Archive for Diversions


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.

developmentcorridors

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 RestoretheCoast.org.

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Ten Years after Katrina, What the BP Settlement Means for Louisiana Restoration

July 16, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 19 Priority Projects, 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Community Resiliency, Diversions, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, K10, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act, Science

By Steve Cochran, Director, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program, Environmental Defense Fund

Ten years ago, just after Hurricane Katrina, I was asked to talk to Environmental Defense Fund’s board about the place where I grew up, the New Orleans area that had been hit so hard.

I remember two things about that discussion. One was my voice breaking unexpectedly (and embarrassingly) as we talked through pictures of the Katrina aftermath and came across places I intimately knew.

As an adult, I had developed a love/hate relationship with my home – loving the beauty, the people, the community and the culture, but frustrated by what I saw as the general tolerance of mediocrity and corrupt politics that limited its possibilities. That frustration had pushed the love down, and I had moved away. But there it was again. Sometimes you don’t know how much you care.

The second thing I remember was saying that the Katrina response was a deep test of our governments – local, state and national. As we know now, in that moment, it was a test they failed. But fast forward to July 2, 2015, the day a global settlement was announced in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill case. It was a day when governments rose to the occasion. The result was literally the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history.

The BP Settlement and Louisiana Coastal Restoration

Under the agreement, Louisiana will receive more than a third of the money – $6.8 billion of the $18.7 billion, and $5.8 billion of that is specifically targeted to restoration. The overall restoration total for Louisiana will likely be just under $8 billion, including early restoration dollars and criminal settlements.

These are significant resources at a critical time. Land loss across the coast of Louisiana, exacerbated by the spill, continues at a fearful rate. But we are making progress against that loss, and with the solid state commitment that now exists, and effective plans in place, these resources will allow us to battle back in earnest, with a clear-eyed view toward success.

In particular, the state plans to re-engage the enormous power of the Mississippi River and its sediment through a series of sediment diversions – using the natural land-building capacity of the river by reconnecting it to the delta it originally built. This science-based, innovative approach is the critical piece in our ability to provide solutions at a scale that can match the challenges in the Mississippi River Delta – now the largest restoration effort under way in the world.

Rebuilding Our Coast to Protect Our Communities

About a month after the spill, I was allowed to sit in on a tribal council of the indigenous United Houma Nation. As the oil continued to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, which it would do for another two months, I listened and watched as a man described, through a quiet voice and uncontrolled tears, how he had always looked to the waters of the Gulf and drawn confidence, knowing he could always provide for his family by accepting its gifts. But now all he could feel was fundamental fear.

Money can’t replace that kind of loss any more than it can bring back the 11 loved ones who lost their lives in the accident.

But we must do what we can – and in that context, the BP settlement is a tremendous step forward, because we can restore the Mississippi River Delta, so it can protect this area in the future.

Details matter, of course, and details remain to be decided as the Agreement in Principle is turned into a consent decree. We need to remain involved and vigilant. But it does seem clear that this agreement combines avoiding years of litigation with levels of funding that can truly make a difference.

With these resources, we can go to work to make sure that the largest environmental settlement in our nation’s history also becomes the most meaningful settlement in a place that, well, I love.

 

 

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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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Bayou Bonjour: Caernarvon Diversion Builds Land and Gives Birth to New Bayou

March 26, 2015 | Posted by jhebert in Diversions, Restoration Projects, Science, Videos

Straddling the border of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes in Southeastern Louisiana is the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion built by the Army Corps of Engineers and operated since 1992 to balance water salinity by funneling river water into coastal marshes.

Lately, the diversion has had indirect effects that are raising eyebrows among scientists and those seeking to find solutions to address the crisis of Louisiana’s disappearing coast. The Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion is creating land at a rapid pace by delivering nutrient-rich river fresh water to bayous that have been starved of sediment and are eroding at an alarming rate.

