Archive for Coastal Master Plan series
By Maura Wood (National Wildlife Federation) and Brian Jackson (Environmental Defense Fund)
For decades, the people of southern Louisiana have gradually struggled with the collapse of the Mississippi River Delta. Land that once provided shelter from hurricanes, space for agriculture, a basis for livelihoods and a source for recreation has — sometimes in one generation — disappeared. This slow-motion crisis has forced communities and economies along Louisiana’s coast to adapt to collapse.
Large-scale restoration of the delta provides new hope that the system can again become sustainable. But turning coastal Louisiana around from a system losing land to one rebuilding it will require transition and adaptation for coastal residents and communities. Change is inevitable, but the direction of that change will shift dramatically from the loss that communities have been adapting to for generations to a more dynamic and sustainable system that is gaining land.
Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan sets out bold action for restoration and importantly highlights the need for “providing for transitions,” i.e. addressing potential changes that stakeholders may face as projects are implemented and acknowledging the grief and adjustment imposed by existing land loss.
The master plan uses many methods of restoration, asserting that “The action we need requires changing the landscape, not just tweaking what we already have.” Projects such as marsh creation, sediment diversions, ridge restoration, oyster barrier reefs and hydrologic restoration have been chosen for their ability to build land and sustain the coast over the long term. At the same time, they may also be accompanied by short or long-term changes in water elevation and salinity regimes as diversions are operated; changes in access as land is built and hydrology is restored; shifts in habitats in response to land building; and other social, cultural, and economic changes as a result of physical changes to the landscape. The plan stresses that “If we don’t take large-scale action, land loss and flooding will grow so severe that ours will be the last generation that benefits from Louisiana’s working coast.”
The master plan commits to helping communities and user groups adapt to these changes three ways: by developing a planning framework for adapting to change; by involving stakeholders in project design to minimize impacts; and by identifying tools that may assist communities, businesses, and individuals in transitioning to a sustainable — but likely different — new coastal regime.
The challenge is to flesh out these commitments into a creative discussion that moves beyond despair and dislocation. Ideally, transition from the collapsing coast of today to a dynamic but sustainable coast of the future will continue and renew the connection between land, livelihoods, communities and culture. Perhaps through the “planning framework,” stakeholders themselves will be able to propose how transition can result in building a better future for individuals, communities and businesses.
Because the environmental challenges we face are unprecedented, bold actions must be taken. The ultimate benefits and impacts of such actions lie in the future and cannot be completely known. But we know that without action, our coast will continue collapsing. Increasing our ability to work together — marked by increased collaboration, communication, networking and interaction, as well as the establishment of common goals and mutual trust — increases our ability to make decisions, correct mistakes and create a coastal future together. Therefore, the Coastal Master Plan’s commitment to engaging stakeholders and addressing transition is a linchpin for successful forward progress toward a sustainable coast for everyone.No Comments
By David Muth, Louisiana State Director, National Wildlife Federation
Now that Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan is law, it is critical that the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) moves the process forward as quickly as possible. While the plan lays out a series of projects for over its fifty-year timeframe, the actual sequence of projects has not yet been completely planned. The sooner CPRA can finalize this project list and timeline, the sooner vital construction and restoration can begin.
Several things are necessary for creating that list of projects. First is to carry out continued modeling to measure how projects and suites of projects will interact with one another. One example is looking at how a mid-Barataria 50,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) sediment diversion will interact with marsh creation projects in the middle Barataria Basin and with a ring levee and community resiliency measures for the nearby town of Lafitte.
Second is to work out how funding streams can be most effectively sequenced to begin building out the projects identified in the list. This is especially critical with Clean Water Act penalty funding to be distributed under the RESTORE Act and the separate Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. These funding sources, resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, could become available at almost any time over the next few years.
Third is to move quickly to implement nonstructural hurricane risk reduction measures. Nonstructural storm protection measures are those that build community resiliency by means other than “structural” methods such as levees, floodwalls and floodgates. They include raising structures and homes up out of danger, hardening infrastructure and assisting with voluntary relocation. Unfortunately, the suite of existing nonstructural programs is reactive: invoked after, but not before, a disaster. That has to be changed moving forward.
Another challenge concerns the Chenier Plain in southwest Louisiana. The key to long-term restoration in that area is to find ways to modify the hydrology of the area’s navigation system to prevent the continued influx of sea water into formerly freshwater marshes. Simple on paper, tricky in practice.
