Is It too Late for a Sense of Urgency?

04/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Sense of Urgency Grips Coastal Restoration Summit", reads the headline in Thursday's New Orleans Times-Picayune. The story, about a summit of scientists and state officials, as well as reps from the Army Corps of Engineers, came to the point quickly:

The summit was prompted by repeated demands by a number of influential coastal scientists and state restoration officials that the Corps of Engineers speed up efforts to include very large diversions of water from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers in its plans for coastal restoration.

Without such diversions, the Mississippi, leveed by the Corps, will continue to dump its sediment deep into the Gulf of Mexico, and the coastal wetlands of Louisiana -- which historically have acted as a buffer against the severity of hurricanes -- will continue their recent erosion at the rate of a football field each hour. Yet, the Corps appears poised to deliver a required report to Congress that lacks clear recommendations for actions to be taken, instead offering a Chinese menu of possible approaches -- meaning the promise of more delay before the wetlands stop eroding.

And there is a real danger in delay:

Some of the nation's leading coastal scientists have come to consensus recently that the state may have less than a decade to launch major coastal restoration projects -- before the erosion advances to the point where it can't realistically or cost-effectively be stopped.

The causes of the erosion are clear: years of building canals and pipelines across the wetlands to service the offshore oil industry, as well as the walling off of the river which once replenished the land. The means to reverse the process are equally well known. All that's missing is...a sense of urgency.

Let's see...since the Army Corps is part of the Federal government, what could possibly imbue it with the sense of urgency? Some nudging from the White House, perhaps? Is any attention left to deal with the causes and consequences of a disaster caused by the faulty design and construction of a federally built levee system and federally sanctioned structures that have promoted wetlands erosion? To all those Obama supporters who, when I would point out his tepid and vague commitments to New Orleans, said, "Give him some time" , I ask, have we waited until the window -- for money, for attention, for commitment -- has slammed shut?