Archive for 2012 Coastal Master Plan
By Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund
As part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, on Wednesday, the White House announced the release of the Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda. Prepared by the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience Climate and Natural Resources Working Group, this commitment across the Federal Government to support resilience of our natural resources is the first of its kind. The agenda identifies a suite of actions the Federal Government will take to increase the resiliency of our country’s natural resources to the current and future effects of climate change.
Included in the agenda are actions to protect important ecosystems and to promote climate-resilient lands and water; improve carbon sinks such as wetlands, grasslands and forests; support including natural infrastructure – such as coastal wetlands – into community planning; and modernizing Federal programs and investments to build resilience. A full list of actions as well as a timeline can be found here. The announcement also included new executive actions to support resilient natural systems, including investing in natural infrastructure, supporting coastal resilience and restoring forests in the Lower Mississippi River Delta.
Shannon Cunniff, deputy director for water programs at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), was invited to speak at the White House Wednesday. “To propel adoption of natural infrastructure as part of a balanced approach to coastal resiliency, EDF aims to demonstrate that incorporating these nature and nature-based systems cost-effectively reduces risks to coastal communities and improves their resiliency, while providing communities with other benefits,” she said.
“Natural infrastructure needs to be seen and embraced as a viable tool for reducing risk,” Shannon continued. Ms. Cunniff went on to point out that natural infrastructure is ideal for enhancing resiliency because:
- Natural infrastructure mitigates multiple sources of risk, including reducing tidal flooding, erosion and wave heights. It is especially effective for frequent, chronic impacts of sea level rise, which are predicted to increase with climate change.
- It also helps achieve climate adaptation and mitigation goals, as oyster reefs and wetlands also act as carbon sinks.
- Its use results in other co-benefits that achieve other public purposes, such as providing open space, recreation, fisheries, water quality improvement and drinking water protection benefits.
In places like the Mississippi River Delta, natural infrastructure works hand-in-hand with traditional “gray” infrastructure, such as levees and floodwalls. Coastal wetlands provide storm surge protection for levees, increasing the structures’ resiliency and helping prevent failure. Natural infrastructure can also reduce the cost of traditional infrastructure, as the height of seawalls or dunes can be reduced if there are enough protective wetlands in front of them. Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan contains a suite of restoration and resilience tools that work in concert to rebuild and protect Louisiana’s vanishing coast.
“What we are after is putting nature and nature-based infrastructure on a more even playing field with gray infrastructure, to provide the fullest set of tools for communities to plan and implement their more sustainable and resilient futures,” said Ms. Cunniff.
The Administration also reaffirmed its commitment to implement the Green Infrastructure Collaborative in the Climate Natural Resources Priority Agenda. The collaborative includes 26 public and private sector organizations – including Environmental Defense Fund – who have pledged to work together to highlight the multitude of benefits provided by natural infrastructure.
In addition to Ms. Cunniff, other speakers at Wednesday’s announcement were Ben Grumbles, President, U.S. Water Alliance; Ann Mills, Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Marion McFadden, Deputy Assistant General Counsel, Office of Housing and Community Development, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and Julius Ciaccia, executive director for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.No Comments
By Alisha Renfro, National Wildlife Federation
“Oysters are the most tender and delicate of all seafoods. They stay in bed all day and night. They never work or take exercise, are stupendous drinkers, and wait for their meals to come to them.” – Hector Bolitho
Oysters are remarkable organisms. Not only are they delicious, but each oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, which provides food for the oyster and improves local water quality. A collection of oysters form an oyster reef, which can provide food and habitat for a wide variety of fish and birds. In addition to these benefits, oyster reefs can also be an important tool for coastal restoration.
Oyster barrier reef restoration can reduce the erosion and retreat of nearby shorelines. An alternative to rocks in some areas of coastal Louisiana, oyster reef restoration can be a low maintenance project, as reefs can build themselves vertically over time, helping them keep pace with rising sea levels.
The benefits of oyster reef restoration can be great, but are all those benefits present as soon as the reef restoration project is finished or do they develop over time? A study published this year in Ecological Engineering, “Temporal variation in development of ecosystem services from oyster reef restoration,” examines the development of oyster reef benefits over time, including improved water quality, stabilization of nearby shorelines and use as fish and bird habitat.
