Archive for 2012 Coastal Master Plan

Expert Diversion Panel: State has all information needed to make decision on advancing diversions

October 1, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), coastal restoration, Diversions, Restoration Projects, Science

By: Alisha Renfro, Staff Scientist, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, National Wildlife Federation

Diversion Locations

Diversion locations

Sediment diversions are restoration projects that carry sediment and water from the river through a gated structure on the levee into nearby basins, mimicking the way the Mississippi River once built much of southeast Louisiana. This type of project was identified in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan as a vital tool for far-reaching and long-lasting restoration of our coastal wetlands. Four sediment diversion projects from the Coastal Master Plan –Mid-Barataria, Mid-Breton, Lower-Barataria and Lower Breton – are currently moving forward in either planning or engineering and design. This fall, the state is expected to announce which sediment diversion projects they will continue move forward into full engineering and design.

Data collection and modeling efforts allowed the state to study and understand the full benefits that a sediment diversion could provide to our coastal wetlands and to anticipate the influence of the project on water levels, fisheries and salinity distribution in the receiving basins compared to future conditions without sediment diversions. In addition to those studies, an Expert Diversion Panel on Planning and Implementation – an independent group from outside of Louisiana with expertise in natural science, social science and engineering – was convened by the Water Institute of the Gulf to provide advice and guidance to CPRA on plans for sediment diversion projects.

The fifth meeting of this panel, held in August, focused on the state’s approach to using the data and modeling information to decide which sediment diversion projects will move forward. On September 16th, the Expert Panel released its report from that meeting, agreeing that the state had the information it needed to decide which sediment diversion projects to advance. The panel also decided that the socio-economic analysis and the work being done to predict the effect of diversions on the basins are appropriate for this stage of the process.

In the panel’s opinion “no other environmental restoration project in the nation has come so far so quickly.” The state’s decision on which sediment diversion projects to focus its efforts on and move into engineering and design is important, as it is one step forward in a longer process towards full implementation. Using sediment diversions to put the sediment of the river back to work for us is crucial for restoration and one the best tools we have to create a sustainable future for Louisiana.

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New report quantifies storm reduction benefits of natural infrastructure and nature-based measures

September 29, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, coastal restoration, Community Resiliency, Restoration Projects, Science

By Shannon Cunniff, Deputy Director for Water, Environmental Defense Fund

Coastal zones are the most densely populated areas in the world. In the U.S., they generate more than 42 percent of the nation’s total economic output. These coastal communities, cities and infrastructure are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Rising seas and increased storms, as well as ongoing coastal development, have stripped these natural environments of their innate resilience to storms and flooding, leaving coastlines and the people who live there especially exposed.

EDF photo beach dune

Beach dune

Protecting coastal areas requires a multipronged approach. Traditional hardened infrastructure, such as levees and floodwalls, should be combined with natural infrastructure, such as dunes and barrier islands, to optimize storm protection. By attenuating wave energy, natural infrastructure measures can enhance the performance of and complement traditional gray infrastructure. And in certain situations, natural coastal infrastructure measures can reverse coastal erosion, help rebuild shorelines and even keep pace with rising sea levels.

Natural coastal infrastructure measures also provide significant co-benefits to communities. In addition to reducing the effects of storm waves and surge, these wetlands and other plant-based means also improve water quality, enhance recreational and commercial fisheries, add to the coastal esthetic and attract tourists. Their installation or restoration can also buy time for communities as they develop long-term strategic plans to cope with sea level rise.

In Louisiana, coastal planners understand the importance of nature-based designs, such as sediment diversions and barrier beach nourishment, when developing coastal restoration and protection plans – the state’s Coastal Master Plan is a combination of restoration, protection and resiliency projects.

But with their myriad of benefits, why aren’t natural infrastructure measures being implemented to a greater degree in other parts of the nation?

In part, the reason is the lack of accepted engineering design guidance – a document that explains the engineering principles, issues, methods, and performance metrics for evaluating, siting and designing features. Lacking such, engineers cannot formally sign off on the designs and risk benefits that will be realized.

How can we quantify the storm risk reduction benefits of nature-based measures, so as to help decision-makers and planners choose the best methods for their needs and find financing to implement these projects? Can we accelerate development of engineering guidance?

