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Censored scientist John Anderson on how to restore sound policy-making in Texas and (maybe) save the Texas coast

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Michael Barajas

“We are right now at Rice and at UT talking about a scientific collaboration, sort of a consortium of scientists, Gulf Coast scientists that can issue consensus statements. We need to go big. We need to go Gulf Coast-wide. Because this is a problem that every state's having. So what we're trying to do at Rice right now, at the Sustainability Center, one of our big efforts is to bring people together, respected scientists who have been doing research — they're public, they're recognized — bring them together to try to come up with consensus statements. But also to make ourselves available as a source of information. The federal government has that. Like the National Academy, I was on their polar research board for like a year, and these people would come ask us about sea level and everything else. We were actively pursued for that information. In Texas, there seems to be no hard attempt to actually get information, yet you've got some great science going on in this state. You just don't see an appetite for it at the political level.”

Practical steps for policymakers

“I think that if you look at the Louisiana story, 50 years ago people were saying we need to do something there. We're diverting sediment from the delta, and still nobody was listening. Fifty years later people started listening and it was probably too late to do anything about the problem. The sooner you get policymakers to accept there is a problem and that it could get a lot worse in the future, then you can start doing things.

“I think along the coast the General Land Office spends $13 million a year on average putting sand on beaches with dump trucks. The next year it's gone, and then they come back out with dump trucks. You could take that $13 million a year and spend it in some better ways. You could try to reclaim more wetlands. But we don't spend that amount of money reclaiming wetlands here. We waste it on the beach. So that's one example.”

The coast of the future

Look at Follets Island, which is just west of Galveston, which is only a meter and a half thick the entire barrier and lost a half a meter of sand during Hurricane Ike. I think it's the next to go. I just don't see how that can make it through another hurricane. And so there are definitely some weak links. South Padre, another example of a narrow thin barrier that's being translated landward at a very high rate. And I think hurricanes at that level are kind of the straw that breaks the camel's back. You get a barrier thin enough, and it goes into that wash-over phase, and all it takes is one or two hurricanes to end the show. … Certainly in your lifetime you're going to see some barrier islands disappear.”

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