In a new video, Coordinator of Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation’s Coastal Sustainability Program Dr. John Lopez outlines how approximately 1,000 acres of wetlands have been developed from the Caernarvon Diversion to create a new delta and within it a new bayou known as Bayou Bonjour. The new bayou is named in contrast to the book "Bayou Farewell," foretelling of the tragic loss of our wetlands and bayous. “Caernarvon was not designed or operated to build land,” Lopez notes, yet “Big Mar Pond has been filling up over the last twenty years due to sediment from Caernarvon.” How did this happen? Lopez explains how the diversion has provided an “ideal recipe for building a delta”: (river freshwater + sediments + nutrients = land growth).

Big Mar is located directly behind Braithwaite Park, a Plaquemines Parish community housed outside the federal levee system where devastation from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Isaac occurred. Building land in Big Mar could provide a much-needed buffer for this community and an example for how to protect others like it. “As long as Caernarvon Diversion is flowing, this waterway and others like it will develop and this gives us hope in Louisiana that we can rebuild our coast,” says Lopez. In addition, recently planted cypress trees are thriving and will provide additional environmental and flood protection benefit as a new "line of defense."

Take a tour of Bayou Bonjour:

Want to learn more about the Caernarvon Diversion and other solutions for restoring the Mississippi River Delta? Visit mississippiriverdelta.org, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. You can also share the video with your network using the following tweet:

  • Introducing Bayou Bonjour: Caernarvon Diversion has created an “ideal recipe for building a delta” #RestoreOurCoast http://youtu.be/5TExITZM2Wg
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River diversion model debuted at Plaquemines Parish Orange Festival

January 9, 2015 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Diversions, Hurricanes, Meetings/Events, Restoration Projects

By Philip Russo, Outreach Coordinator, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition

Land along a river has long been coveted for its agricultural productivity, but few rivers can compete with the mighty Mississippi.

Philip Russo shows off with the Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition's diversion model at the Plaquemines Orange Festival.

Philip with the Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition's diversion model.

With a drainage basin stretching across 31 U.S. states and parts of Canada, it is no surprise that the Mississippi River carries a lot of sediment. Historically, the river would deposit this sediment near its mouth in what is now southeast Louisiana, creating new land. But since leveeing of the river, the majority of this sediment is lost out the mouth of the river and into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Near the mouth of the Mississippi, the final 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish is home to prodigious citrus farming land. And with cool temperatures and clear skies, the weather of early December was ripe for the 68th Annual Plaquemines Parish Orange Festival.

Plaquemines Orange Festival

Sunset at the Orange Festival

Nestled between the Mississippi River levee and historic Fort Jackson, the focus of the festival is all things citrus. In Louisiana, that means copious displays of red navels, tangelos, ruby red grapefruits, sweet oranges, satsumas, kumquats and more.

While we attended and blogged about our trip down to the Orange Festival last year, this was the first year we actively engaged the crowds about protecting and restoring our coast – and we got to do so while debuting our tabletop river delta model! Watch this short video of the diversion model in action.

There are some sections of Plaquemines Parish where the distance between the Mississippi River levee and the Barataria Bay levee is only a few hundred yards, so Plaquemines residents are familiar with and usually eager to talk about their coast. But having a model demonstrating the process which built the very land everyone is standing adds another dimension to conversations about restoring barrier islands, ridges and marsh.

Fort Jackson entrance to the festival.

Fort Jackson entrance to the festival.

This year’s Orange Festival celebrated yet another successful harvest, but the celebration – originally organized in 1947 to promote Plaquemines’ citrus crop – has known its setbacks, most significantly due to Hurricanes Betsy, Camille and Katrina. If we are going to ensure the success of future harvests, we need to restore our multiple lines of defense against storm surge and maintain our protective coastal wetlands with strategically located and operated diversions along the river.

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What can the Caernarvon Diversion and Bohemia Spillway teach us about coastal restoration?

December 23, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Diversions, Reports, Restoration Projects, Science

By Theryn Henkel, Ph.D., Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation

The Coastal Sustainability Program at the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) recently released an article titled “Examination of Deltaic Processes of Mississippi River Outlets–Caernarvon Delta and Bohemia Spillway in Southeastern Louisiana in the Gulf Coastal Association of Geological Societies Journal. The article details work that LPBF has done investigating the development of the Caernarvon Delta and operation of the Bohemia Spillway, both located in Plaquemines Parish, La.