Natural Infrastructure Workshop and Report

Mangroves public domain pix


Seeking to answer these questions, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) convened a workshop of 19 coastal engineers, scientists, program managers, and financiers to discuss establishing storm risk reduction performance measures of various natural coastal infrastructure solutions.

After completion, EDF produced the report, “Performance of Natural Infrastructure and Nature-Based Measures as Coastal Risk Reduction Features,” which reviews the state of knowledge on the risk reduction performance of natural and nature-based infrastructure, compiled from existing literature as well as workshop participant input. The report includes findings on a host of nature-based measures, including beach nourishment, vegetated dunes, barrier island restoration, edging and sills (living shorelines), oyster reefs, coral reefs, mangroves, maritime forests and coastal wetlands (non-mangroves).

While the report is a bit technical, the authors hope that city planners, coastal engineers and other decision-makers find it useful when determining which storm protection measures to implement in their communities.

Grand Terre_Abita SOS 2

Grand Terre

For each of the measures, the report summarizes its storm risk reduction attributes (e.g., wave attenuation and storm surge protection); lists its strengths, known weaknesses and uncertainties about utility for risk reduction; and identifies suitable conditions for implementation. The report also indicates where engineering design guidelines already exist (e.g., for beach nourishment and dune building) and whether they can be created by modifying existing guidelines (e.g., oyster and coral reefs function like submerged breakwaters).

For the layperson, Table 1 is a one stop shop for information on how each storm risk reduction measure stacks up next to other methods. The table is a summary of the strategies – natural, nature-based, as well as structural – and how each compares regarding risk reduction performance, costs, climate change mitigation, and adaptability to seal level rise and changing community needs.

NI Performance Summary Table

To guide further research supporting adoption of natural infrastructure into coastal resilience plans, the report provides the most catalytic and pressing research needs and lists other survey needs gathered from the literature or raised during the workgroup discussion.

Workshop participants – and subsequent consultation with other engineering experts – confirm that there is sufficient confidence in the ability of natural coastal infrastructure measures to reduce impacts of storms and sea level rise to coastal communities, such that these approaches should be routinely considered as viable options by decision-makers.

With what we know now, implementation of these approaches can be facilitated by developing detailed engineering guidelines that provide functional and structural design guidance as well as address other design issues. As projects are built and monitored, we can further expand knowledge of the circumstances where these measures work best; learn more about how traditional structural, nonstructural, natural infrastructure and nature-based measures can optimally work together; understand how coastal processes are effected; and track the measures’ life expectancies in our increasingly dynamic coastal environments.

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It's a Marathon, not a sprint: Small steps build lasting momentum for comprehensive restoration

September 23, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, coastal restoration, Community Resiliency, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Restoration Projects, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund and Gaby Garcia, Science Intern, Environmental Defense Fund

This post is part of a series on early restoration planning in Louisiana. Be sure to check out parts one and two for more information on previous plans.

By the early 1990s, Louisiana’s coastal land loss crisis had been studied and documented for more than two decades. Successful establishment of the state-level Office of Coastal Restoration and Management and the Wetlands Trust Fund in 1989 galvanized support and action for wetlands restoration at the federal-level as well. In 1990, Louisiana U.S. Senator John Breaux co-sponsored and helped pass the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and RestorationCWPPRA Act (CWPPRA), sometimes called the “Breaux Act.”

The Act was one of the first attempts to support a comprehensive approach to restoring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands by establishing a dependable, long-term funding stream for projects. A new federal interagency task force, made up of five federal agencies and the Louisiana state government, was also created by the Act to oversee coastal restoration activities, including the prioritization, planning and implementation of small- to medium-scale projects.

Three years after CWPPRA was enacted, in 1993, the Task Force published their Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Restoration Plan, which recommended changes in management of the lower Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. The plan focused specifically on increasing the sediment and freshwater supply to coastal wetlands to reestablish natural land-building processes.

The CWPPRA plan only has a 20-year time horizon, as opposed the 50-year perspective taken in other contemporary plans published by the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR), Louisiana State University or the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. Despite the shorter outlook of the CWPPRA plan, it relies on similar principles and strategies we see in these other plans. Namely, this plan calls for:

  • Shifting navigational use from the existing bird's foot delta to a new western delta in a neighboring estuary, possibly Breton Sound;
  • Multiple diversions to address land loss in Barataria Basin;
  • Reactivation of old distributary channels;
  • Seasonal changes in the Atchafalaya River’s flow distribution; and
  • Projects to facilitate hydrologic restoration, such as: Nourishing barrier island chains and Controlling tidal flows in large navigation channels.

