Archive for 2012 Coastal Master Plan
By Natalie Peyronnin, Director of Science Policy, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, Environmental Defense Fund
Twenty-seven leading wildlife and fisheries biologists and other wetlands professionals are urging Louisiana’s citizens to support the construction of sediment diversions to restore marshes vital for protecting Louisiana’s diminishing coast and the people and wildlife it supports.
In full-page ads that will begin appearing in Louisiana media, including the state’s largest newspapers, this Sunday, May 3, the experts write:
“Louisiana urgently needs to restore a better balance between wetland building and wetland loss, between freshwater intrusion and saltwater intrusion, and between the river and the sea so that Louisiana’s wildlife, fish, culture, communities and economy will benefit for generations.”
These wildlife and fisheries biologists and wetlands experts who signed onto the letter have a connection to Louisiana’s coast and want to see it restored: “Like many of you, the signers of this letter know all too well what is at stake. We are wetland professionals who share a passion for Louisiana’s natural places and the extraordinary abundance of fish and wildlife it sustains…In addition to our professional work, we hunt, fish and spend much of our leisure time enjoying our state’s coastal wildlife and fisheries. We watch the wetlands convert to shallow water every day, every year. No one wants to save Louisiana’s coastal fish and wildlife more than we do.”
“We call on Louisiana to continue moving forward with the construction of large-scale wetland-building diversions,” the experts write. “We call on federal agencies to support Louisiana’s efforts by streamlining project implementation. We call on the citizens of Louisiana to insist that our leaders hold to the plan and move quickly.”
Despite the ability of sediment diversions to anchor and sustain the overall coastal restoration system for years to come, opposition exists in limited pockets. Last week, the St. Bernard Parish Council adopted a resolution opposing the use of state funding for four proposed sediment diversion projects, and some commercial fisherman say the diversions would push their saltwater fishing areas further from the coast. The scientists acknowledge this, noting, “Wetland-building diversions will not destroy fisheries but instead will immediately push them farther from some parts of the coast” and recommend objective policies to assist affected fisherman.
“We shouldn’t manage coastal wetlands only for our generation,” the scientists write in their letter, saying that the continuing loss of wetlands will rob future generations of jobs, Louisiana’s unique culture and wildlife habitat.
They also note that “places on our coast continue to thrive . . . where the river is allowed to work its magic.”
The paid advertisements will appear in the following publications in the coming weeks: The Advocate, The Plaquemines Gazette, The St. Bernard Voice, The Times-Picayune, The Houma Courier, Coastal Angler and Louisiana Sportsman.
You can read their letter in full below:No Comments
By Shannon Cunniff, Deputy Director, Water Program, Environmental Defense Fund
This is part two of a two-part series about the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.
Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy clearly illustrated the significant effects storms and flooding can have on the nation’s economy and security. So it’s not surprising that the President tapped the National Security Council to lead an interagency team to develop additional means to reduce the impact and cost of floods to the nation.
To develop the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, the Council built upon work done by the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and its Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy, that recommended the federal government create a national flood risk standard for federally-funded projects beyond the Sandy-affected region.
In developing the Standard, the National Security Council should have used more transparency. For example, it doesn’t appear the Council consulted with Louisiana’s community leaders and others affected by Hurricane Katrina. That’s hard to understand, given the impacts that storm had on the region.
In addition to gaining understanding of the different and separate conditions around the nation, outreach also might have resulted in greater understanding among stakeholders of the intent behind the executive order and engendered less anxiety about its impact from those outside of Washington. To that end, such outreach very likely would have resulted in less confusion and consternation about the order, yielding a better result.
Implementing the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard
There are two steps to full implementation of the Standard. The first started with development and issuance of its draft Implementing Guidelines. The Administration has provided an extended opportunity for public comment on these overarching guidelines, which is currently scheduled to close on May 6, 2015. The second step will be development of detailed guidelines by each affected federal agency that reflect their authorities and programs.
