Archive for 2012 Coastal Master Plan
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
By Philip Russo, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign
It is hard to say no to a good two-for-one deal. At least, that’s what Louisiana’s Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority (CPRA) had in mind when they planned this week’s public meetings in South Louisiana.
At meetings in Belle Chasse (yesterday), Thibodaux (tonight) and Lake Charles (tomorrow evening), CPRA is unveiling and accepting public comments on their Draft Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Plan as well as the Gulf oil spill Draft Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and Phase III Early Restoration Plan.
To kick off the tour, more than 100 people attended the Belle Chasse meeting last evening. CPRA’s Deputy Executive Director, Kyle Graham, began the two-hour joint meeting by presenting Louisiana’s Draft FY2015 Annual Plan. Graham described the implementation of the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan as a “50-year program, at least.” He qualified this by saying that “We live in an engineered landscape, and it’s going to be much longer than that. We know that this is a program that needs to go on for as long as we choose to live in this engineered landscape.” He outlined the multi-layered suite of restoration projects the CPRA is designing, engineering and constructing and emphasized that “we are in the middle of the largest restoration construction boom in the state’s history.” He also pointed out that the suite of coastal restoration projects will soon include sediment diversions.
Sediment diversions were a popular topic of discussion during the Draft FY15 Annual Plan public comment period. Some attendees expressed their view that diversions will bring more harm than good for fish and oyster habitats. Conversely, John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation expressed that without the full suite of coastal restoration projects, which includes sediment diversions, “all of our livelihoods down here in South Louisiana are potentially at stake; it’s not one particular sector.”
The close of the Annual Plan public comment session transitioned right into the NRDA PEIS and Phase III Early Restoration Plan portion of the meeting. Residents were updated about various projects being funded by the $1 billion made available by BP for early NRDA restoration. Though all funds stemming from the BP oil disaster are to be split between the five Gulf Coast states, they can only be used for projects that are designed to restore or enhance recreational and ecological activity along the Gulf. In Louisiana, the main four projects featured in the presentation were barrier island restoration projects in the Caillou Lake Headlands, Chenier Ronquille, Shell Island and North Breton Island.
Though some public comments were made following the NRDA section, it lacked the intensity of the first round. Regardless, the back-to-back meeting was a great opportunity for local residents, politicians and advocates alike to participate in Louisiana’s coastal planning process.1 Comment
By Maura Wood, Partnership Manager, National Wildlife Federation
With everyone’s help, we are making great strides toward restoring Louisiana’s coast. Our efforts to attain the resources necessary to meet this great challenge are gaining momentum and projects are moving forward. Next week on January 14, 15, and 16, Louisianans will be able to learn about and comment on the progress being made on coastal restoration at three multi-purpose public hearings being held by Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA).
The first section of each meeting will be an opportunity to hear a summary presentation of the CPRA’s Draft Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Plan and make comments on the plan. Each year, the Annual Plan details how the 2012 Coastal Master Plan is being implemented, reports on the status of ongoing work and projects and provides a 3-year projection of expenditures, as required by law. The Annual Plan provides a window into how the CPRA is allocating its resources in the short term, within the context of the long-term, big-picture vision of the overall Coastal Master Plan.
The second half of the meeting will widen the focus to include Gulf-wide coastal restoration plans and projects. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees will give a presentation on and listen to public comments regarding the Draft Programmatic and Phase III Early Restoration Plan and Draft Early Restoration Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. This meeting is an opportunity for the public to comment on the third and final set of projects proposed to address oil spill impacts under the Early Restoration Plan as well as the Environmental Impact Statement that assesses the projects themselves.
All meetings are public and will begin with an open house at 5:30 p.m., followed by presentations beginning at 6:00 p.m. Please consider joining us at one of the following meetings. If you’re interested in attending, please contact our field director, Stephanie Powell, at email@example.com.
Tuesday, January 14
Belle Chasse Auditorium
8398 Louisiana 23
Belle Chasse, Louisiana
Wednesday, January 15
Warren J. Harang, Jr. Municipal Auditorium
310 North Canal Boulevard
Thursday, January 16
Spring Hill Suites Lake Charles
1551 West Prien Lake Road
Lake Charles, Louisiana
For more information:
Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority: coastal.la.gov
Phase III of Early Restoration: www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/restoration/early-restoration/phase-iii/No Comments
This was originally posted by Environmental Defense Fund on EDF Voices: People on the Planet.
By David Festa, Vice President, West Coast & Land, Water & Wildlife, Environmental Defense Fund
I was struck by a line in an article in the new issue of Scientific American. It called the loss of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands “the greatest environmental, economic and cultural tragedy on the North American continent.”
It’s easy to see why they would say that. Since the 1930s, efforts to control the Mississippi River and widespread energy development in the delta have resulted in the sacrifice of 1,900 square miles of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands to the sea. If that had happened on the east coast, an area twice the size of Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. put together would be under water. Of course, the engineering projects on the Mississippi spurred over a century of economic development and navigation. But the cost has been the loss of the original delta ecosystem, leaving coastal communities more exposed to storm surges and a rising sea level.