In the study, led by Megan La Peyre, researchers built six experimental oyster reef projects along the shoreline of Sister Lake in Terrebonne Parish, La. The oyster reefs were created using shell material. The researchers found that:
- Reefs were populated by oysters and other filter feeding organisms that provided water filtration benefits within the first year of post-project construction and continued for the duration of the study.
- Shoreline stabilization benefits provided by the restored reef to nearby marshes varied with results suggesting that shoreline stabilization benefits only occurred during periods of high winds and more powerful waves.
- Created oyster reefs immediately provided habitat and had increases in the abundance of fish species associated with them. This remained consistent throughout the study.
The results of this study suggest that oyster restoration projects can provide multiple benefits to the ecosystem that surrounds them fairly quickly after their construction, but that their ability to stabilize nearby shorelines may be limited in areas where waves are small but persistent. However, the researchers in the study suggest that modifications to the design and footprint of oyster reef restoration projects exposed to low energy wave may increase the shoreline stabilization benefits and should be explored further.
Oyster barrier reef restoration projects are an important component in our arsenal of coastal restoration tools. Prominently featured in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, this project type can have multiple benefits under the right conditions. However, like all types of restoration projects, there are factors that can limit project success. Oyster reef restoration projects depend on the recruitment and survival of oysters, which flourish under very specific conditions. Water that is too cold, too fresh, too salty or doesn’t have enough oxygen can limit the success of the project – if not dooming it to complete failure.
No one type of restoration project is the cure-all for combatting the rapid loss of land in coastal Louisiana. Instead, we need to use a combination of science-based projects in our restoration toolbox to staunch the rapid loss of our coast and build a more sustainable future.No Comments
The Lens, with sponsorship from the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition, is hosting a panel discussion on the financing of Louisiana's $50-billion Coastal Master Plan at Loyola University this Wednesday, Aug. 20 from 6 to 8 p.m.
This event is designed to send the audience home with a solid understanding of how to restore our coast. An example of questions The Lens plans to address include the following:
- How far can we go on the current master plan with the funding in place as well as future funding the state believes it can count on?
- What will happen to the scope of the master plan, and the coast, if we don’t secure funding sources beyond that date?
- What are the chances Congress will step up in the next decade and provide substantial funding?
- What are alternative sources of money?
- What can you do to help with this challenge?
- Mark Davis, Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy
- John Driscoll, Corporate Planning Resources
- Kyle Graham, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority
- Douglas J. Meffert, Audubon Louisiana/National Audubon Society
- Steve Murchie, Gulf Restoration Network
- John Snell, WVUE/Fox 8 Moderator
- Courtney Taylor, Environmental Defense Fund
- Wednesday, Aug. 20
- 6 to 8 p.m.
Where: Loyola University, Miller Hall 114
Questions: amueller@TheLensNola.org or (504) 258-1624
Light refreshments will be served.No Comments
Guest post by Lynda Woolard (New Orleans)
This post is the first in a two-part guest series.
"The simple truth is, if we fail to restore our coast, we fail to protect our city from future storms."
I was recently blessed with an opportunity to go along for a boat trip to see the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) and the Central Wetlands of southeast Louisiana with a delegation from the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign. I was initially a little anxious, because despite having lived in New Orleans for 20 years, this was new territory for me. Although these wetlands are less than a 30-minute drive from my home, I had never been out to see them.
I felt some relief upon reaching the marina, as others on the boat were residents of St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes and had made this trip many times for fishing, work and recreation. My fears were replaced by awe as we traveled into the wetlands. The waterways and surrounding marshes were stunning and peaceful and seemed a world away from the city. Yet amazingly, we could still see the New Orleans skyline throughout much of our trip. While New Orleanians identify ourselves as living in a port city, we don’t often think of ourselves as living in a coastal city. But we do!
Interspersed with the beautiful natural scenery of southeast Louisiana were stark reminders of how precarious our proximity to the coast is. We saw an entire fishing village that had been wiped away by storm and remains a ghost town. We saw the memorial and sculpture at Shell Beach, placed in honor of the 163 St. Bernard residents who lost their lives during Hurricane Katrina. We saw the further peril we have put ourselves in by decades of carving up these coastal marshes and failing to protect them adequately.