Natural land-building deltaic processes of the Mississippi River Delta have been severely limited by artificial river levees, which prevent water and sediment from flowing over the banks during spring floods. To counteract the effects of severing the connection between the river and the delta, focus has been placed on reconnecting the river to the surrounding wetlands by the creation of artificial outlets, also called diversions.

The Caernarvon Diversion

The Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion was designed to deliver up to 8,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from the Mississippi River. For reference, a flow rate of 8,000 cfs could fill up an Olympic-size swimming pool in 11 seconds or the Superdome in 4.5 hours. The Mississippi River also contains sediment that is carried along with the fresh water through the Caernarvon Diversion into the adjacent wetlands or open water, where it can nourish the wetlands and/or build land.

Record of Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion discharge and turbidity for 2012, as an example of the discrepancy between timing of diversion operations and sediment spikes entering the Caernarvon Receiving Basin. Also illustrated is the under- operation of the diversion during high stage events in the Mississippi River. The difference between the solid blue area and the hachured is the potential additional flow that was not allowed due to management of the diversion. The orange line is the turbidity of the discharge, which shows that the few times when the diversion was operated at higher flow it was often not when turbidity was elevated.

Record of Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion discharge and turbidity for 2012, as an example of the discrepancy between timing of diversion operations and sediment spikes entering the Caernarvon Receiving Basin.

LPBF collects data on the turbidity, or cloudiness, of the water diverted through the diversion. Through established equations, the cloudiness of the water can be related to sediment load or the amount of sediment carried in the water. From this, it was calculated that the total amount of sediment carried into the wetlands and open waters areas from 2009 to 2012 was 264,000 cubic yards, or a volume equal to 81 swimming pools. Due to other considerations, the diversion is not always operated when the sediment load in the river is high and therefore does not maximize potential sediment capture. Despite this variability in operation of the diversion – and the fact that the Caernarvon Diversion was built to minimize sediment capture, as it was built solely for salinity control, not land building – there actually has been enough sediment diverted by the Caernarvon Diversion to build a new delta. Total wetland growth of the delta in the open water area receiving diverted water from 1998 to 2011 was 600 acres. This new wetland area is lush and thriving with a variety of plant species (trees and herbaceous) growing, and alligators, birds and insects abound.

The Bohemia Spillway

The Bohemia Spillway is an 11-mile stretch along the east side of Mississippi River south of New Orleans where the federal protection levees were removed. It was created in 1926 by the removal of existing artificial river levees, thereby allowing river water to flow over the banks and into the adjacent wetlands when the river was high. This overflowing process is how the river would have operated historically.

Location of the Caernarvon Diversion and Bohemia Spillway in relation to New Orleans and other river outlets.

Location of the Caernarvon Diversion and Bohemia Spillway in relation to New Orleans and other river outlets.

In 2011, the Mississippi River watershed experienced an historic flood which provided an ideal opportunity to investigate and study how the spillway operates. When the river overflows its banks, if brings fresh water, nutrients and sediment to the wetlands. This cannot happen when the connection is cut off by levees. The severing of the connection of the river to the wetlands is one of the contributing factors to the high rates of land loss rates experienced by southeast Louisiana.

Current land loss rates in the Bohemia Spillway are negligible, perhaps due to receiving inputs of fresh water, nutrients and sediment during high river events since 1926. We have not observed delta formation in the Bohemia Spillway, as we did at the Caernarvon Diversion, but we have observed the infilling of defunct navigation and oil and gas canals as they slowly convert back to land.

In many parts of Louisiana’s coast, man-made canals often contribute to increased land loss. Poorly maintained canals erode and become wider, and salt water is conveyed through the canals into adjacent fresh marshes, killing plants and converting land to open water. Therefore, seeing canals infilling and low rates of land loss in the Bohemia Spillway indicates that the restoration of somewhat normal processes, by reconnecting the river to the wetlands since 1926, has had a positive effect on the area.

