Archive for Army Corps of Engineers
By Alisha Renfro, Staff Scientist, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, National Wildlife Federation
As the Mississippi River high water event continues, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will soon open the Bonnet Carré Spillway, and potentially the Morganza Floodway, to help relieve pressure on river levees and prevent catastrophic flooding. During high-water events like this one, the river contains more water and carries more sediment than usual. Without restoration projects like sediment diversions in place to capture sediment, much of this essential component for restoring our coast is lost. In the future, when sediment diversions are in place, we’ll be able to utilize the increase in sediment carried by the river during high water events and capture it for coastal restoration. This blog is the first in a series that examine management of the Mississippi River for flood protection and the opportunities that exist to do so for coastal restoration.
Unusually heavy winter rainfall throughout much of the Mississippi River’s drainage basin has led to early flood conditions on the Mississippi River. Deaths of at least 29 people and loss of property in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma are a stark reminder of how dangerous floods can be.
On the lower Mississippi River, the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MR&T) project uses levees and floodways, among other measures, to manage river floods, like the one happening now, to protect people and property.
Prior to the disastrous 1927 flood, attempts to prevent flooding along the lower Mississippi River relied on levees along the river built to withstand the previous flood of record. The MR&T project, authorized through the Flood Control Act of 1928, is a more comprehensive U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ flood control program. It relies on levees along the river to control flood flows, floodways to lessen pressure on critical points in the river levee system, improvements and stabilization of the river channel for navigation, and improvements to major tributary drainage basins, such as dams and reservoirs. Combined, the features of the MR&T system are designed to handle the largest flood that is reasonably expected to occur, known as “project flood.”[i],[ii]
In Louisiana, river floods rely on protection provided by levees along the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers, the Old River Control Complex, the Bonnet Carré Spillway and the Morganza and West Atchafalaya Floodways.
- The Old River Control Complex is designed to send 30 percent of the combined flow of the Mississippi and Red Rivers down the Atchafalaya River, and the remaining 70 percent of the flow down the main stem of the Mississippi River. During this current river flood, the U.S. Army of Engineers began operating the Old River Overbank Structure on December 30 to reduce the risk of damage to Old River Control Complex sill structures.
- The Morganza Floodway is operated during flood events to shunt excess floodwater from the Mississippi into the Atchafalaya Basin. This structure has only been operated twice, 1973 and 2011, since construction was completed on it in 1954. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is monitoring the river gage at Red River Landing to determine if this structure will be needed during the current high water event.
- The Bonnet Carré Spillway is located upriver of New Orleans. When opened, this structure can shunt up to 250,000 cubic feet per second of sediment-laden water from the river into Lake Pontchartrain, to reduce pressure on the river levees by keeping water flow below 1.25 million cubic feet per second. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will open this structure during this flood event beginning on Sunday, January 10.
- The West Atchafalaya Floodway is the last feature of the flood control system and has not been used to date.
The MR&T project has been successful in managing river flood risk during several flood events, most recently in 2011. The water levels in the river are expected to continue to rise over the next week and features of the project, such as the Bonnet Carré Spillway, will be used to manage the floodwaters and protect people and property along the lower Mississippi River.
Up next in this blog series, Alisha Renfro will examine sediment levels in the Mississippi River during high flood conditions and what implications this could have for coastal restoration.No Comments
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849, email@example.com
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jimmy Frederick, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, 225.317.2046, email@example.com
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, 504.421.7348, firstname.lastname@example.org
Funding for Louisiana Coastal Area Program Included in Omnibus Spending Bill
Money Will Help Advance Critical Coastal Restoration Projects
(WASHINGTON—Dec. 17, 2015) Yesterday, the U.S. Congress unveiled a year-end spending bill that includes more than $10 million in funding for the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Program. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 is expected to be approved in coming days by the full Congress. This funding includes $10 million for LCA Beneficial Use of Dredged Materials (BUD Mat) Construction and $50,000 for LCA General Investigations and reflects a request in the President’s FY 16 budget. These levels were previously included in both U.S. House and U.S. Senate versions of FY 16 Energy and Water Appropriations bills.