The creation of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet navigation channel, which is a straight shot from the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of New Orleans, has put our entire region at greater risk from hurricanes. It’s been called the “Hurricane Highway” because it led a surge of seawater in a direct path to cause catastrophic flooding of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina. However, its damage is more far reaching than that. The construction of the MRGO has made our levees and surge barriers, which were not engineered to withstand open water, more vulnerable. Our hurricane protection systems, both manmade and natural, require protection by freshwater wetlands and marsh.
Because of the MRGO, our wetlands are disappearing at a more rapid pace. The channel itself has eroded as well, from a 650-foot wide waterway to 2,000 feet wide. While traveling down the MRGO, we could see cypress tree “tombstones” marking the spots where vibrant wetlands once flourished. Our charter boat captain told stories about how more islands vanish with each passing year. The introduction of salt water into the marshes has been disastrous.
The good news is that steps are being taken to restore the Mississippi River Delta. There is a Coastal Master Plan in place to rebuild the wetlands, barrier islands and marshes that serve as our city’s first lines of defense against hurricanes and to preserve the ecosystems that support our state’s way of life. Massive and impressive projects, like a surge barrier and a rock dam, have already been started that will lessen further damage from the MRGO.
But this good news comes with some alarm bells. Progress needs to come at a much faster rate, because our wetlands are disappearing too quickly. While traveling to the Golden Triangle Marsh, it was made very clear that St. Tammany Parish citizens need to be made aware that if we allow wetland deterioration to continue to the point of losing the New Orleans East Land Bridge, the waters of the Gulf will be on their doorstep. The environmental scientists and engineers working on restoration have done the research – they know the solutions and it is imperative, regardless of what we have allowed to happen in the past, that we listen to them now… and act.
The residents of Orleans Parish need to see this as an incredibly urgent issue, because this is as big of a safety issue as having secure, functioning levees. There is a direct correlation between protecting our city – as well as our culture – and restoring our wetlands. The simple truth is, if we fail to restore our coast, we fail to protect our city from future storms. I believe the Gulf Coast, Louisiana’s wetlands and the city of New Orleans are treasures worth saving. If we have the will, we have the power to make it happen.
New Orleans, LA
July 26, 2014
By Derek Brockbank, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign Director
Louisiana businesses have long known that a healthy coast is essential to the state’s economy. But a healthy coast means restoration, and restoration takes funding. So it’s no surprise that businesses are lining up to support House Bill 490 (HB 490) in the legislature this year, because this legislation would make sure Louisiana’s Coastal Trust Fund is used only for coastal restoration and protection, with no exceptions.
Michael Hecht, President and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc., has outlined why the coast is so important to the Louisiana business community:
“Restoring Louisiana’s coast is existential to our ability to live and work in Greater New Orleans, but we have a unique opportunity to turn this looming crisis into an economic opportunity by harnessing the existing water management, coastal resilience and disaster recovery experience currently existing in Southeast Louisiana and building on it, exporting it, and positioning our region as the international epicenter of the emerging environmental sector.”
Greater New Orleans, Inc. recently released a letter in support of HB 490, where they were joined by 28 business and economic development associations and more than 60 individual businesses that work in Louisiana. In explaining why they supported a bill that was largely about closing a fiscal loophole in how the Coastal Trust Fund is operated, the letter stated:
“As supporters of the RESTORE Act and the State Master Plan process, we know that large-scale coastal restoration is urgently needed to protect our businesses, economic base and communities. Investing in protection and restoration of our coast will reduce storm risk, while also creating jobs and economic opportunities that are important to our members, customers and parishes.”
Todd Murphy, President of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, one of the letter signers, explained his support for HB 490 this way:
“Restoring our coast means sustaining the Louisiana economy. Businesses in Jefferson Parish rely on coastal wetlands. We need to protect the integrity of Louisiana’s Coastal Fund by using the Fund as the law intended – to pay for critical protection and restoration projects only.”
The Louisiana State House of Representatives unanimously passed HB 490 on May 5. Now the bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate Finance Committee. With the Senate adjourning on June 2, just a week and a half remains for the bill to be taken up by the Finance Committee and then the full Senate.
