By David Muth, National Wildlife Federation
Louisiana’s Draft 2012 Coastal Master Plan, released Jan. 12, is the most ambitious ecosystem restoration plan proposed in United States history and is the first to lay out a comprehensive vision for how a coastal state will cope with land loss, subsidence, and projected sea-level rise over the next half century. With an expenditure of $1 billion per year over 50 years, split equally between protection and restoration, Louisiana could build or prevent the loss of 550-850 square miles of deltaic, estuarine and coastal marshes, swamps, and barrier islands, as well as protect coastal communities from storm surge and rising sea levels. Fifty billion dollars seems like an large sum, until you consider that the 2005 hurricanes alone coast American taxpayers $175 billion.
An unprecedented aspect of the master plan is the proposal to divert half the flow of the Mississippi River back into the delta for restoration purposes — restoring the river’s capacity to build land and re-establishing a vital natural process, not just rebuilding natural habitat. Also unprecedented is the proposal to invest almost $13 billion in measures that increase community resilience to flooding. These measures, including elevating and flood-proofing homes, protect flood-prone property and allow communities to continue to live in close connection to a wetland-based economy and culture.
However, it is also clear that some parts of Louisiana’s coast and wetlands cannot be saved in their current form — there is neither enough time nor sufficient resources to stop or reverse the physical forces that are destroying them. This will be a very difficult and painful reality for some coastal residents and communities. Hard truths will surface in the coming days and weeks as details of the technical analysis are examined, but leaders and planners have a responsibility to base their decisions firmly in reality and help people cope with anticipated changes.
Louisiana's agencies and legislators need to hear that the public supports a comprehensive science-based plan that creates new wetlands and increases hurricane protection for people living in the coastal zone while laying out achievable transition plans for coastal residents in areas that cannot be preserved.
Take the next step by attending one of three public meetings this week:
- New Orleans, Jan. 23, University of New Orleans Lindy Boggs Center (map)
- Houma, Jan. 24, Terrebonne Civic Center (map)
- Lake Charles, Jan. 25, Lake Charles Civic Center, Contraband Room (map)
Each meeting will include an open house from 1-5:30 p.m. and a public hearing from 5:30-7:30 p.m. The open house in particular offers an opportunity to learn one-on-one from the plan formulators about the specifics of the master plan.