Looking Ahead

For both Bohemia Spillway and the Caernarvon Diversion, there are clearly benefits to sustaining or increasing wetland areas. However, the two outlets also provide a contrast in the future possibilities. Precisely replicating the Bohemia Spillway by levee removal is generally not feasible because of the ongoing need for protection from river floods. However, a controlled diversion built and operated to more efficiently capture and deliver sediment in ways that emulate more natural processes, such as in the Bohemia Spillway, may hold great promise for coastal restoration, rather than the obsolete design and operational goals of a diversion such as Caernarvon.

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Diversions Expert Panel engages scientific community for second public meeting

May 1, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Diversions, Meetings/Events, Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, Restoration Projects, Science

By Erin Greeson (National Audubon Society) and Alisha Renfro (National Wildlife Federation)

While there is no question that large-scale action is urgently needed to add address Louisiana’s land loss crisis, some questions surround the scientific solutions necessary to address this challenge. As the state of Louisiana advances its Coastal Master Plan and the comprehensive set of restoration projects within it, experts have opened discussion to scientists and interested members of the public to provide information, share science and encourage dialogue.

This week in New Orleans, the Expert Panel on Diversion Planning and Implementation had their second meeting, which offered an opportunity to reconvene for updates and discussion on sediment diversions – one of the key tools in Louisiana’s coastal restoration toolbox. In addition to addressing environmental concerns, the panel addressed social and economic questions about river diversions and the communities they will impact.

Sediment-starved-sediment-wasted-CPRA

At the start of the meeting, Mr. King Milling, Chair of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation, delivered a powerful reminder of Louisiana’s disappearing coast:

“Demise of this delta would be an environmental impact of international proportions: disaster for economy, culture, communities – all the things we do and live for in the delta. If we don’t proceed urgently, we will lose the delta. Nothing will stop this damage if we don’t proceed in an orderly fashion with large-scale, comprehensive solutions. This is not a time for debate. Our role is to address the issue of remarkable deterioration, and the state’s diversion committee will be addressing issues and conflicts. Its position is to focus on the larger picture of how we can preserve as much as we can, and how can we create a system that will protect as much as we can.”

2012-Master-Plan-Coastwide1

The first day of the meeting was open to the public, and the agenda reflected many of the areas of focus that require follow-up from the panel’s first meeting. Presentations from the Army Corps of Engineers, The Water Institute of the Gulf and Biedenharn Group focused on the Hydrodynamic Study, which is collecting data in the river and using models to represent conditions in the river as it is today, predicting what the river will be like in the future without diversion projects and how the construction and operation of diversion projects change the river compared to the future without the diversions. They also briefly discussed the Mississippi River Delta Management Study, expected to begin soon, which will focus on the basin-side effects of diversions and evaluate combinations of diversion projects that maximize the number of acres of wetlands built or sustained over time.

Presentations from David Lindquist from the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) summarized the current state of knowledge on fisheries and wildlife response to existing freshwater diversions. Craig Colten, Ph.D. from the Water Institute of the Gulf highlighted the importance of considering the influences of restoration projects on communities.

A presentation from Micaela Coner and Bob Beduhn narrowed the discussion down to the engineering and design considerations of a single project – the Mid-Barataria Diversion. Ms. Coner, CPRA, discussed the Mid-Barataria sediment diversion project within the context of the 109 Coastal Master Plan projects. Speaking to the plan’s theme of reconnecting the river with its estuaries, she described sediment diversions as the best opportunity to build, maintain and sustain land.

Dr. Robert Twilley, Louisiana State University

Dr. Robert Twilley

Dr. Robert Twilley, Louisiana State University, described how the river once built natural resource wealth: “Natural resource economies and the flooding of the river once coexisted. The wealth of fisheries, and the wealth of the river building wetlands, once coexisted. Today, there’s a conflict. Historically, the river built land during big flood events. Nature had this figured out. We’re forcing a conflict. There is a resolution to this.”

During the closing portion of the meeting, attendees had opportunities to provide comments to the Expert Panel. Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition leaders were among the conversation.

David Muth

David Muth, NWF

David Muth of the National Wildlife Federation urged the panel to consider the historical context of the river in addressing site-specific questions about diversions: “We have glimpses from historical record about how productive this system once was. But for the past 300 years, we have been choking off that system.”

