP has identified that removing this unnecessary section of I-10 would have a serious impact on the community.  The complete removal of this section of highway would cause the city to gain 35 to 40 city blocks and allow for a blighted area the chance for economic prosperity once again.

Photo: Linda Pfeiffer

Photo: Linda Pfieffer

Photo: Linda Pfieffer

Ninth Ward Tour

June 15, 2010

By: Ted Schuster

Today, the NOLA group took a tour of the Lower 9th Ward.  Our tour guide started off by telling us his evacuation story, which sounded very intense.  Stories like his are very common, and the NOLA group has already heard many of them, some similar and some very different.  Once the tour began, we observed dozens of trucks driving around with landscaping equipment in a trailer.  The reason for this is that the city mandates that even if a resident is displaced, if they maintain ownership of their property, they are responsible for making sure it is maintained.  The city charges more than the independent businessmen, so it’s up to the property owner to make sure their property looks nice no matter where they are.

Our tour guide took us to a house that was still largely the way it was left after Katrina.  This house had very heavy flood damage, and all of the owner’s possessions were still inside the house.  It is very common to see an abandoned house right next door to a rebuilt house with a family inside.

We also visited the blocks of the neighborhood being rehabbed by Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” Foundation.  (link is the “Largest Congregation of Smart-Design homes created by award-winning architects working on the same project”.  The houses emphasize green technology including solar panels, and employ the most cutting edge flood prevention technology.

Photo: Ted Schuster

Overall, it was an interesting way to start off the program, and we got an in-depth look at the Lower 9th Ward, the neighborhood where the NOLA group will be spending the majority of our time.

Photo: Ted Schuster

Surveys in the Lower Ninth Ward

June 14, 2010

By J. Ashleigh Ross

I am back in New Orleans for my fourth summer as part of the UW-NOLA research time and loving it. The new class format is based on a four week stand-alone course model instead of the year long: orientation, field season, and report write-up, has allowed us to operate and one large group instead of smaller research divisions. From Sunday to Tuesday we surveyed the neighborhood as part of our “social science” portion of the course.

On Monday we surveyed both with our traditional neighborhood survey and our new Bayou Bienvenue platform intercept survey. The traditional neighborhood surveys are conducted every summer and we aim to complete between 30 and 50. For these surveys, groups of two go out into the neighborhood and knock on doors and ask people to participate in the survey. We are collecting data on the socio-environmental story, knowledge and historical use of BBWT. It is always a lot of fun to get out and talk with the neighborhood about their knowledge and relationship to the local environment. Sometimes the surveys can take up to 2 hours because they can be very conversational and I always learn so much during survey conversations.

The new intercept surveys are designed to document and quantify visitation and use of the BBWT. We ask survey respondents how they heard about the BBWT and how they use it. The goal of this survey is to provide frequency and use data to the Army Corps of Engineers and Tulane’s Center for Bioenvironmental Research center. The Army Corps has expressed interest in expanding the existing platform and has asked us to find out, via the intercept survey, which improvements would be most useful and desirable for users. We plan to deliver the preliminary results to the community and the Army Corps on Thursday, June 10th.

The best thing about the surveys is the direct usefulness to the larger Bayou Bienvenue restoration project. As a student, teaching assistant, and a practitioner-in-training of Community Based Research, I always appreciate assignments that are directly useful and/or relevant. Partnering with the larger community provides a significant and hands-on learning experience. It is very gratifying to know that our efforts may impact the restoration efforts.