Until the implementing agencies develop their guidelines, specific concerns about what the standard will mean can’t be fully answered. This causes increased anxiety among stakeholders.
Making sure implementation works for Louisiana
In the current public comment period, there are three significant ways to ensure application of the executive order works for Louisiana and other states that have real concerns about the outcomes:
First, commenters can identify clarifications needed in the final overarching Implementing Guidelines so that they set clear direction and sideboards, yet retain flexibility. These parameters will then guide each federal agency in developing its own implementing guidelines
Second, commenters can seek desired improvement in the public dialogue on flood risk management by suggesting that these final Implementing Guidelines direct federal agencies to engage in meaningful dialogue before and as they develop their own program-specific guidelines.
Lastly, commenters can identify issues and questions that each federal agency should carefully consider when drafting their program-specific guidelines.
While the White House could have done a better job engaging other regions of the U.S. prior to establishing its Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, let’s embrace opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue to establish flexible policies that encourage and enable communities to improve their resiliency. To send comments on the draft Implementing Guidelines, click here and then search for the notice in docket ID FEMA-2015-0006.
If you missed it, check out part one of this series: The new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.No Comments
By Shannon Cunniff, Deputy Director, Water Program, Environmental Defense Fund
This is part one of a two-part series about the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard. Check back tomorrow for part two.
There has been a lot of misinformation circulating about the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard established in Executive Order (EO) 13690. In this two-part series, we will shed light on the new standard as well as ways for stakeholders to get involved in the process and make their voices heard.
Louisiana and its citizens are no strangers to flooding and flood risk. Were it not for the devastation caused by the 1927 Mississippi River floods, Congress might not have created a new major flood control program for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. So it’s not hyperbole to say Louisiana’s history is steeped in floods.
Louisiana’s broad deltaic floodplains, storied bayous and New Orleans’ own tenacity and resilience to floods define this region. Louisiana knows how to live with water and the threat of flood. Through its Coastal Master Plan, the state is demonstrating to the nation its leadership in flood risk reduction and how creative cross-jurisdictional planning can ensure a vibrant future despite rising seas.
Why have a flood risk standard for federal investments?
However, Louisiana isn’t alone in experiencing flood damages. Between 1980 and 2013, the United States suffered more than $260 billion in flood-related damages. Accounting for inflation, the dollar losses due to U.S. tropical storms and floods have tripled over the past 50 years.
During this period, the federal government has assumed an increasing proportion of the financial responsibility associated with flooding and coastal storms. Federally funded infrastructure – including buildings, roads, ports, industrial facilities and military installations – have suffered flood damages stemming from higher flood levels, higher sea levels and more severe storms. A goal for the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard is to establish a higher level to which federal actions must be resilient.
This risk management standard represents an important step in coming to terms with more intense storms and sea level rise. The nation and its communities, as well as federal agencies, need to join together to cope with what sea level rise means for our coastal areas, populations, infrastructure and economies.
It’s taken us decades, even centuries, to achieve current levels of development. Now we need to start positioning ourselves to adjust to changing conditions. We need to start building differently and gradually shifting our important assets out of harm’s way.
Leaders in reducing risks
More than 350 communities across the nation, including some in Louisiana, have already implemented standards that account for increased future flood risk, to ensure investments today still provide benefits in a riskier future.
While the federal government is catching up with these communities, it’s been a leader and advocate for floodplain management since 1977, when the federal floodplain management executive order was last updated. Since then, federal agencies have been assessing – usually during their development of an environmental assessment or environmental impact analysis – and minimizing the effects of proposed actions occupying or modifying the floodplain.
The new federal flood risk management standard
The Federal Flood Risk Management Standard supplements the long-standing federal floodplain management Executive Order 11988 approach, by increasing the size of the floodplain and setting a higher level for designing means to lessen flood risks. When evaluating projects, federal agencies must consider:
- The impacts of their proposed action on adding to others’ flood risk.
