Archive for Diversions


National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Announces Nearly $68 Million for Louisiana Restoration Projects

November 14, 2013 | Posted by Ryan Rastegar in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Media Resources, Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, Restoration Projects

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, egreeson@audubon.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, eskree@edf.org

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Announces Nearly $68 Million for Louisiana Restoration Projects

$40.4 million dedicated to Mid-Barataria Diversion, a critical project to comprehensive coastal restoration

(New Orleans, LA – November 14, 2013) Today, leading national and local conservation and restoration organizations – Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following joint statement:

“We applaud the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), in partnership with Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, for dedicating $67.9 million to seven key barrier island and river diversion projects, including $40.4 million for the Mid-Barataria Diversion project. The Barataria Basin has one of the highest rates of land loss in the world, and this large-scale wetland restoration project is crucial to reversing that trend.

“The mid-sized Mid-Barataria sediment diversion is a key component of Louisiana’s 2012 Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. The master plan is a blueprint for restoring the Mississippi River Delta and Louisiana’s coast and contains a suite of coastal restoration and protection projects. Our organizations support the full suite of restoration projects in that plan, of which the Mid-Barataria Diversion is a critical piece.

“Restoration of Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands is important not only to Louisiana but to the entire nation. Louisiana’s wetlands and waters provide one-third of the nation’s seafood, are a stopover point for migratory birds traveling the Mississippi Flyway and provide critical wildlife habitat. Projects like the Mid-Barataria Diversion can help revive Louisiana’s coastal wetlands – part of America’s largest delta – to a productive, functioning state, which provides important ecological and economic opportunities for people and wildlife. We look forward to continued work with both the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the State of Louisiana to implement the Mid-Barataria sediment diversion on its current timeline of being ready for construction in 2015.”

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Recap of Wednesday's Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study Technical Meeting

October 25, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Army Corps of Engineers, Diversions, Meetings/Events, Restoration Projects, Science

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.

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Conservation Groups Respond to Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Environmental Impact Statement Launch

October 8, 2013 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Media Resources, Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS: Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, egreeson@audubon.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, eskree@edf.org

Conservation Groups Respond to Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Environmental Impact Statement Launch

Corps’ intention to conduct EIS seen as crucial step forward

(New Orleans, LA – October 8, 2013) Today, a coalition of leading national and local conservation and restoration organizations – Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation– released the following joint statement:

"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in last Friday’s Federal Register their intention to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement on the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion will be the first major controlled sediment diversion reconnecting the Mississippi River with its delta. It is a cornerstone of the state’s master plan for sustaining our coast.

"The Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign believes that launching the Environmental Impact Statement is an important step forward for the project. Given the urgency of restoring and sustaining our coast, a thorough and rigorous Draft Environmental Impact Statement should be completed by fall of 2014, with final review and permits issued by spring of 2015. We look forward to collaborating with the Corps and its state and federal partners to achieve this exciting and crucial 2015 construction goal. Our coast can’t wait. It's time to get together and get it done.”

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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. Comprised 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 Houma, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. See more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.

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Conservation Groups Issue Statement on New Timeline for Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion

September 20, 2013 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Media Resources, Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACTS: Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, egreeson@audubon.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, eskree@edf.org

Conservation Groups Issue Statement on New Timeline for Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion

 (New Orleans, LA – September 20, 2013) Today, leading national and local conservation and restoration organizations Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation released the following joint statement:

“The Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign commends the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) for adopting an ambitious timeline for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. Announced at the Authority's monthly meeting in New Orleans on September 18, the state plans to complete environmental review, engineering and design documents, and permit applications and submit them to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by Spring 2015. Construction could begin later that year.

“The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion is the first major controlled sediment diversion reconnecting the Mississippi River with its delta. It is a cornerstone of the state’s master plan for sustaining our coast. CPRA’s timeline matches the urgency of our coastal land loss crisis. Funding from BP oil spill settlements makes this schedule altogether feasible.

“We know that the Army Corps of Engineers and the other federal resource agencies consider this project to be a national ecosystem restoration priority and will do everything possible to work with the State to make this schedule a reality. We look forward to collaborating with the State and its federal partners to achieve this exciting and crucial 2015 construction goal. Our coast can’t wait. It's time to get together and get it done.”

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Study demonstrates importance of sediment diversions for building land in the Mississippi River Delta

March 27, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Diversions, Restoration Projects, Science

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

Last week, an independent scientific panel comprised of prominent scientists from throughout the U.S. released a report, “Mississippi River Freshwater Diversions in Southern Louisiana: Effects of Wetland Vegetation, Soils, and Elevation,” which examines some of the ecological effects of freshwater river diversions. The panel concluded that there is little evidence suggesting that the existing freshwater diversions in Louisiana have appreciably reversed the rate of land loss in the region, and that to reverse the land loss trend, significant inputs of sediment are needed. While most of the existing diversions in Louisiana were built to move fresh water only, many of the diversions included in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan focus on sediment capture and conveyance into coastal wetlands.

