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Environmental Atlas of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin

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Lake Pontchartrain Atlas:
Table of Contents
Introduction You are at the Introduction section of the Environmental Atlas of Lake Pontchartrain
Environmental Overview
Environmental Status & Trends
Physical Environments
Basin Geology
Biological Resources
Environmental Issues
Jack Kindinger
Introduction: Introduction | Acknowledgements


The Lake Pontchartrain Basin is a 12,173 km2 (4,700 mi2) watershed, and it encompasses 16 parishes in southeast Louisiana. It is one of the largest estuarine ecosystems on the Gulf coast and one of the largest in the United States. The Lake Pontchartrain Basin has the most diverse complex of environments in Louisiana, ranging from rolling woodlands in northern portions of the Basin to coastal wetlands in the southern part of the Basin. At the center of the Basin is the 1,632 km2 (630 mi2) Lake Pontchartrain and the largest population center in Louisiana, the Greater New Orleans area, with 1.5 million individuals.

This Basin has served the communities surrounding it for more than two centuries and is an environmental asset equal to any in the southeastern United States. The coastal zone of Lake Pontchartrain and its Basin has offered opportunities for fishing, swimming, boating, crabbing and other recreational activities for families for generations. The Basin's commercial fishery and garden farms have supplied an array of seafood and produce to local dealers, as well as area restaurants. During the hot summers, people escaped to the Basin's water bodies to seek relief, particularly along the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Clearly, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin is Louisiana's premier urban estuary and today it is our most environmentally impacted estuary. Over the last several decades, the Basin's water quality has declined; its shorelines have eroded; its wetlands have been lost; it has been mined for shells, oil and gas; dead zones have developed; fisheries resources have diminished; beaches are closed; and its substantial commercial and recreational values have been damaged.

Human activities are largely responsible for these adverse impacts on the environmental quality of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin. Since the late 1940's, growth and development has increased runoff that changed and destroyed many habitats. Stormwater discharges, inadequate wastewater treatment and agricultural activities have significantly degraded water quality. Natural processes, combined with human activities, have caused the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands. In 1962, the first "no swimming" signs appeared along the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain due to high levels of pollution. By the mid-1980's, almost every river, bayou or lake in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin was polluted and no longer fully supported their designated uses.

Since 1989, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) has led a coordinated effort to restore the environmental quality of the Basin. To achieve this goal, LPBF has built consensus on the environmental issues facing the Basin and developed strategies to manage and solve these problems. Through education programs, LPBF has built public awareness of these environmental challenges. Through research programs, LPBF has worked with area universities to better understand these environmental problems in order to find technical solutions. Through restoration efforts, LPBF has implemented programs and projects to bring back the environmental quality of the Basin. The University of New Orleans (UNO) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have conducted research to build a strong technical basis for formulation of sound strategies and programs for restoration. Many of the education, research and restoration programs and projects have been implemented in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). All four of these organizations and many others are working cooperatively to develop the necessary tools to help restore the Lake Pontchartrain Basin. The Environmental Atlas of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin is one of these tools.

The Environmental Atlas of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin is designed to provide citizens, planners, managers, educators, scientists and other professionals with a multidisciplinary and integrated source of information on Lake Pontchartrain and its surrounding Basin. A tremendous body of published and unpublished information exists in libraries, archives, government agencies, universities and laboratories and is not readily available to the public or other professionals working within the Lake Pontchartrain Basin. This Atlas has drawn upon these sources. In addition, there are many chapter sections in this Atlas that provide new and original information never presented before. Our intent is to gather the relevant and more significant portions of this existing information into an Atlas in support of the restoration and recovery of this important estuarine ecosystem. This Atlas is by no means intended to include all the information available to fully understand the Lake Pontchartrain Basin. It is meant to be a starting point for appreciating the complexity of this estuarine ecosystem as its restoration moves forward, and a pathway to other sources of information.

The Environmental Overview chapter sets the framework of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin by describing its natural resources as well as the processes that shape these resources. The Physical Environment chapter presents information on climate, hurricanes, water circulation, wave climate, relative sea-level change, subsidence and more within the Basin. The Basin Geology chapter provides information on shoreline geomorphology, bathymetry, geologic framework and geologic resources. The Biological Resources chapter presents information on habitats, wildlife, fisheries and submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV). The final chapter on Environmental Issues addresses coastal land loss, shoreline change, urbanization, dredge holes, water quality, sediment quality, the 1997 Bonnet Carré Spillway opening, storm water discharge, nutrient supply and many other environmental issues affecting the Basin.

The Bibliography provides a wealth of information sources. The List of Contributors recognizes those who helped develop this Atlas. The List of Agencies and Organizations provides valuable references to natural resource trustees, environmental groups and other government agencies. The List of Agency and Organization Websites is a resource for electronic information available via the Internet.

This Atlas is designed in a format where individual sections and pages can stand alone and be used separately. The paper version was released in a three ring binder format allowing for easy updating and adding of new chapter pages. The CD-ROM version was edited and revised for use with common web browsers such as Netscape (4.0 and later) and MS Explorer (4 and later).

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