Small scale tests, important success

Even before the passage of CWPPRA, the LDNR was implementing small-scale diversions by cutting crevasses into banks of the southernmost reach of the Mississippi River. Between 1986 and 1993, 20 crevasses were constructed with a mean discharge rate of less than 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). Despite the lower flow rates, these crevasses created nearly 1,400 acres of emergent marsh during this period, an impressive amount of land considering the scale of these projects.

The early results of these experimental projects encouraged the prioritization of sediment diversions in the CWPPRA planning process, many of which have also performed well. The Channel Armor Gap Crevasse, for instance, was constructed in 1997 in one of the most rapidly subsiding areas of the delta. This crevasse created nearly 200 acres of land over 10 years and increased overall sediment elevation by more than three feet.

The West Bay Sediment Diversion, on the other hand, was constructed in 2003 and had formed little subaerial land despite the creation of two small spoil islands in the bay in 2009. Due to this lack of land building, it was considered a complete failure and was in the process of being deauthorized. But after the historic flood of 2011, which delivered large quantities of sediment to coastal Louisiana, dry land had emerged in West Bay by that fall. This combination of spoil islands and pulsing floodwaters has proven successful in building land here and may be translated elsewhere across the coast.


West Bay Sediment Diversion

Scaling up the vision for restoration

CWPPRA has played an important role in funding restoration projects, beyond diversions, across the coast. The program has also been critical in supporting long-term, large-scale undertakings, such as the Coast-wide Reference Monitoring System and planning efforts like the Barrier Island Shoreline Feasibility Study and Coast 2050.

The Barrier Island Shoreline Feasibility Study was the first large-scale feasibility study sponsored through CWPPRA. The technical analysis, completed in 1997, was designed to figure out the most effective barrier island configurations to protect inland areas from saltwater intrusion, wind and wave action, storm surge and other extreme events, such as oil spills. An estimate of the possible quantitative effects of different regional barrier island arrangements on Louisiana’s environmental and economic resources were produced through this work as well.

The scope of the study was limited to the shoreline from the Atchafalaya River east to the Mississippi River and provided two alternatives for restoration. These results ultimately informed the initial Barrier Shoreline Restoration studies conducted as part of the Army Corps’ Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Ecosystem Restoration Study, which in turn formed the basis for two of our priority projects, Barataria Pass to Sandy Point and Belle Pass to Caminada Pass Barrier Island Restoration.

While the CWPPRA Plan proposed some forward-thinking solutions at the basin-wide level to mimic natural processes, Coast 2050 took comprehensive planning even further. This initiative, finalized in 1998, was jointly developed by the Louisiana State Wetlands Authority and the CWPRRA Task Force and takes a regional perspective on restoration strategies for long-term ecosystem sustainability. The LCA Ecosystem Restoration Study was largely based on the recommendations and vision of Coast 2050, both of which played a significant part in shaping the 2012 Coastal Master Plan and the way we envision restoration in coastal Louisiana.

Be sure to check out our next post for more details on Coast 2050 and the Louisiana Coastal Area Study!

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Bold Recommendations & Early Citizen Support for Diversions as a Key to Coastal Restoration

September 16, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, coastal restoration, Diversions, Restoration Projects, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund and Gaby Garcia, Science Intern, Environmental Defense Fund

This post is part of a series on early restoration planning in Louisiana. Be sure to check out part one for a look back to 1973.

In 1988, the Coalition to Restoration Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) released a plan titled Coastal Louisiana: Here today and gone tomorrow? The plan, which was a joint effort by stakeholders and scientists, focuses on the Mississippi River Delta region and is framed as a citizens program for protecting Louisiana’s environment,CRCL1 economy and heritage.

The plan provides nearly 20 recommendations, including a restoration action program, suggestions for how to finance the program, as well as specific institutional and legislative recommendations designed to galvanize restoration.

Among the most notable elements is the assertion that sediment diversions would be the most beneficial method of wetland restoration and that several of them should be constructed along the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. This was also one of the first plans to advise against any new levee construction.

Many of the plan’s most significant propositions, those focused on restoration action, have yet to be realized, though the science behind sediment diversions is well developed and we continue to advocate for them as a sustainable restoration tool.