Freshwater diversions affect basins by reducing salinities. Extensive dredging of canals throughout the Mississippi River Delta’s wetlands has allowed for salt water from the gulf to intrude into wetlands adapted to lower salinity conditions, resulting in large areas of these wetlands dying and being converted to open water. Wetland vegetation is affected directly by the salinity of the water in wetland soil. High salt concentrations in the soil can affect vegetation by reducing the overall rate of photosynthesis, decreasing nutrient uptake and stunting growth rates. Consequently, the introduction of fresh water into wetland communities damaged by saltwater intrusion is vital in any restoration effort.

Freshwater diversions also increase the amount of nutrients introduced into the receiving basin. While increases in nutrient availability to wetland vegetation would presumably stimulate growth, scientific information collected in Louisiana marsh communities have exhibited varying results depending on plant species, nutrient concentrations and the abundance of different types of nutrients. Increasing the amount of nutrients may also alter the composition of the plant community, as some species of plants have a competitive advantage when it comes to nutrient uptake and growth.

Locations of sediment diversion projects included in Louisians's 2012 Coastal Master Plan. The brown stippled areas show the diversion impact areas. Credit: CPRA

River diversions can also have an influence on wetland elevation. In order for wetlands to persist over time, processes that increase the surface elevation of the wetlands must be equal to factors that increase the threat of submergence (e.g. sea level rise, storms). Diversions have the potential to promote an increase in the elevation of a wetland by adding mineral sediment to the surface and stimulating plant growth both above and below ground. However, the surface elevation of a wetland could decrease as nutrients become less scarce, as the abundance of vegetation roots decline and as an increase in the breakdown of belowground organic material by bacteria takes place. More scientific studies are needed to enhance our understanding of the relationship between marsh response and river input in order to better predict the net effect that sediment and freshwater diversions may have on different marsh types.

This scientific panel found that any freshwater diversion that does not transport a substantial sediment load is unlikely to reverse the current trend of wetland loss in Louisiana. The 2012 Coastal Master Plan recognizes and addresses this reality by focusing on large-scale diversions that would be capable of transporting significant amounts of river sediment into the nearby wetlands. In addition to shifting the focus of diversions from fresh water to sediment, the panel determined that a formal adaptive management scheme is needed for existing and planned diversions where the goals of the project are clear, the pre-diversion conditions of the affected area are well characterized, monitoring in the outfall area is done to measure the progress of the project in relation to its goals and a process exists to adjust the operation of the structure to increase the likelihood those goals are reached.

Related resources:

 

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Mardi Gras Pass: Compromise will be key

March 4, 2013 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Diversions, Mardi Gras Pass, Science, Videos

By Emily Guidry Schatzel, Communications Manager, National Wildlife Federation

Recent news reports suggest that the potential for compromise exists in the case of Mardi Gras Pass, the newest known distributary of the Mississippi River. The pass was discovered in 2012 when the river cut a channel through its bank in the Bohemia Spillway, a stretch without levees, giving an exciting and rare view at how a natural delta system operates.

While the pass promises ecological prosperity for the delta, the newly enlarged channel washed out the private road that one local oil company uses to access its facilities. The company has since applied for a permit to rebuild that road. Coastal restoration advocates believe that the current plan to rebuild will effectively close the Mardi Gras Pass and will eliminate encouraging ecological benefits that scientists from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation have been monitoring since the channel’s development.

FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

This video further explains the debate over keeping the pass open, and alternatives for compromise. The key takeaway? Whether it be construction of a bridge, or another reasonable alternative that gives the oil company access while allowing Mother Nature to literally “run its course,” this is clearly an issue that requires the full attention of key decision-makers so that the best long-term solution is achieved.

As Dr. John Lopez, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation — the organization that discovered the pass in 2012 — said, “It’s the kind of thing that most scientists sit in their offices there, dreaming how it might happen. Here, you can actually see it.” Keeping Mardi Gras Pass open is important — it’s a chance for the river to reconnect with its wetlands, which is exactly what the river is designed to do.

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Path Forward plan must focus on ecosystem restoration

February 6, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Diversions, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, Job Creation, Reports, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act, Science

By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council recently released "The Path Forward to Restoring the Gulf Coast: A Proposed Comprehensive Plan." The RESTORE Act, signed into law in July, required the newly created Restoration Council to publish a Proposed Plan within six months of the legislation becoming law. Only six pages in length, the Path Forward provides a general framework for the Restoration Council to follow while developing their more robust Initial Comprehensive Plan, due out in July 2013. Moving forward, it is important that the Restoration Council create a Comprehensive Plan concentrated on restoring Gulf Coast ecosystems, which are the backbone of a healthy and thriving gulf economy.

Following the 2010 gulf oil disaster, Congress passed the RESTORE Act to ensure robust restoration of the Gulf Coast. Through the RESTORE Act, Congress developed a framework for federal and state officials to undertake comprehensive restoration. Congress provided money for restoration by ensuring at least 30 percent of funds under the RESTORE Act are dedicated to ecosystem projects. To oversee much of the restoration, the RESTORE Act establishes a highly experienced body of federal and state stakeholders, known at the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. Finally, the law requires the Restoration Council to develop a scientifically-based Comprehensive Plan to guide ecosystem restoration projects to implementation. The “Path Forward” document is a first step to building a plan for ecosystem restoration.