As dramatic as that is, the thing that caught my eye even more was another line in the Scientific American article: “Many wetland recovery programs have failed by trying to re-create the original ecosystems.”
The article goes on to make a point that we don’t have to re-create the past to make things better for people and the planet. In fact, when you think clearly and specifically about the need we as a society are trying to meet, and then ask how nature can help meet that need, surprisingly positive things can happen.
Consider Scientific American’s example of the Delaware Bay, an ecosystem that was teeming with aquatic life before settlers built dikes and drained thousands of acres to grow crops.
“Looming on the New Jersey shore of the bay is the Salem nuclear power plant, owned by utility giant PSEG. The plant sucks in billions of gallons of water a day for cooling and kills millions of tiny fish and other creatures as they get drawn through the intake valves. In the early 1990s state regulators asked PSEG to build cooling towers to end the carnage. Reluctant to spend $1 billion to $2 billion, the utility proposed an alternative: restore enough salt marsh to compensate for the loss of fish — more than 10,000 acres.”
The restoration team decided to take a less-is-more approach — cut gaps in the dikes that would let just the right amount of water into the marsh to create an initial maze of tidal creeks, and then let the rest of the creeks develop on their own. “If you engineer a drainage system in great detail, the system is forced to go the way you think it ought to be,” a restoration expert told the publication. “But if you allow it to develop itself, it’s more likely to be stable.”
Today, reports Scientific American, the increase in fish populations more than makes up for the losses from the power plant’s water intake, and the restoration looks like the natural marshes next door. Plus, it saved consumers money because letting nature meet the need cost hundreds of millions of dollars less than the concrete cooling towers.
You see this principle at work in the efforts of EDF and our allies in the Gulf of Mexico. Last year, as part of ongoing efforts to reverse losses in the Mississippi River Delta, Louisiana passed the Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. This landmark plan serves as the blueprint for restoring Louisiana’s wetlands, and it follows two tenets that proved so successful in the Delaware Bay. First, it focuses on a single goal: rebuilding and sustaining hundreds of square miles of land. Secondly, it relies on nature to do the bulk of the reconstruction. Sediment-laden water from the Mississippi River will be diverted into marshes and shores. Over time, the sediment will create new land and a more resilient coastline.
In the face of extreme weather and global sea-level rise, this new approach takes on great meaning. Superstorm Sandy provided powerful illustrations of how wetlands can serve as a first line of defense against extreme weather events. Salt marsh remnants along Long Island’s Jamaica Bay, for example, helped to protect residents there, while the lack of wetlands around Manhattan left it exposed to crashing waves.
More than 3 billion souls — 40 percent of the world's population — live as close to the sea as New Orleans. By letting nature back into the game, we can help rebuild coastal Louisiana and turn “a North American tragedy” into a model of success for protecting nearly half the planet’s population.
By Amanda Moore (National Wildlife Federation) and Elizabeth Skree (Environmental Defense Fund)
Excitement filled the air last Friday as community members, government officials, students and staff from local and national conservation organizations gathered on the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle viewing platform in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward to celebrate the unveiling of new educational, interactive signs. These signs help interpret an important story for visitors as they look out over the open water and ghostly remains of a former healthy cypress swamp. At this powerful site, in the backyard of a community less than five miles from the French Quarter that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, visitors will learn about efforts to restore the Bayou Bienvenue ecosystem as well as the broader, critical need for coastal restoration. The signs were a project of The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development and the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign.
In addition to the four National Park Service-grade signs, a new website, www.restorethebayou.org, was also created to accompany the signs. On the site, visitors can learn more about the history of Bayou Bienvenue; read about the vision for restoration of the wetland triangle as well as broader Louisiana coastal restoration; learn about community and environmental organizations working to restore the wetlands; watch videos in the multimedia gallery; sign the virtual guestbook by taking a photo using Instagram and adding the hashtag #restorethebayou; and take action by signing a petition to decision-makers, asking them to prioritize MRGO-area restoration projects – like the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle.
The dozens of people in attendance heard from Garret Graves, Chair of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, who proclaimed the importance of the platform and signs when he said, “This is such an important teaching tool for us…it’s a microcosm of what is happening on a huge scale in coastal Louisiana.”
Other speakers included Charles Allen, Director of the City of New Orleans’ Office of Coastal and Environmental Affairs; Arthur Johnson, Executive Director of the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development; and Amanda Moore, Greater New Orleans Program Manager for the National Wildlife Federation, speaking on behalf of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition.
Get involved! Check out Restore the Mississippi River Delta’s Facebook album of photos from the unveiling event, and visit www.restorethebayou.org to learn more about the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle and coastal restoration efforts.No Comments