National and local conservation groups working together on Mississippi River Delta restoration – Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana – released the following statement:
“We commend Congressional leaders and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for including critical funding for the Louisiana Coastal Area Program in this year-end spending bill. LCA projects will help restore critical wetlands throughout the Mississippi River Delta, which will protect Louisiana’s vital coastal infrastructure and natural resources. We would especially like to thank the Louisiana Congressional delegation for their bipartisan efforts and dedication to Louisiana’s coast.
“The Mississippi River Delta is home to more than 2 million people and countless wildlife and birds, and is an economic engine for the entire nation, providing billions of dollars in economic activity. Ten years after Hurricane Katrina and five years after the Gulf oil disaster, this funding provides a critical opportunity to advance much-needed coastal restoration. We are gratified by the commitment to restoration the Obama Administration and Congress have shown in advancing the restoration program in fiscal year 2016, and we look forward to continued progress in the years ahead.
“The state of Louisiana has included many LCA projects in its 2012 Coastal Master Plan, and this funding is an important down payment in the effort to move that important suite of projects forward along the path to completion. Our organizations look forward to working with the state of Louisiana and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on seeing these Louisiana Coastal Area Program projects through from engineering and design to implementation.”
The Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Composed of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. Learn more at MississippiRiverDelta.org and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.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 Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
Last Tuesday, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority authorized the state attorney general to file suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to get the federal government to pick up 100 percent of the expense for the federal plan for ecosystem restoration of damage caused by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). Since 2008, there has been an ongoing dispute between the state and the Corps involving interpretation of Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) of 2007 legislation, in which Congress directed the Corps to develop a plan for restoration of the MRGO ecosystem at full federal expense.
The $3 billion plan, mandated for completion by May of 2008, was finally completed in 2012. Yet, there is still disagreement over what cost share Congress intended, leaving this critical federal restoration effort at a standstill. The state contends that construction is a 100 percent federal expense, while the Corps contends that the typical cost share on restoration projects, 65 percent federal and 35 percent state, applies. This billion dollar question will now be determined by a judge.
The MRGO Must Go Coalition, a group of 17 conservation and neighborhood organizations working since 2006 to see the MRGO closed and the ecosystem restored, has researched this cost share issue for several years. We believe that Congress intended for the MRGO projects under WRDA to be at 100 percent federal cost for construction, responding to the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish during Katrina and the devastating role the MRGO played in this event.
Given the extent and urgency of the restoration needs, however, we call on the state of Louisiana, the Corps and potentially other federal agencies to work together to identify all available funding sources and ensure restoration moves forward in a timely manner. All parties involved should be present to work, first and foremost, to ensure timely implementation of comprehensive MRGO ecosystem restoration, as mandated by Congress. We are painfully aware that, every day, the MRGO ecosystem further deteriorates and communities remain at risk.
We welcome this opportunity for the federal court to resolve the cost share dispute. But no matter how the ruling comes down, the bigger question remains: Where will the funds come from to pay for the $3 billion in restoration projects outlined in the MRGO ecosystem restoration plan? Billions of dollars will have to be appropriated by Congress. It is our job, as stakeholders in the resiliency and safety of the Greater New Orleans Area and as citizens who care about justice being served for the communities and ecosystem torn apart by the MRGO, to ensure that our leaders in Congress clearly understand the importance of this restoration effort and that they find the will to get it done. Learn more and take action at www.MRGOmustGO.org.No Comments
By Alisha Renfro, Coastal Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
The Mississippi River is one of the most managed river systems in the world. However, that management has focused on navigation and flood control needs to the detriment of the economically and ecologically important coastal Louisiana landscape. This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) hosted a public meeting in New Orleans to present information and preliminary results of their joint effort on the Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study. This large-scale, long-term study is developing tools to evaluate different combinations of restoration projects in an effort to address the long-term sustainability of the Mississippi River and its delta while balancing the needs of navigation, flood protection and restoration.