- Ways to reduce impacts of flooding to structures they fund.
Federal agencies still must avoid the direct or indirect support of floodplain development whenever there is a practicable alternative. Practicality is the pivotal word with much turning on the purpose and need for the action. As the last 37 years demonstrate, federal agencies implementing Executive Order 11988 have been prudent in determining practicality.
Federally funded actions have and will continue in Louisiana’s broad, flat floodplains. They will do so in a manner that ensures federal investments lessen the risk of damaging floods, reduces the cost of flood damages to life and property and, should there be a severe event, rebound quickly to serve their intended purpose.
How we go about developing policies and practices to protect federal investments, lives and property from storms, floods and sea level rise is important. While the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard is a good thing, there are two areas worth examining around the executive order: process and substance. In tomorrow's post, we will be examining both of these areas and ideas for improvement.
Check back tomorrow for part two: Improving implementation of the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.No Comments
Louisiana recently proposed 5 projects to be funded by the initial round of funding from the RESTORE Act. The West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion project’s objective, also known as the Mississippi River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp project, is to restore and enhance the health and sustainability of the Maurepas Swamp through the reintroduction of season Mississippi River inflow. Here’s what we wrote to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in support of the West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion project:
Dear Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members,
The undersigned groups appreciate the opportunity to share our supporting comments on the River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project, submitted by the State of Louisiana for RESTORE Council consideration for the first Funded Priorities List of the RESTORE Pot 2 Council-selected projects.
We represent a coalition of conservation interests that have worked for decades to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – starting with prompt restoration of the Mississippi River Delta – reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to protect communities, environment, and economies. Our groups continue to recommend urgent action on projects that will reduce land loss and restore wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through comprehensive restoration actions that have the potential to provide multiple benefits and services over the long term to the entire Gulf of Mexico.
Most of the necessary restoration actions to be undertaken in Louisiana are already fully authorized under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, were unanimously approved by the Louisiana legislature in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, enjoy broad public support, and have been vetted by scientists and lawmakers for many years.
Such is the case with the River Reintroduction into the Maurepas Swamp Project.
The River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project has long been discussed as an important coastal restoration project: it was featured as a key restoration project in the 1998 “Coast 2050” plan, was further developed in the Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) program with EPA as its sponsor, was included in the LCA (Louisiana Coastal Area) Study (WRDA 2007) and the Louisiana 2007 Coastal Master Plan, and is currently included in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan (named the “West Maurepas Diversion”).
This project would benefit the western Maurepas swamps, the landbridge between Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain and the LaBranche wetlands. In addition, this project, in conjunction with the Central Wetlands diversions, will influence the Biloxi Marsh area.
Dominated by bald cypress and water tupelo trees, this swamp complex is one of the largest forested wetlands in the nation. Levees constructed along the river and the closure of Bayou Manchac have isolated the area from spring floods and the vital fresh water, nutrients and sediments that once enhanced the swamp. This isolation has led to a decrease in swamp elevation, that coupled with rising salinities throughout the Pontchartrain Basin have left the swamp in a state of rapid decline – trees are dying and young trees are not regenerating. The River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project will reconnect the swamps to the river, preventing further loss and the conversion to open water, as well as helping to temper rising salinities throughout the entire Pontchartrain Basin.
Applying funds to the project now, toward completion of the remaining engineering, design, and permitting, will finally take the River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project to a construction-ready status. And, given its development history, this project would seem a perfect candidate for CPRA to conduct in collaboration with EPA, with some assistance from Corps of Engineers regulatory and restoration teams.
In conclusion, the 2012 Coastal Master Plan data demonstrated that the swamp could be completely lost in a mere two decades. Due to the urgency of getting this project constructed and operating, the below signatories commend Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for submitting, and we urge the RESTORE Council to select this project for funding.
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