John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation described the coastal land loss crisis in powerful terms and underscored for a sense of urgency: “This house is on fire. Lives are at risk. We have a great scientific challenge, but we don’t have time to delay.”

More background on the Expert Panel:

During its first meeting in January, the Expert Panel was asked to focus on the topics of uncertainty – underlying natural variability and limitations in knowledge – they perceived surrounding the design and operation of major freshwater and sediment diversions. A report summarizing their findings and recommendations from that first meeting was released in February.

In this report the panel focused on identifying six areas that should be answered or considered as sediment diversions move further from idea into planning, engineering and design:

  1. Data collection is important for understanding the system as it is today and for evaluating performance of individual diversion projects.
  2. A controlled sediment diversion does not currently exist, but some information needed to understand the time scales and extent of land building that could be expected from a controlled sediment diversion can be gleaned from natural crevasses.
  3. The response of plant, fish and wildlife communities to the operation of sediment diversions should be incorporated into modeling of different scenarios, both capacity and operation, of a diversion.
  4. The potential social and economic influences of a diversion project need to be considered to minimize any potential negative impacts that can be foreseen.
  5. Planning and design of diversion projects need to be explored under present day and possible future conditions (e.g. sea level rise, changes in precipitation) to maximize project success in the very near and long-term future.
  6. Communications between planners and stakeholders to discuss the realities and limitations of any predictions is essential for project success.
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Mississippi River carries enough sand to build new land for at least 600 years, new study suggests

April 28, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Diversions, Reports, Restoration Projects, Science

By Alisha A. Renfro, Ph.D., National Wildlife Federation

As spring weather warms the Midwest, snow melts and drains from 31 states into the Mississippi River. In south Louisiana, the mighty Mississippi River is nearing its peak flow of nearly 900,000 cubic feet of water per second. Rolling down the river with the water is mud and sand, which are essential to building wetlands in the disappearing Mississippi River Delta.

Mississippi River Basin modified from nps.gov

Every hour in Louisiana, a football field of land becomes open water. This land loss crisis is caused in part by levees built for flood protection and navigation which severed the connection between the delta and the river, almost completely halting the land-building processes that once created this iconic landscape.

Sediment diversions are large-scale restoration projects that move sand and mud from the river through the levees into nearby wetlands during high river flows – such as this year’s spring high water flow – to restart the land-building process and help sustain existing wetlands. One important question to understand the full land-building potential of these projects is: Is the Mississippi River a long-term, sustainable source of mud and sand?

A recent Nature Geoscience paper by Jeffrey Nittrouer, Ph.D. of River University and Enrica Viparelli, Ph.D. of the University of South Carolina, “Sand as a stable and sustainable resource for nourishing the Mississippi River delta,” suggests that while the amount of mud carried by the Mississippi River has decreased since the 1970s, the sand it carries has remained steady and may do so for the next 600 years.

The Missouri River is an important source of sediment to the Mississippi, historically supplying about one-half of the total sediment moving down the Mississippi River. However, dams built in the 1950s along the Missouri have been hypothesized as the cause of the large reduction in the amount of total sediment (mud plus sand) that makes its way down to the Mississippi.

In this study, Nittrouer and Viparelli look at changes in the mud and sand carried by the river over a year since the 1970s and found that while the amount of mud that makes it to Tarbert Landing, Miss. (306 miles above the Bird’s Foot delta) has decreased over time, the amount of sand has been consistent. They point out that the likely source of sand is material that is being eroded out of the river channel.

Nittrouer and Enrica applied a model to simulate the response of a sudden reduction in sediment supply that likely occurred with dam construction along the Missouri River in the 1950s. The model indicates that erosion of sand in the river channel between Cairo, Ill. and Vicksburg, Miss. keeps the amount of sand available at Tarbert Landing, Miss. steady for the next 600 years.  

Sand and mud are both needed to restore the Mississippi River Delta. Sand, which is 20 percent of the sediment carried by the river, is essential for building new platforms that can support marsh vegetation. Mud, which makes up the other 80 percent, is necessary for maintaining and increasing the resiliency of existing marsh to sea level rise and storm events.