The scope of the study extends from Vicksburg, Miss. south to the Bird’s Foot delta. The study is actually comprised of two coupled, but somewhat distinct, efforts. The hydrodynamic portion of the study will focus on characterizing the dynamics in the river and developing models that can be used to evaluate river-side changes due to proposed freshwater and sediment diversion projects. It will also inform location and design of these projects to maximize their effectiveness and minimize the potential for shoaling in the river’s navigation channel. The delta management part of the study will focus on the basin-side benefits and changes caused by these restoration projects. The delta management portion of the study has not yet begun. Currently, the state of Louisiana and the Army Corps are working to define the depth and breadth of that part of the study.
The afternoon session of the meeting focused on detailed technical presentations on the study. The different tasks of the Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study include a geomorphic assessment, data collection and an extensive modeling effort. The geomorphic assessment focuses on compiling historical river data, dredging records and satellite imagery to document the historical trends in the river. The data collection effort will compile existing data and conduct field work to fill in gaps in understanding of the water and sediment dynamics that currently exist in the river. The historical data and present data will be integrated into the modeling work to inform the models and to ensure that the models capture the dynamics of the river system. The modeling effort includes a suite of models that each has different strengths and weaknesses. These models will be used to forecast the large-scale, long-term and shorter-term regional changes expected in the river in both a future without river diversions and a future that includes different combinations of diversion projects.
The presentations from the technical meeting indicate that this collaborative state of Louisiana and Army Corps effort has moved forward significantly since it began. The geomorphic assessment has been completed and a final report on its results is expected by the end of this year. The data collection effort is ongoing, having captured the low discharge of the river last year and the higher flow discharge from this past spring. Many of the preliminary model simulations have begun, and the preliminary results presented at this meeting emphasized the dynamic nature of the Mississippi River system, where water discharge, sediment transport and deposition can not only vary greatly from year to year, but also from week to week. The preliminary results also point to the importance of appropriate size, location and operation of sediment diversions in order to maximize sediment conveyance into adjacent wetlands and to reduce potential riverside impacts.
The Mississippi River has been a key feature in the growth and development of the U.S. However, for more than 80 years, the management of the river has focused on balancing the needs of navigation and flood control. A shift away from that management scheme towards one that balances navigation, flood control and restoration is absolutely critical for the survival of the delta ecosystem and, ultimately, the communities and navigation industry that depend on the Mississippi River Delta. The Hydrodynamic and Delta Management study is poised to be the effort that changes the way we think about management of the river and how we build a more sustainable, holistic system for our future.No Comments
By Amanda Moore, Greater New Orleans Program Manager, National Wildlife Federation
Last Thursday evening, the City of New Orleans hosted their 2nd in a series of coastal restoration public forums. Community members came to hear Drue Banta, Counsel to the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, talk about ways to advance coastal restoration in Louisiana through use of BP oil disaster funds. Ms. Banta spoke to a crowd of about 75 people, including neighborhood leaders, parish officials, landowners, fishermen, legislators, academia and non-profit leaders. The forum explored topics such as the difference between the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and the Clean Water Act, the process through which those dollars will be coming to Louisiana, and who is responsible for planning and implementation of projects with each source of funding.
Since July 2012, the coastal restoration forums, held in partnership with National Wildlife Federation, have brought New Orleans community members face to face and in direct dialogue with coastal decision-makers from the Army Corps of Engineers, the governor’s office, and staff from U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu’s office. As coastal restoration efforts continue to build momentum, National Wildlife Federation and the City of New Orleans will continue to provide these opportunities for public engagement, in an effort to inform not only the community about the latest developments, but also to inform officials closely tied to the restoration process about community concerns and interests. This communication is critical for strong project planning and a healthy coast.