A bold but realistic plan of action

CRCL’s plan has two specific resource goals that are still strongly advocated for:

  1. To utilize freshwater and sediment diversions along the Mississippi River and Atchafalaya Rivers to sustain and restore coastal wetlands;
  2. To beneficially use dredged material from channel maintenance and existing spoil banks to backfill canals and nourish created wetlands and barrier islands

Restoring natural processes: Mississippi River water & sediment diversions

The Caernarvon and Davis Pond diversions were still being designed at the time this plan was published. Although there were expectations these structures would help control saltwater intrusion and reduce wetland loss, the plan underscores their limitations in active wetland restoration and land building. Despite the fact these diversions were designed for salinity and flood control, both areas have seen new land growth, though not at the scale or rate anticipated for sediment diversions.

The action program calls for the construction of a suite of freshwater and sediment diversions to restore hydrologic connections and halt wetland loss. The essence of many of these restoration ideas can be found in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan (CMP). Some of the restoration actions proposed in the 1988 plan include:

  • One or two diversions from the Atchafalaya River into the Lake Verret Basin and Western Terrebonne marshes.
    • 2012 CMP: Two diversions from the Atchafalaya will increase freshwater and sediment flows into Terrebonne marshes from Bayou Penchant westward, including our of our coalition’s 19 priority projects, Increase Atchafalaya Flow into Terrebonne Marshes.
  • Restoration of Bayou Lafourche into a distributary of the Mississippi River, with a diversion into Timbalier Bay.
    • 2012 CMP: Small-scale freshwater diversion from the river into Bayou Lafourche.
  • Freshwater and sediment diversions, at Bayou Manchac and Blind River, to bring Mississippi River water into the degraded swamps south of Lake Maurepas.
    • 2012 CMP: Two freshwater diversions, at Blind River and Hope Canal, and hydrologic restoration of the Amite River to restore freshwater inputs to Lake Maurepas, including one of our priority projects, West Maurepas Diversions.
  • A large-scale sediment diversion of the Mississippi River below New Orleans into Barataria Basin and a navigation channel from the river into Breton Sound in the vicinity of Empire.
    • 2012 CMP: Two sediment diversions into Barataria Basin in the vicinity of Diamond and Myrtle Grove, Lower and Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversions (also two of our coalition’s priority projects).


Beneficial use of dredged material

In addition to the focus on restoring natural processes by using freshwater and sediment diversions, the plan has another major component that concentrate on restoration actions that would provide short-term benefits as well as some regulatory changes. This component focuses on using dredged sediments, taken from the bottoms of canals or by removing spoil banks, for restoration efforts.

It is recommended that all dredged material from channel maintenance work should be used for wetland creation and restoration. Sediment from spoil banks would be used to plug many of the abandoned canals along the coast, which would also provide hydrologic restoration of freshwater flow across the affected marshes.

Looking back, moving forward

As we review these early restoration plans, it becomes clear that using water and sediment from the Mississippi River to restore Louisiana’s coastal wetlands is not a new idea. Diversions have long been a key component in coastal restoration planning, though they are only one of the suite of tools we can use.

Restoration planning has spanned more than four decades in Louisiana, but it is only in the last two that consistent funding became available. Check out our next post for more on funded restoration programs in Louisiana.

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The History of Coastal Restoration in Louisiana: More than 40 years of planning

August 17, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), coastal restoration, Community Resiliency, Diversions, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, K10, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, Restoration Projects, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund and Gaby Garcia, Science Intern, Environmental Defense Fund

The damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in Louisiana’s bird’s foot delta nearly 10 years ago, brought regional and national attention to the state’s dramatic and ongoing coastal land loss crisis. But this crisis, as well as innovative and large-scale solutions to reverse wetland loss, had been studied, discussed and planned by scientists and decision-makers for decades.

In a series of blog posts, we will explore a few of Louisiana’s early restoration plans that, in many ways, laid the groundwork for the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.

More than 40 years of restoration ideas & planning

In 1973, Louisiana State University’s Center for Wetland Resources published a multi-volume report titled "Environmental Atlas and Multi-Use Management Plan for South-Central Louisiana. The report provides an overview of the Barataria and Terrebonne Basins and recommendations for natural resource management and restoration.

One of the most notable recommendations is initial discussion of a freshwater and land-building river diversion into Barataria Basin at Myrtle Grove, a project now known as the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. A number of other natural resource management options are described in the plan, including the engineering of barrier islands, use of salt domes for water management, hydrologic restoration and regulation of development.