Take Action: Tell your Louisiana State Senator to take up and pass HB 490: https://secure2.edf.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=2283.No Comments
By Erin Greeson (National Audubon Society) and Alisha Renfro (National Wildlife Federation)
While there is no question that large-scale action is urgently needed to add address Louisiana’s land loss crisis, some questions surround the scientific solutions necessary to address this challenge. As the state of Louisiana advances its Coastal Master Plan and the comprehensive set of restoration projects within it, experts have opened discussion to scientists and interested members of the public to provide information, share science and encourage dialogue.
This week in New Orleans, the Expert Panel on Diversion Planning and Implementation had their second meeting, which offered an opportunity to reconvene for updates and discussion on sediment diversions – one of the key tools in Louisiana’s coastal restoration toolbox. In addition to addressing environmental concerns, the panel addressed social and economic questions about river diversions and the communities they will impact.
At the start of the meeting, Mr. King Milling, Chair of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation, delivered a powerful reminder of Louisiana’s disappearing coast:
“Demise of this delta would be an environmental impact of international proportions: disaster for economy, culture, communities – all the things we do and live for in the delta. If we don’t proceed urgently, we will lose the delta. Nothing will stop this damage if we don’t proceed in an orderly fashion with large-scale, comprehensive solutions. This is not a time for debate. Our role is to address the issue of remarkable deterioration, and the state’s diversion committee will be addressing issues and conflicts. Its position is to focus on the larger picture of how we can preserve as much as we can, and how can we create a system that will protect as much as we can.”
The first day of the meeting was open to the public, and the agenda reflected many of the areas of focus that require follow-up from the panel’s first meeting. Presentations from the Army Corps of Engineers, The Water Institute of the Gulf and Biedenharn Group focused on the Hydrodynamic Study, which is collecting data in the river and using models to represent conditions in the river as it is today, predicting what the river will be like in the future without diversion projects and how the construction and operation of diversion projects change the river compared to the future without the diversions. They also briefly discussed the Mississippi River Delta Management Study, expected to begin soon, which will focus on the basin-side effects of diversions and evaluate combinations of diversion projects that maximize the number of acres of wetlands built or sustained over time.
Presentations from David Lindquist from the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) summarized the current state of knowledge on fisheries and wildlife response to existing freshwater diversions. Craig Colten, Ph.D. from the Water Institute of the Gulf highlighted the importance of considering the influences of restoration projects on communities.
A presentation from Micaela Coner and Bob Beduhn narrowed the discussion down to the engineering and design considerations of a single project – the Mid-Barataria Diversion. Ms. Coner, CPRA, discussed the Mid-Barataria sediment diversion project within the context of the 109 Coastal Master Plan projects. Speaking to the plan’s theme of reconnecting the river with its estuaries, she described sediment diversions as the best opportunity to build, maintain and sustain land.
Dr. Robert Twilley, Louisiana State University, described how the river once built natural resource wealth: “Natural resource economies and the flooding of the river once coexisted. The wealth of fisheries, and the wealth of the river building wetlands, once coexisted. Today, there’s a conflict. Historically, the river built land during big flood events. Nature had this figured out. We’re forcing a conflict. There is a resolution to this.”
During the closing portion of the meeting, attendees had opportunities to provide comments to the Expert Panel. Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition leaders were among the conversation.
David Muth of the National Wildlife Federation urged the panel to consider the historical context of the river in addressing site-specific questions about diversions: “We have glimpses from historical record about how productive this system once was. But for the past 300 years, we have been choking off that system.”
John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation described the coastal land loss crisis in powerful terms and underscored for a sense of urgency: “This house is on fire. Lives are at risk. We have a great scientific challenge, but we don’t have time to delay.”
More background on the Expert Panel:
During its first meeting in January, the Expert Panel was asked to focus on the topics of uncertainty – underlying natural variability and limitations in knowledge – they perceived surrounding the design and operation of major freshwater and sediment diversions. A report summarizing their findings and recommendations from that first meeting was released in February.
In this report the panel focused on identifying six areas that should be answered or considered as sediment diversions move further from idea into planning, engineering and design:
- Data collection is important for understanding the system as it is today and for evaluating performance of individual diversion projects.