At an implementation level, two important capabilities need to be developed for the master plan to move forward. One is to demonstrate the feasibility of long-distance pipeline sediment delivery. Much of the Coastal Master Plan depends upon finding a viable way to move vast volumes of sediment many tens of miles through dredge pipes. We have a great deal of experience with relatively smaller scale projects for both marsh creation and barrier island restoration, but the master plan proposes projects that will be carried out on a much larger scale — moving material over much greater distances than ever before. While there seems to be no technical reason this cannot be done, actually doing it will be important for fine tuning the plan.
Similarly, we need to test and demonstrate a sediment diversion somewhere other than at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The very existence of southeast Louisiana proves that such diversions build land. We have extensive experience cutting artificial distributaries near the mouth of the river and letting them build land – from Cubit’s Gap and a dozen other cuts on the Mississippi below Venice to the Wax Lake Outlet on the lower Atchafalaya River. We also know that crevasses through the man-made levee system prior to 1928 moved vast quantities of sediment into the upper estuaries. But we have never deliberately designed and constructed a controlled sediment diversion, and we will learn a great deal more than modeling can tell us by actually doing it.
All told, the to-do list for Coastal Master Plan implementation seems long, but with RESTORE Act and NRDA fines on the way, we will have the funding to jumpstart restoration. Combine this funding with the proper planning and prioritization, and coastal Louisiana will take several steps closer to a more sustainable future.1 Comment
The Next 50 Years: Climate change and the Coastal Master Plan: “Hope for the best but plan for the worst”July 19, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Coastal Master Plan series, Diversions, Hurricanes, Science
By Dr. Doug Meffert, Executive Director, Audubon Louisiana
Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan takes a realistic and critical examination of the effects of climate change impacts on the future of coastal Louisiana, both in terms of prioritization of restoration projects as well as risk reduction. In its “less optimistic scenario,” the master plan estimates 0.45 meters of sea level rise over the next fifty years. This is in addition to between zero and 25 millimeters per year of land subsidence, with the fragile deltaic plain having the highest rates. The resultant combination of sea level rise and subsidence predicts that relative sea level rise will be more than one meter during the next century in some areas of the Mississippi River Delta. Additionally, this scenario anticipates a 20 percent increase in storm intensity and a 2.5 percent increase in storm frequency for Category 1 hurricanes and greater. As climate change brings more severe storms and rising seas to Louisiana’s coast, it is important to incorporate these predictions into the formulation of the Coastal Master Plan.
This “less optimistic scenario” predicts a very different and more vulnerable coast than we had in the 20th century. The master plan uses this scenario for its predictions for future flooding from a 100-year event and for prioritization of restoration projects, since what is labeled as “less optimistic” in the report could just as accurately be labeled as “increasingly likely.” This scenario is consistent with the recent assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), the findings from the Durban Climate Change Conference in November 2011, and more recently, peer-reviewed articles (Blum and Roberts, 2012; Day et al., 2012). In fact, one of the master plan’s Science and Engineering Board members, Dr. Virginia Burkett, was a coauthor of the IPCC’s 2007 report, which garnered the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for the IPCC.
“Hope for the best but plan for the worst” is the adage adopted by the Coastal Master Plan, and I couldn’t agree more. As it is, there is not enough sediment in the Mississippi River to offset the predicted land loss from relative sea level rise and erosion if we do nothing. This means we need to act now for a future coast that supports the fisheries, birds and other ecological services upon which we depend. We need to plan for a future coast that still provides a natural storm surge buffer for our cities, towns and critical infrastructure. That future coast will just be different than what we’ve known in the past. And that future coast depends on implementing large-scale river diversions with no further delay. We finally have a realistic master plan based on the best science possible. Now, we just need to implement it.
By Cynthia Duet, Director of Governmental Relations, National Audubon Society
Louisiana’s recently passed 2012 Coastal Master Plan contains an ambitious mix of risk-reduction and restoration projects spread across the entire Louisiana coastal area. Such ambition does, however, come with a price — costing an estimated $50 billion over 50 years, and so the plan is also frank in its account of the uncertainties and complexities of funding and creating a sustainable coastal Louisiana ecosystem. To reverse generations of massive and ongoing land loss, encroaching sea level rise and a decade of natural and manmade disasters, the funding challenge must be met head on.