But not all the ideas have had as much staying power as the notion of harnessing the muddy Mississippi River to restore and maintain coastal wetlands.

Barrier islands in lakes?

Barrier islands are a coastal area’s first line of defense against storm surge, wave action and tides. These islands not only provide important habitat for many bird species, but they protect natural and built infrastructure upon which Louisiana’s economy depends.

This early management plan suggests constructing barrier islands along the shorelines of large lakes and bays, to help stop erosion in these areas. The authors state that these islands would create new, more diversified habitats as well as enhanced recreational opportunities. While these would be nice benefits to have, it would require building a highly engineered, unnatural feature into the landscape.

Not only is this line of thinking something that ecologists and natural resource managers have moved away from, but these projects would not have done anything to address the root causes of land loss. Therefore, they would have been extremely expensive to maintain due to a lack of natural sediment input and continued saltwater intrusion.

Building out of harm’s way

One of the concepts proposed in the report is the establishment of a network of “development corridors” throughout south-central Louisiana. These corridors would ensure limited development in vulnerable coastal areas while encouraging urbanization in areas that have firmer soils, good drainage and are reasonably safe from flooding. They would have been focused on natural levee ridges for land stability and have access to major and minor waterways for commerce.


Development Corridors

Interestingly, the areas within the proposed network of corridors are the economic and population centers that many Louisianans are most concerned about protecting today. Moreover, the areas outside of this network, where the authors specifically discourage further development, are those that we now recognize as some of the most vulnerable to increased damage from storms and the threat of sea level rise.

A diversion at Myrtle Grove

Certain solutions in the report still maintain a presence in restoration efforts today, specifically the proposal to construct a freshwater diversion at Myrtle Grove. Today, this project is called the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion and has evolved into a plan to pulse high-velocity river water, full of sediment, into deteriorating wetlands in the adjacent Barataria Basin. Unlike the project defined in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, the 1973 plan focuses on using fresh water to help establish a proper salinity gradient and combat saltwater intrusion and has other, more complex plans for diverted sediment.

myrtle grove 2As with today’s sediment diversions, the plan recommends that water flow from the Mississippi River be regulated by a control structure, through a diversion canal and then into the basin. The authors predict that the diverted water would abruptly loose velocity on the basin-side of the canal and deposit sediment in a “silt fan” near the canal mouth. While some sediment would continue out into adjacent wetlands, recreating more naturally occurring conditions, sediment from the stilling lagoon and silt fan would be removed by a small dredge and conveyed via pipeline for either construction or restoration purposes.

Evolution in natural resource management & restoration

Clearly, the idea behind what is now a crucial component to Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, diverting fresh water and sediment from the river to build new land, has come a long way from its humble beginnings. And although many of the proposed restoration and management solutions in the 1973 report did not make the cut, the problems they sought to address still threaten the livelihoods and communities of coastal Louisiana.

Check back as we continue to trace this history of restoration planning in Louisiana, which only emphasizes the great need for restoration action now!


Want to get involved? Take the PLEDGE now to vote in the upcoming elections and urge candidates to support the following restoration principles:

1. Be a voice for coastal restoration progress

2. Protect Existing and Secure Future Coastal Restoration Funding

3. Support the Coastal Master Plan

Find out more at

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In Ads Across State, Leading Wildlife & Fisheries Biologists Endorse Sediment Diversions

May 3, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Community Resiliency, Diversions, Restoration Projects, Science

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:

An Open Letter to the Citizens of Louisiana

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Improving implementation of the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard

April 28, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Community Resiliency, Federal Policy

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.

Flood waters in LaPlace, La. after Hurricane Isaac passed through the area. FEMA News Photo

Flood waters in LaPlace, La. after Hurricane Isaac passed through the area. FEMA News Photo

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.

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The new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard

April 27, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Community Resiliency, Federal Policy

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.

The view from aerial tour of Hurricane Sandy damage of New Jersey's barrier beaches, Nov. 18, 2012.

The view from aerial tour of Hurricane Sandy damage of New Jersey's barrier beaches, Nov. 18, 2012.

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.

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Using adaptive management to help restore coastal Louisiana

April 15, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), Reports, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

This post is part of a series about oil spill early coastal restoration funding and projects, be sure to check out parts one and two.