- A controlled sediment diversion does not currently exist, but some information needed to understand the time scales and extent of land building that could be expected from a controlled sediment diversion can be gleaned from natural crevasses.
- The response of plant, fish and wildlife communities to the operation of sediment diversions should be incorporated into modeling of different scenarios, both capacity and operation, of a diversion.
- The potential social and economic influences of a diversion project need to be considered to minimize any potential negative impacts that can be foreseen.
- Planning and design of diversion projects need to be explored under present day and possible future conditions (e.g. sea level rise, changes in precipitation) to maximize project success in the very near and long-term future.
- Communications between planners and stakeholders to discuss the realities and limitations of any predictions is essential for project success.
By Cynthia Duet, Director of Governmental Relations, Audubon Louisiana
On May 24, 2013, a curious, if not uncomfortable, rhetorical question was posed in bold red lettering in an article from The Lens by Representative Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles. He asked, “Do you think when we created the Coastal Restoration Fund, it was meant to be used for money-laundering?”
Our groups believe the answer to be an unqualified “No” and therefore are supporting a bill this legislative session – HB 490, authored by Rep. Geymann – intended to close the loophole on further questionable manipulation of the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund (Coastal Fund).
At issue here is a financing tactic that has been implemented within the last several years as a creative solution to attempt to balance the state’s ailing budget. While the Louisiana Constitution prohibits using one-time money for recurring costs, such as health care and higher education, the administration and some lawmakers believe they can get around that rule by transferring money into, and then out of, the Coastal Fund, which can accept such one-time monies. State officials have repeatedly said that these transfers are allowable under state law.
The uses of the dollars in the Coastal Fund are defined specifically in the Louisiana Constitution, Article VII, Section 10.2(D), which states:
“The money in the fund may be appropriated for purposes consistent with the Coastal Protection Plan developed by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, or its successor.
No appropriation shall be made from the fund inconsistent with the purposes of the plan.”
We believe this language is abundantly clear and that the current machinations of the Coastal Fund erode its integrity and may threaten many millions of future dollars for coastal protection and restoration efforts essential to the state’s true coastal recovery.
Yet still in 2012, the so-called “fund sweep” bill (Act 597) provided for transfer of more than $21 million of non-recurring revenue from the state general fund to the Coastal Fund, and then the same value was transferred from the Coastal Fund into the state’s general fund and treated as recurring revenues. In 2013, an attempt was made to place more than $87 million of 2011-12 surplus dollars into the Coastal Fund, and then provided for that same value ($87.3 million) in “recurring” revenues to be placed into the state’s general fund (through an amendment to SB 226 that did not ultimately make its way into law). This session, nearly $51 million in non-recurring revenue are slated to be transferred from the Office of Debt Collection, initiatives from the Department of Revenue and other sources, into the Coastal Fund and then taken from that fund to pay for education, elderly affairs and libraries.
The perception of impropriety created by these budget tactics, particularly at this most critical time in the implementation phase of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, sends the wrong message to federal partners in charge of allocating and tracking dollars from Clean Water Act fines related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and related sources of funding.
Tomorrow, the Louisiana House Committee on Appropriations is scheduled to consider House Bill 490, which would put a stop to the current money manipulations. The bill adds succinct, qualifying language to the aforementioned section of the constitution that would prohibit not only appropriations from the Coastal Fund, but also pass-through transfers. Rep. Geymann’s bill would take effect by next year’s budget process, closing the loophole and disallowing the current finagling of the restoration account. We fully support the passage of this constitutional amendment so that the Coastal Fund can continue to enjoy the protections provided for it by the voters of this state in 2006 – through another constitutional amendment – which passed by an overwhelming majority.
Continued use of the Coastal Fund for accounting manipulation brings negative attention to an otherwise well-run coastal program and risks the state’s opportunity for BP oil spill recovery dollars. We must continue the fight to ensure the Coastal Fund is fully protected and used solely for coastal restoration and protection.