Charles Allen, Director and Advisor for Coastal and Environmental Affairs with the City of New Orleans, explains the purpose of the public outreach effort. “Our goal is to keep the people in the New Orleans area informed and engaged about the many complexities of coastal restoration and the urgency of advancing the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan to protect our communities for generations to come. There is a great promise that new funding sources will eventually start to flow into our state to address this need. As a result, we feel our community should be kept informed so they can further shape the state’s coastal restoration agenda as it evolves and moves forward.”
Check back for information on future coastal restoration public forums.1 Comment
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
On September 6, restoration along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) passed another important milestone with completion of the final public comment period for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ planning process. It’s a milestone worth honoring, because almost 49,000 people commented on the plan and the need to prioritize restoration of the area. These comments were collected through nonprofit organizations affiliated with the MRGO Must Go Coalition, and since last year, over 75,000 people have shared their voice of support for the Coalition’s recommendations for MRGO ecosystem restoration during the public comment process. That is, by far, a record for the Corps of Engineers New Orleans District and goes to show how important this restoration effort is for the Greater New Orleans area.
“The corps needs to listen to the will of the people and address the ecosystem damaged by the MRGO. It’s time for the corps to step up to their responsibility and move on this work,” said John Koeferl, member of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association in the Lower Ninth Ward.
Despite this loud demand for urgent and comprehensive restoration, the Corps of Engineers is considering a recommendation of no further action on the MRGO ecosystem restoration report, due to a dispute over who will pay for the projects. A formal decision is still being made on the recommendation by the Chief of Engineers and is expected this week.
Of course, the need for restoration transcends a policy dispute. The MRGO report, which is more than four years beyond its congressional deadline, contains the corps’ plan to restore a portion of more than 600,000 acres of coastal wetlands and waterways impacted by the MRGO shipping channel. The MRGO has been directly linked to intensifying the destruction of Hurricane Katrina by destroying the wetlands that once buffered the Greater New Orleans area from storm surge.
In addition to the Coalition’s recommendation that the Corps of Engineers move forward on plan implementation, other major recommendations were offered to the corps, including prioritizing the 19 projects listed in the corps’ report that are also addressed in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, as well as expeditiously moving forward the Violet Freshwater Diversion. The majority of marsh creation, marsh nourishment and swamp creation features depend on river reintroduction, and the Violet Diversion project will allow for salinity control, sediment delivery to the Central Wetlands area, and better adaptation to sea level rise.
To learn more about the MRGO Must Go Coalition and our recommendations, please visit www.MRGOmustGO.org.No Comments
Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation, 504-442-2702
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, 504-421-7348
For Immediate Release:
(September 26, 2012—New Orleans) The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed its March decision on Army Corps liability for catastrophic flood damage related to the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) during Hurricane Katrina, giving the Army Corps immunity under the discretionary-function exception of the Federal Tort Claims Act. Still, the Court acknowledged the MRGO “greatly aggravated the storm’s effects on the city” and the Corps “abused its discretion.”
“MRGO operation followed a multi-decadal pattern of failed policy and inadequate execution, which blithely ignored the egregious wetland loss and ominous threat the MRGO posed to St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans,” said Dr. John Lopez, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. “Due to the Corps’ failure to correct the issue, the MRGO destroyed communities and cost lives.”
Today, the MRGO damage remains unmitigated. Over 600,000 acres of coastal habitat were impacted by the MRGO, including tens of thousands of acres of protective wetlands that surround the Greater New Orleans area. Despite a call to action by Congress in 2006, an Army Corps plan for environmental restoration along the MRGO is still incomplete and facing a recommendation of “no further action” by the Corps due to a policy dispute over who will pay for the restoration projects.
“The stakes are too high for this to end here. The government must do what is right and fix the damage caused by the MRGO before the next catastrophe,” said Amanda Moore, greater New Orleans program manager for National Wildlife Federation.
This statement is supported by National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Gulf Restoration Network, Sierra Club, Levees.org, American Rivers and Global Green.No Comments