The state acknowledges the need to quickly begin the large-scale work laid out in the plan. At the same time, project implementation depends on funding from a myriad of sources. These projects will also be implemented by various actors — some projects by Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), others by local or federal partners. Progress will be tracked through the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Annual Plan, which will identify specific projects, schedules and funding streams.
So now that the plan is passed, does the funding exist to implement the plan?
In recent years, and in brighter economic times, the Louisiana Legislature authorized a generous allocation of state surplus dollars — a total of $790 million between 2007 and 2009 — to accelerate implementation of priority projects for the coast. Additionally, the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP), established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, provided nearly $500 million to the state of Louisiana and its coastal parishes, the bulk of which was obligated and spent on critical protection and restoration projects in fiscal years 2007-2010. These dollars, accompanied by the long-standing Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) dollars (approximately $80 million per year to which the state matches 15%), the Louisiana Coastal Area Program (LCA) dollars and related federal funds through the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (WRDA), are the foundation upon which the coastal program has been funded to date.
On the horizon are revenues from the sale of mineral leases and royalty revenue from oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico that have been dedicated to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Trust fund through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Securities Act of 2006 (GOMESA). Though funding from this program has trickled through in modest increments since 2007, larger revenue streams from these royalties will be available in 2017 when “Phase II” of that program begins. Estimates of funding for Louisiana from this source have ranged up to $500 million annually on the high end, but the true figures are nearly impossible to pin down because they are tied to new leasing and drilling activities in the gulf.
As the state continues to ramp up its coastal efforts, bringing more and larger projects to construction, more money is required in the short term to fill the gap between now and 2017, when the GOMESA funding is realized. Some significant recent commitments to funding have come in the form of post-Deepwater Horizon oil spill commitments:
- BP announced an historic Early Restoration Framework Agreement on April 21, 2011, committing an unprecedented $1 billion for early restoration projects as a jump-start for the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. Rather than waiting for up to a decade or more, the gulf states negotiated this down payment from BP to begin recovery and restoration of natural resources. The agreement allocated $100 million for projects in Louisiana, and a shared portion of $300 million to be allocated to states based on impacts.
- On July 6, 2012, the President signed into law the transportation funding bill which contains the RESTORE Act, a landmark piece of legislation that dedicates 80 percent of all Clean Water Act penalties and fines from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to projects in the gulf states for environmental and economic recovery. The settlement has yet to be reached that will ultimately determine the exact value of those dollars to be directed to impacted gulf states, but the range is somewhere between $5 and $21 billion.
For planning purposes, the Coastal Master Plan was crafted using reasonable budget projections and a conservative view of what is likely to be received by the state in the coming decades — a range of between $20 and $50 billion (in present value dollars) over the next 50 years. This range was further defined and annualized, and an estimated $400 million to $1 billion per year was the result.
The Coastal Master Plan emphasizes that funds are not guaranteed and that funding levels are based on the state’s best “educated guess.” Funds will not arrive at once but will be spaced over the next 50 years; and much of the expected funding is tied to CWPPRA (about $80 million per year, requiring a reauthorization in 2019), GOMESA (about $110 million per year after 2017), LCA (about $150 milllion per year), the RESTORE Act and NRDA.
In summary, insufficient funding has been the Achilles’ heel of coastal work for decades. Though this will remain the case for years to come, as the implementation of the large and ambitious 2012 Coastal Master Plan begins to unfold, the necessary elements are finally beginning to come together for a hopeful future. Through continued efforts by the State of Louisiana, its delegation leaders, the U.S. Congress and a bit of urging by our own NGO partners, we can all work together to make the Coastal Master Plan’s vision a reality.No Comments
This is the fourth post in our "The Next 50 Years" Coastal Master Plan series. Check back as we continue diving into the master plan and what it means for the people and environment of the Mississippi River Delta.
By Alisha A. Renfro, Ph.D., Staff Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
To formulate Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, coastal authorities evaluated nearly 250 restoration projects that had been proposed in previous parish- and state-level restoration plans. This number was then narrowed down by setting a realistically achievable budget, modeling for future environmental conditions and understanding how the implementation of individual projects could help sustain or build land over the next 50 years. Projects included in the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Comprehensive Study were among those considered for inclusion in the master plan, and many of these projects – or similar versions of them – were included in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. By incorporating these projects in the long-term vision of restoration for coastal Louisiana, these projects will be better integrated with others in the master plan. Additionally, inclusion of these LCA projects shows the state’s commitment to their construction and implementation.