In November 2014, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced that its Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund would award more than $13.2 million to Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) to fund and further develop parts of its Adaptive Management Program. Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan has been designed around an adaptive management approach to ecosystem restoration. The parts of the adaptive management program funded through NFWF will help CPRA make decisions about current and future barrier island and river diversion projects.

What is adaptive management and why is it important?

Adaptive management is a foundational concept in modern ecosystem management and restoration. The primary motivation behind adaptive management is to reduce the uncertainty surrounding actions that will affect an ecosystem or natural resource.

Using a combination of active and passive learning – experimentation and monitoring, respectively – adaptive management answers questions and provides information about how ecosystems react to management actions, such as restoration projects, as part of a science-based decision-making process.

Monitoring is one of the most important components of effective ecosystem restoration and management, though its necessity and usefulness are often misunderstood or overlooked. Monitoring is essential because it helps keep managers informed about short- and long-term trends in an ecosystem.

Long-term monitoring is particularly important because ecosystems are complex, sensitive and often slow to change. For projects, monitoring is essential for proving success or identifying possible areas for improvement or changes in operations.

While project-level monitoring is helpful in learning about localized outcomes of restoration, the BP oil spill highlighted the lack of coordinated, comprehensive monitoring throughout the Gulf region. There are multiple ongoing monitoring efforts in Louisiana, some of which are both long-term and large-scale. However, without coordination among systems, the information produced through monitoring cannot be used to its highest potential in adaptive management, which is an integral part of large-scale ecosystem restoration.

CPRA’s Adaptive Management Program

CPRA’s Adaptive Management Program is made up of more than 20 different components, four of which will be supported by NFWF funds over the next three years.

Coast-wide Reference Monitoring System

CRMS stations

CRMS monitoring stations in coastal Louisiana. Photo: CRMS

Louisiana, in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey and funding from the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA), has had the Coast-wide Reference Monitoring System (CRMS-Wetlands) in operation for more than a decade. Although the large-scale and long-term information produced by this monitoring system has been very useful, it is not fully comprehensive because it is limited to wetlands.

Barrier Island Comprehensive Monitoring Program

The Barrier Island Comprehensive Monitoring (BICM) program, which was implemented in 2006, was designed to complement CRMS-Wetlands. BICM provides long-term data on Louisiana’s barrier islands to help inform the planning, design, evaluation and maintenance of barrier island restoration projects.

System-Wide Assessment and Monitoring Program

Near Caminada Bay

CRMS monitoring station in salt marsh near Caminada Bay. Monitoring gauges are contained in the pipes. Photo: CRMS

The concept of a System-Wide Assessment and Monitoring Program (SWAMP) for coastal Louisiana has been envisioned since the development of CRMS-Wetlands and was proposed under the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Study. Although CRMS-Wetlands and BICM are seen as building blocks for SWAMP, these programs do not monitor many important elements of the ecosystem, including coastal waters, non-tidal freshwater habitats, riverine conditions or natural resources, such as fisheries.

CPRA and The Water Institute of the Gulf recently presented on the latest SWAMP components developed, including programmatic monitoring plans at the coast-wide and basin-wide scales and a basin-specific monitoring plan for the Barataria region. The Barataria monitoring plan is nested within the coast-wide framework and its application will serve as the pilot for basin- and coast-wide implementation of SWAMP.

Small-scale Physical Model

Once built,the expanded small-scale physical model the will be one of the largest moving bed models in the world. Representing the lower Mississippi River from Donaldsonville to the Gulf of Mexico in 90 feet by 120 feet, the expanded model will be four times larger in both scale and size than the existing physical model.

Because it is difficult to experiment at the large scale needed for coastal restoration in Louisiana, this model will serve as a proxy for the active learning, or experimentation, component of adaptive management. The expanded small-scale physical model, which is being designed to very accurately represent properties of the river, will help simulate water, sediment and physical dynamics that may result from restoration and management actions. This will help restoration planners make informed decisions about the most effective ways to restore and sustain Louisiana’s coast.

Adaptive management is important to restoration efforts in the Mississippi River Delta because it is a large, dynamic ecosystem and the long-term impacts of restoration may not be observable right away. Managers must stay informed by monitoring the ecosystem and use that knowledge to inform future restoration actions or decisions, so we can have more efficient and beneficial restoration outcomes.

For more information, read part one and two of this blog series

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West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion Project

December 5, 2014 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), RESTORE Act, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

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.

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