Take Action: Call your Louisiana state representative and tell them to close the loophole on transfers from the Coastal Fund other than those intended by law, by supporting HB 490.1 Comment
By Eden Davis and Philip Russo, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition
There are many reasons to advocate for coastal restoration in Louisiana, but few arguments are as compelling as preserving the cultural legacy of a state known for its food, music and festivities. That’s why we as part of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition are doing our best to celebrate tirelessly the cultural apex that is Mardi Gras in New Orleans. We, along with the rest of the community, line the sidewalks and neutral grounds of the boulevards where we share black cauldrons of jambalaya and generous portions of king cake. We gather to see and hear the spectacle that is the dance troupes, marching bands and ornate floats, but most importantly, we do it to feel the pulse of our community and to indulge in its vitality. We may have not always vocalized it as such, but it’s why we’ve always done it, going back all the way to the founding of the oldest and most venerable Krewe of Rex that rolls Mardi Gras morning.
The Krewe of Rex has held more parades than any other organization. They are the origin of many Mardi Gras traditions, including the official Carnival colors of purple, green and gold. Founded in 1872, Rex sought to attract new businesses and residents to a New Orleans that was struggling to recover from the lingering effects of the Civil War, when divisions and isolation prevailed. The founders knew the creation of a grand Mardi Gras celebration would lend itself to healing those wounds and restoring the unity that was such a prominent feature of this silted landscape. Most would agree that their efforts were an unbelievable success, but history has a way of repeating itself.
After Hurricane Katrina, this same story played out again as New Orleans struggled to rebuild not only its levees and homes, but its image. Today’s worries are not of the aftermath of a civil war, but of decades of tremendous land loss and increasingly devastating hurricanes. To ameliorate this, the state adopted a Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. If enacted thoroughly, barrier islands, sediment diversions and marsh creation projects will, along with the efforts of Mardi Gras Krewes, not only sustain our coast, but also the traditions that makes it worth inhabiting. So we are doing our part, reveling when we can, sleeping when we can and asking everyone to join us in support of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan and coastal restoration. Happy Mardi Gras, y’all!No Comments
This was originally posted by Environmental Defense Fund on EDF Voices.
By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
Soon after my flyover of the Mississippi River Delta, I joined Dr. John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) on a boat ride down the Bohemia Spillway to Mardi Gras Pass. As we sped down the spillway canal, beautiful swamp lilies and purple morning glories popped out against a backdrop of lush, green plants. Once we reached our destination, we saw an incredible number of birds: Laughing Gulls, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue and Tricolored Herons – just to name a few. This, along with an increase in the number of river otters and beavers observed, is a good indicator that there are healthy fish populations in the area.
Thirty-five miles southeast of New Orleans, Mardi Gras Pass is the Mississippi River’s newest and naturally evolving “distributary,” a channel of water that flows away from the main branch of the river. This new distributary began forming during the spring flood of 2011, when the water level of the Mississippi River was so high that it flowed over the natural levee in this area. When the floodwaters receded, Dr. Lopez and his team of scientists noticed two breaches in the embankment. These breaches continued to widen and deepen and soon, right around Mardi Gras Day 2012, the breach was complete. The Mississippi River was once again connected to the surrounding wetlands, allowing freshwater and land-building sediment back into the area.
Louisiana has lost 25% of its coastal land area since 1930 and continues to lose land at an alarming rate – one football field every hour, on average. Man-made levees along the Mississippi River cut off many small distributaries, like Mardi Gras Pass, from the wetlands in the floodplain of the river and have contributed to this massive wetland loss. Our team here at EDF works with partner organizations, including the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, as part of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition, which has a vision of reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to help protect people, wildlife and jobs in coastal Louisiana.
To address the complex, yet urgent need for coastal restoration in Louisiana, the state legislature unanimously passed the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. This plan is a long-term, science-based restoration program that includes nearly 250 restoration projects such as barrier island restoration, marsh creation, establishment of oyster barrier reefs and sediment diversions that will help rebuild Louisiana’s disappearing coast.
Restoring our coast, restoring my hope
One of the principal guidelines for restoration under the Coastal Master Plan is to address the root causes of land loss by using the natural power of the Mississippi River to build land at a large scale. Sediment diversions, a central component of the plan, embody this principle because they are designed to mimic the natural stages of the river and carry sediment to the areas of coastal Louisiana that need it most. By operating diversions at times of high water flow (like during a flood), large amounts of sediment can be diverted. It will then settle out in the wetlands and shallow bays, eventually building land mass in vulnerable coastal areas.