This study suggests that there is a steady supply of sand to the lowermost part of the Mississippi River that can be put to work by constructing and using sediment diversions to mimic nature to build new land, help sustain existing wetlands and begin the restoration of the Mississippi River Delta. This is positive news for large-scale coastal restoration efforts. 

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Rebuilding coastal Louisiana, using the natural power of the mighty Mississippi

February 12, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2011 Mississippi River Flood, 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Birds, Diversions, Mardi Gras Pass, Restoration Projects, Science

This was originally posted by Environmental Defense Fund on EDF Voices.

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

Soon after my flyover of the Mississippi River Delta, I joined Dr. John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) on a boat ride down the Bohemia Spillway to Mardi Gras Pass. As we sped down the spillway canal, beautiful swamp lilies and purple morning glories popped out against a backdrop of lush, green plants. Once we reached our destination, we saw an incredible number of birds: Laughing Gulls, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue and Tricolored Herons – just to name a few. This, along with an increase in the number of river otters and beavers observed, is a good indicator that there are healthy fish populations in the area.

mardigraspass

Thirty-five miles southeast of New Orleans, Mardi Gras Pass is the Mississippi River’s newest and naturally evolving “distributary,” a channel of water that flows away from the main branch of the river. This new distributary began forming during the spring flood of 2011, when the water level of the Mississippi River was so high that it flowed over the natural levee in this area. When the floodwaters receded, Dr. Lopez and his team of scientists noticed two breaches in the embankment. These breaches continued to widen and deepen and soon, right around Mardi Gras Day 2012, the breach was complete. The Mississippi River was once again connected to the surrounding wetlands, allowing freshwater and land-building sediment back into the area.

Losing Louisiana

Louisiana has lost 25% of its coastal land area since 1930 and continues to lose land at an alarming rate – one football field every hour, on average. Man-made levees along the Mississippi River cut off many small distributaries, like Mardi Gras Pass, from the wetlands in the floodplain of the river and have contributed to this massive wetland loss. Our team here at EDF works with partner organizations, including the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, as part of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition, which has a vision of reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to help protect people, wildlife and jobs in coastal Louisiana.

To address the complex, yet urgent need for coastal restoration in Louisiana, the state legislature unanimously passed the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. This plan is a long-term, science-based restoration program that includes nearly 250 restoration projects such as barrier island restoration, marsh creation, establishment of oyster barrier reefs and sediment diversions that will help rebuild Louisiana’s disappearing coast.

Restoring our coast, restoring my hope

One of the principal guidelines for restoration under the Coastal Master Plan is to address the root causes of land loss by using the natural power of the Mississippi River to build land at a large scale. Sediment diversions, a central component of the plan, embody this principle because they are designed to mimic the natural stages of the river and carry sediment to the areas of coastal Louisiana that need it most. By operating diversions at times of high water flow (like during a flood), large amounts of sediment can be diverted. It will then settle out in the wetlands and shallow bays, eventually building land mass in vulnerable coastal areas.

In a way, Mardi Gras Pass is a naturally occurring ‘pilot project’ of a sediment diversion. Knowledge gained from studying this area can tell us about the land-building properties, as well as the short-term effects, of sediment diversions. To learn more about this, LPBF scientists are studying how the reintroduction of freshwater and sediment to the spillway area is changing the wetlands and affecting wildlife populations.

Swift currents and downed trees along the edge of the flooded forest can make navigating Mardi Gras Pass somewhat treacherous, but we, in a trusty 14’ skiff, maneuvered through the channel and onto the Mississippi River for a brief but thrilling cruise.

This is what it means for the river to be connected to its floodplain, I thought as we emerged out onto the open water, this is what this ecosystem is supposed to be like.

Although I grew up only a few miles from it, this was the third time in my life I had been out on the Mississippi River and the first time it was in a boat small enough that I could reach down and touch its muddy waters. As our tiny boat circled out in that mighty river, despite the heat and the midday sun, I had goose bumps.

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Expert panel discusses diversions as a coastal restoration tool

January 17, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Army Corps of Engineers, Diversions, Meetings/Events, Restoration Projects, Science

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.

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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.

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