Hi everyone! We are getting set up at The Lens office in New Orleans, and Al Shaw is at the ProPublica office in New York.
Feel free to start sending in questions or comments about the project. We'll get started in few minutes.
We've been blown away by the response to the project.
Of course this is not news to the folks living here in New Orleans. I was excited by the project because of the great reach of ProPublica. All journalists want their work to have impact, and I saw this as a chance to help spread the word to the rest of the nation of this horrendous disaster that has been unfolding here for seven decades.They did a great job, as the response so far shows.
The story has been picked up by many publications. The New York Times and HuffPost linked to it, Grist published it, Weather.com -- it's a long list. It shows how many people are interested in this and weren't aware of what's going on.
Yep, this is a story that people in the Gulf Coast hear all the time, but from the response I've seen at least on Twitter, people outside that region just are not aware that land is literally disappearing beneath our feet in Louisiana.
Bob, Al: Why do you think more people don't know what's happening here?
It hasn't been ignored by the local media. The Times-Picayune has done special reports that won national awards. But my guess is two or three things have hurt the resonance of this story. First, our political establishment has not made this their mantra. Ever. When you think of one of our national politicians speaking about issues, what do you think about? Probably oil and Katrina . . .
I'm not too sure, but I wasn't too aware of it until I visited New Orleans for the first time in 2012, and started reading Bob's work and Mark Schleifstein in The Times-Picayune. I was also completely floored by the book "Bayou Farewell" by Mark Tidwell, which, like our project, focuses on a few different areas outside the levee system, and felt that this needed to come to a national audience.
Second, the city's well-earned rep as a party town and place. Hell, we spend more time talking about having a good time than the threat rushing forward . . .
Finally, I think the overall reduction in the number of Americans who actually spend the time to consume news and keep informed. They are ignorant of this issue, but also many more.
This question was asked on ProPublica's Facebook page: Why don't people care?
I've found that once people find out about it, they do care a lot. New Orleans is known for its unbelievable and unique music, food and culture. I don't think anyone wants that to go away.
We spent a lot of time working on that, thank you.
People who work in the oil industry here certainly care; in many cases they live in areas that are under the gravest threats. There are even people who run oil companies that care. But they are afraid of the economic consequences if they speak out too loudly. The bosses leave it to their lobbyists. The local workers don't want to go on record, fearing for their jobs.
They're super striking. Glad you like them
Something else to note: We got a comment from Chevron after we published the story. We asked them specifically about what happened around Lafitte, in the Texaco Canals.
Here's what Chevron said: “The history and causes of Louisiana’s coastal erosion is a complex issue with many contributing factors. We have to work together to restore the coast, while creating a viable economic future for the people of Louisiana. Chevron is committed to and is actively partnering in support of coastal restoration, protection and sustainable development along the Gulf Coast where 30,000 employees and retirees call home.”
Like many people who grow up in a certain environment, that cattle rancher has spent almost every day of his life on the delta. He's also a smart guy. I think the corps should be congratulated for listening to him. You know, they named one of those islands after him - Armstrong Island - and he was given an award. Sometimes the engineers' computers don't have the right input.
Earl Armstrong was one of my favorite people in the story. Tell me about that interview, Bob.
Earl is a humble guy. He loves that delta almost as much as his kids. He broke down in tears talking about that award - and about the fact he think we are probably 40 years too late to save that delta. BTW: That area is sinking at about 5 feet per century.
That's incredible. 5 feet per century.
Katrina finally made the politicians here - as well as many citizens - understand the importance of wetlands to storm protection. Scientists had been making the case for years, but many people saw it only as a fish and wildlife issue. When the water was rushing into their homes (although that was really a problem of the corps' levees) they began waking up. It was after Katrina that the state passed the Master Plan.
So Katrina caused the state to wake up, but did it actually cause land loss?
Katrina is listed as the cause of some 218 square miles of land loss, much of that east of the river. In a healthy delta, without levees, storms actually build land by moving millions of tons of sediments from offshore across the wetlands. Today, every hurricane is a delta disaster.
I'd like to shift to talking about how we showed the loss. We've seen graphics about coastal loss before. So what was different about your approach, Al?
We started out with a 2014 satellite image from NASA's Landsat 8 satellite. Now, Landsat offers a ton of layers in each image. We combined those layers to emphasize the difference between land and water (which is difficult in the lower Mississippi because of all the sediment in the water). That's for the "current" view....
They used both data from satellite images, but also aerial imagery going back to 1932 to classify the difference between land and water, to create the rainbow map of loss in certain time periods as you see in that PDF. We combined those together in order to make the land fade out over time.
We didn't do any original analysis to create the maps, but we reprocessed the USGS data to show what has happened over time.
So this is what it would look like from space over almost 80 years.
Yes, according to the Dept. of Interior. It is a national responsibility because the Clean Water Act established wetlands as part of the national public trust due to their importance to healthy ecosystems. This is NOT a strictly Louisiana story.
Here's a comment about we should build land effectively.
The river is a very complex system for transporting sediment. Some of the brightest minds in the world are working trying to learn that puzzle today as part of a study being conducted jointly by the corps and state. Results are expected by the end of this year. But right now, the consensus is that building land with diversions is not as simple as just poking a hole in the levees.