In a way, Mardi Gras Pass is a naturally occurring ‘pilot project’ of a sediment diversion. Knowledge gained from studying this area can tell us about the land-building properties, as well as the short-term effects, of sediment diversions. To learn more about this, LPBF scientists are studying how the reintroduction of freshwater and sediment to the spillway area is changing the wetlands and affecting wildlife populations.
Swift currents and downed trees along the edge of the flooded forest can make navigating Mardi Gras Pass somewhat treacherous, but we, in a trusty 14’ skiff, maneuvered through the channel and onto the Mississippi River for a brief but thrilling cruise.
This is what it means for the river to be connected to its floodplain, I thought as we emerged out onto the open water, this is what this ecosystem is supposed to be like.
Although I grew up only a few miles from it, this was the third time in my life I had been out on the Mississippi River and the first time it was in a boat small enough that I could reach down and touch its muddy waters. As our tiny boat circled out in that mighty river, despite the heat and the midday sun, I had goose bumps.No Comments
By Alisha A. Renfro, Ph.D., National Wildlife Federation
Last week in Baton Rouge, The Water Institute of the Gulf hosted the inaugural meeting of the Expert Panel on Diversion Planning and Implementation. The panel – comprised of 12 experts in natural and social sciences, engineering and economics – was selected from more than 60 nominees from across the country. Panel members are all from outside Louisiana, in order to foster critical and constructive review of work being led by Louisiana-based experts. Under the direction of The Water Institute of the Gulf and meeting up to three times a year, this independent panel will provide technical review, input and guidance as the state moves forward and refines its plans for diverting fresh water and sediment from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers to build, maintain and sustain coastal wetlands. For this first meeting, the panel was asked to consider the most suitable approaches to addressing current or perceived uncertainties in the planning and design of sediment diversions.
The first day of this meeting was open to the public and included a series of presentations outlining the urgent need for restoration in coastal Louisiana as well as various perspectives on sediment diversions. Kyle Graham, Deputy Executive Director of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), summarized Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan. In his presentation, Graham pointed out that there was no single restoration project type that can address the state’s land-loss crisis in one fell swoop, but that a suite of restoration projects are needed, including barrier island restoration, marsh creation, oyster barrier reefs, shoreline protection, hydrologic restoration and sediment diversions. Barrier island restoration and marsh creation can mechanically create land in strategic locations, but sediment diversions convey sediment to not only build new land but also to maintain existing wetlands that would otherwise be lost.
Brigadier General Duke DeLuca, Commander of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi Valley Division, presented the Corps’ perspective on sediment diversions. DeLuca discussed some of the questions that the Corps would like to see answered as sediment diversions move from plan to implementation. Many of these outstanding questions should be directly addressed through the Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study, a joint project being conducted by the State of Louisiana and the Corps. The study will use historic and field data, along with models, to do an assessment of large-scale restoration features to address sustainability of the Mississippi River Delta.
Additional presenters included Jim Tripp from Environmental Defense Fund, Michael Massimi from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, Dr. Ehab Mesehle from The Water Institute of the Gulf and Dr. Alaa Ali from South Florida Water Management District.
In a late afternoon panel, Mark Wingate and Martin Mayer of the Corps’ New Orleans District, John Ettinger of the Environmental Protection Agency and Ronnie Paille of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, discussed their federal agencies’ views on diversions. Afterwards, the public was given the opportunity to voice their thoughts and concerns about coastal restoration directly to the panel.
The following day, panel members met in private to discuss the uncertainties discussed and the science that needs to be done to address these uncertainties. A report on that meeting will be given at a CPRA meeting in the coming months.
Bold solutions are needed to halt the rate of catastrophic land loss in coastal Louisiana. Every year, communities throughout the coast inch closer to disaster, becoming more and more exposed to the destructive forces of storm events. Infrastructure, which is vitally important to the economy of Louisiana and the nation, becomes more vulnerable, and important habitat for wildlife, fish and birds vanishes.
Limited by money and sediment resources, there is no one type of restoration project that is a cure-all solution. A suite of restoration projects that strengthen and sustain the landscape is necessary. Sediment diversions use the natural power of the river to build new land and help maintain the existing wetlands. To do nothing or to only implement the least challenging types of restoration projects would doom the resource-rich Louisiana coast.No Comments