The LCA Program was authorized through the 2007 Water Resources Development Act and includes 15 near-term critical restoration projects. As part of the LCA Program, the state of Louisiana and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work together to plan and implement these 15 projects. To date, construction has not begun on any of these projects, and as they near the construction phase, the lack of federal funding in the immediate future threatens to delays them indefinitely. That is, until Congress passed the RESTORE Act in June. Signed into law just last week, the RESTORE Act will ensure that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines BP and other responsible parties will pay as a result of the 2010 gulf oil spill are dedicated to environmental restoration in the gulf states. In Louisiana, this money will be used to help fund the restoration projects outlined in the master plan.
Of the 15 LCA projects, nine were included in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. But in many cases, the project selected and described in the master plan is a modified version of the original LCA project. This is a result of the analysis conducted in the planning process that indicated that modifications to the project would increase the land it built or maintained. However, it should be noted that the projects described in the master plan are still conceptual, as their exact size and location will be determined through further planning and design. Below is a list of the LCA projects and a brief description of the corresponding project included in the master plan.
The extensive analysis that went into formulating the master plan indicates that the capacity of several of the LCA sediment diversions may need to be scaled up in order to maximize the amount of land they can build and sustain. By including so many LCA projects in the plan, coastal authorities reaffirmed the importance of these critical projects to restoring the coastal Louisiana landscape. Moving away from smaller restoration projects toward larger ecosystem-scale projects will help restore the natural hydrology and mimic the processes that built the Mississippi River Delta, thus creating a more sustainable coastline for the people who call the region home.No Comments
By Brian Jackson, Associate Director – Stakeholder Engagement, Environmental Defense Fund
Last month, the Louisiana Legislature passed the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, capping off years of public engagement and analysis. The 50-year plan lays out a bold path of projects and programs to restore the environment and protect the people, economies and environment of the Mississippi River Delta. The total cost of the plan is $50 billion, of which $10.2 billion is dedicated to nonstructural risk reduction measures.
So what is nonstructural protection anyways? Why would the master plan allocate one out of every five dollars for nonstructural approaches? And what does it mean for Louisiana’s coastal communities?
The term “nonstructural” originated because nonstructural storm protection is considered the alternative to traditional structural flood protection (i.e. levees). Structural measures control water and keep it out or away from an area, while nonstructural measures accommodate water and make buildings and infrastructure more adaptable and resilient to water. Nonstructural approaches have been cleverly named “Living with Water” by colleagues at home, such as Waggonner & Ball Architects in New Orleans, and abroad, through the Dutch Dialogues workshops in the Netherlands. Nonstructural measures include a wide array of activities, including evacuation, home elevation, flood proofing of buildings, flood insurance, planning and zoning and storm proofing critical public facilities.
Nonstructural storm protection measures can be undertaken quickly — in fact, Louisiana has already implemented many of these measures through The Road Home program, the Coastal Land Use Toolkit developed by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and Center for Planning Excellence, and other flood mitigation programs. Whether behind already-existing levee protection or down on the bayou, nonstructural measures are cost-effective for reducing flood risk to homes and businesses. Every dollar spent on disaster mitigation saves four dollars in recovery costs. This is why the master plan relies so heavily on nonstructural protection.
Additionally, nonstructural measures don’t alter natural hydrology, meaning they can work in synergy with large-scale restoration efforts, such as river diversions. Nonstructural measures also work in places where levee protection may already exist, where levees may not be feasible and where federal appropriations or permitting issues may exist.
The Coastal Master Plan’s nonstructural program is based on an analysis of 116 project areas throughout coastal Louisiana. Each area was analyzed for flood risk, building characteristics and adoption of risk reduction measures. The results of this study were used to determine the coast-wide need for risk reduction, the $10.2 billion nonstructural budget and a suite of measures that could be implemented across the coast. The analysis did not result in firm nonstructural plans for each of the 116 project areas. Instead, the goal of the study was to determine the need and budget for a new nonstructural program, not how the nonstructural program would be implemented.
This situation presents both a challenge and an opportunity for local communities and nongovernmental organizations to work with the state as it defines the implementation and budget of the nonstructural program. The master plan study determined that Louisiana’s rural coastal areas will benefit the most from nonstructural protection, so engaging those communities will be essential for success. Also, identifying new and existing funding sources, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program or Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grants, in addition to determining local need coupled with implementation plans, will be vital to the success of the nonstructural program and crucial for a sustainable coastal Louisiana.
