Inland from the Coast: Preparing for Environmental Change

Session Number: 59

Friday June 4 @ 2:00 – 2:50 PM


Keywords: Climate change and our coast; Continuing Legal Education


Moderator: Craig Colten, Louisiana State University


4.A.  Fluid Environments and Fixed Borders:  Reconciling Changing Environments and Fixed Boundaries Inland from the Coast

Craig Colten, Louisiana State University


Abstract: The Baton Rouge metropolitan region has long considered itself situated in an inland, riparian setting.  With rising sea levels,  elevated risk  of  storm surge in Lake Maurepas, increasing intensity of rain storms in the Amite  River  basin,  and coastal migrants  relocating  to the capital  region its insularity from coastal influences  is diminishing.  A review of historical flood management policies since the 1983 flood and a series  of focus groups with local officials after the 2016 floods contrasts  the riparian orientation of disaster risk reduction practices and policies with the emerging need for climate  change adaptation  approaches.  The rapid  growth  of the region since the 1980s has placed more people at risk, and policy adjustments that have not sustained  “flood memories” contribute to  the perpetuation of risk in terms of riparian flooding.  The political fragmentation of the  basin reduces the likelihood of basin-wide planning  and policies.  There is only modest attention in policy discussions about the nature  of increasing coastal risk tied to climate change.


4.B.  Local Governments: Building a Safer Future

Nicki Pace and Melissa Daigle, Louisiana Sea Grant


Abstract: The Louisiana coastline is a beloved but increasingly risky place to live. Flood risk from storm surge along the coast is increasing, and some residents along the coastal edge are migrating a little further inland, thinking this will help them avoid future flood risk. At the same time, these receiving communities are beginning to experience both coastal and riverine flooding impacts, as experienced by some communities during the 2016 flooding. Increased development in these transitional communities is placing greater stress on floodplain development. These pressures can place local governments in a tight spot, struggling to balance economic pressures with the need to protect their citizens and infrastructure from flood risks.


As part of the Inland from the Coast project, the Louisiana Sea Grant Law & Policy Program is providing legal and policy research on local government authority and responsibility to respond to floodwaters. Local governments have to balance economic concerns, National Flood Insurance Program participation requirements, and the safety of their residents when determining their stormwater management strategies. This presentation will explore strategies for building a safer community that accommodates growth while acknowledging risk.


4.C. Reimagining the Watershed:  Speculative Design for Envisioning Sustainable Water Systems

Traci Birch, LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio and Kathleen Gordon, AIA Louisiana


4.D.  Assisting Adaptive Migration for Just Outcomes

Marla Nelson, UNO Department of Regional and Urban Planning


Abstract: In response to environmental change and flooding hazards, residents in coastal communities can continue to live as they have, take adaptive measures to safely stay in place, or adapt through migration. When they stay in place, they must respond to climate related environmental changes such as stronger and more frequent severe storms. In recent decades, Terrebonne Parish, located in southern Louisiana, has experienced severe coastal land loss and is projected to lose more than half of the remaining marshes in the next fifty years. Land loss in conjunction with more severe storms threaten these coastal communities. If residents stay, they are at risk of danger and loss of assets and wealth. If they leave, they lose community and cultural ties, and attachments to people and places. What does climate justice look like in this circumstance?


Nonstructural policies to strengthen resilience, including flood proofing and home elevation, have focused heavily on interventions that help people stay in place. Increasingly, residents and local officials in Louisiana and elsewhere are discussing the possibility of relocating residents to reduce vulnerability. Analyses show that migration away from the Louisiana coast is already occurring and that the most advantaged residents have relocated at a faster rate leaving behind an increasingly poor and elderly population. Yet, surprisingly little is known about the factors that shape residents’ decisions to migrate due to climate and hazard-induced vulnerability.  How can justice and equity be centered in adaptation planning that must account for ways that people adapt when they stay and when they migrate, if, in both cases, residents feel that they have no choice? Adaptive migration in coastal Louisiana reveals the complexity of climate justice in coastal settlements and how questions of justice intersect with poverty, property valuation, historical and cultural ties to place, and community change.


Drawing on semi-structured interviews with 60 current or former residents of coastal communities in Terrebonne Parish and 30 community leaders, local officials and planning and zoning staff members from Louisiana, this presentation examines residents’ adaptation efforts and priorities, interrogates climate justice in a situation with no fair outcomes, and explores how a climate justice framework can shape adaptation policy that addresses both relocation and living in high risk communities.


This project was funded by The Water Institute of the Gulf under project award #2000249131 . This project was paid for with federal funding from the Department of the Treasury through the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s Center of Excellence Research Grants Program under the RESTORE Act of 2012. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Treasury, CPRA or The Water Institute of the Gulf.