All things considered, the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign enthusiastically supports the 2012 Coastal Master Plan and its balanced approach to restoration and protection. The master plan lays out the foundation for the next 50 years, and now we must work to fund and implement its vision.No Comments
This is the second post in our "The Next 50 Years" Coastal Master Plan series. Check back as we continue diving into the master plan and what it means for the people and environment of the Mississippi River Delta.
By Alisha A. Renfro, Ph.D., Staff Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
Since 1932, coastal Louisiana has lost almost 1,900 square miles of land and if bold action is not taken, another 1,700 square miles could be lost by 2060. Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, passed last month by the state legislature, is a 50-year strategy that aims to realistically, but aggressively, use numerous restoration tools to ensure a sustainable and more resilient coast. The plan’s analysis indicates that sediment diversions, structures that allow Mississippi and Atchafalaya River water to be moved strategically into the surrounding wetlands, are critical projects for halting land loss and building a more sustainable coastline for the future of the Mississippi River Delta.
Ten projects identified as sediment diversions were judged as important restoration tools in the plan. Sediment diversions mimic some of the natural processes that once built the Mississippi River deltaic region. By operating these types of control structures when river discharge is high, the large amount of sediment, that is being moved along with the water, is captured and funneled into the nearby wetlands. The introduction of sediment would not only help restore areas that are today shallow open water, but it would also help prevent future wetland loss due to rising sea levels.
Sediment diversions can build new marsh by transporting sediment-laden water from the river into the nearby basin. The heavier sand sediment is deposited quickly and over time, and a marsh platform is built. Once vegetation begins to colonize the area, sediment deposition increases as silts and clays are trapped by plants, and a new marsh will emerge. Sediment diversions can also help sustain the newly-built and existing marsh as sea levels rise, by providing a source of sediment that can be deposited on the marsh surface. Ultimately, this can increase the elevation of the marsh surface, which helps prevent prolonged flooding of the marsh, even as sea levels rise. Sediment diversion critics have voiced concerns about the introduction of fresh water into these basins and have questioned whether diversions are essential to restoring Louisiana’s coast.
To evaluate the necessity of the sediment diversion projects in the master plan, the authors conducted an experiment to analyze the amount of land that could be built only using other types of restoration tools. The results of this experiment indicated that by removing the sediment diversion projects from the plan, total land built would be reduced by 340 to 630 square miles over the 50 years. This indicates that sediment diversion projects are crucial projects in the plan and necessary for rebuilding the Mississippi River Delta.
A similar experiment was conducted to address questions about using a few larger sediment diversions versus multiple smaller diversions. The multiple small diversions not only affected the benefits that people get from the land, such as oysters, as much or more than larger diversions, but the smaller diversions also built significantly less land over the next 50 years.
The restoration projects selected in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan may potentially build or sustain up to 800 square miles of land over the next 50 years – land that otherwise would be lost. While sediment diversions are not the only types of restoration project identified as critical to the future of the Louisiana coastline, scientific assessment suggests they are absolutely necessary. Other types of projects, such as barrier island restoration and marsh creation, can build land quickly, but without tapping into the sustainable power, sediment and fresh water of the river, these projects cannot be maintained over the long term.
The land loss crisis in Louisiana requires aggressive action. Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan shows us that the path forward for building a more sustainable and resilient coastline is by reconnecting the Mississippi River to the landscape it once built.No Comments
By Kevin Chandler, Communications Coordinator, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign
Last month saw the passage of Louisiana's 2012 Coastal Master Plan. This 50-year, $50 billion blueprint for a sustainable coast represents the most ambitious effort yet to tackle Louisiana's coastal crisis. As the plan moves from ratification to implementation, it remains as important as ever to apprehend just what the plan contains and what it means for Louisiana and the nation.
Over the next several weeks, the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign will explore the hows and whys of the Coastal Master Plan through a series we're calling "The Next 50 Years." Some topics include sediment diversions, the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy and nonstructural protection, community assistance, climate change, project prioritization and funding.
Why address these subjects now? Because now that it's in place, this document will inform coastal decision making for the next 50 years and beyond.
As always, your feedback is important, and if there are any other aspects of the plan you would like to see addressed, let us know. We will do our best to continue as a resource for restoration. The first post will be tomorrow, with National Wildlife Federation staff scientist Alisha Renfro exploring the role sediment diversions play in the Coastal Master Plan projects. Stay tuned!No Comments