Allocation of RESTORE Act Funds (Source: The Path Forward to Restoring the Gulf Coast: A Proposed Comprehensive Plan).

As expected, and required by law, the Path Forward builds on the work and recommendations of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, which was led by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Task Force strategy had four overarching goals: habitat restoration, restore water quality, replenish marine resources and enhance community resilience. The newly released Path Forward adds a fifth goal of revitalizing the gulf economy. Moving forward, it is important for the Restoration Council to ensure that funds dedicated to the Comprehensive Plan are used solely for ecosystem restoration projects. After all, numerous studies have shown that ecosystem restoration supports economic restoration, including healthy tourism and fishing industries. New jobs created by the ecosystem restoration projects help protect existing infrastructure, rebuild critical wetlands, and create a new export industry focused on coastal and delta restoration.

Initial Comprehensive Plan Development Timeline (Source: The Path Forward to Restoring the Gulf Coast: A Proposed Comprehensive Plan).

We are excited about the Restoration Council’s commitment to long-term recovery in the gulf. In the Path Forward, the Restoration Council has reaffirmed their plans to invest in “specific actions, projects, and programs that can be carried out in the near-term to help ensure on-the-ground results to restore the overall health of the ecosystem.” By incorporating the best available science and adapting the Comprehensive Plan over time to incorporate new science, the plan can advance innovative ecosystem restoration solutions, like freshwater sediment diversions.

We look forward to the next draft of the Comprehensive Plan due out sometime before July.

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Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council Convenes for First Time, Discusses Restoration Plan

December 18, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Diversions, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, Meetings/Events, RESTORE Act

By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

Last week, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council held its first public meeting in Mobile, Ala. to update residents on the progress of implementing the RESTORE Act. The law, which Congress passed in June 2012, dedicates 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the BP oil spill back to the Gulf Coast for restoration. Those fines, expected to reach billions of dollars, will help stabilize and revive troubled ecosystems across the Gulf Coast.

The Council was created by the RESTORE Act to develop a long-term ecosystem restoration plan for the region. This plan is expected to reverse coastal land loss, create new marshland and rebuild fisheries and marine environments across the Gulf Coast. At this week’s meeting, Council members recognized that challenges lie ahead, but they are optimistic they have the resources and expertise necessary to revive the Gulf Coast.

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council held its first public meeting December 11, 2012 in Mobile, Ala. Source: www.restorethegulf.gov

The Restoration Council is a diverse group of federal agency and state representatives who are tasked with developing an ecosystem restoration plan to address the varying needs of complex and diverse environments stretching across five states. To develop a comprehensive and multidisciplinary plan, the Council will rely on the expertise housed in its federal member agencies and state partners, including the Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Coast Guard, Army and Department of Agriculture. The federal agencies will be joined by the governors from each of the five gulf states.

The basis of the restoration plan has already been developed by a similar, and often overlapping in membership, group of federal and state partners known as the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Following the 2010 BP oil disaster, President Obama commissioned the group to study the environment of the Gulf Coast and submit a holistic restoration strategy. The Task Force produced a Gulf Coast restoration strategy document in December 2011, which identified four key areas of restoration: habits restoration, water quality improvement, marine resources protection and community resiliency enhancement.

In September 2012, the President released an Executive Order which rolled the Task Force’s strategy into the planning process of the comprehensive plan being developed by the RESTORE Act’s Restoration Council. This means we can expect the Restoration Council’s comprehensive restoration plan to look similar to the Task Force’s strategy document.

Of particular importance to the Comprehensive Plan will be incorporating the Task Force’s strategy recommendation to stabilize and reverse land loss along Louisiana’s coast through the use of sediment diversions. Sediment diversions are recommended as a key Mississippi River Delta restoration tool in both the Task Force strategy and Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan.

The Restoration Council plans to meet multiple times over the next few months to update the public on the progress of developing the comprehensive plan, which must be finished by June 2013. The Council will fund the comprehensive plan with 30 percent of the money dedicated to the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund established by the RESTORE Act. That could mean billions of dollars for ecosystem restoration projects and programs identified by the plan. This is welcome news for all those who rely on the Gulf Coast for recreation, seafood, energy and their livelihoods.

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Study on sedimentation will help planners develop effective river diversions

December 4, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2011 Mississippi River Flood, 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Diversions, Reports, Science

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

This year, drought conditions throughout most of the country have left the Mississippi River flowing at a near all-time low. This is a stark comparison to 2011, when heavy rains and a large snowmelt in the spring sent record levels of water and sediment flowing down the river. At the Old River Control Structure north of Baton Rouge, the flow of the river is split, with 70 percent continuing down the Mississippi to the Bird’s Foot delta, and the remaining 30 percent flowing down the Atchafalaya River. During the 2011 flood, the flood protection levees and the opening of the Morganza and Bonnet Carré spillways successfully shunted water safely past the high population centers in the region. However, this event was a missed opportunity to capitalize on the influx of fresh water and sediment and to reconnect the river with sediment-starved wetlands of Louisiana.

In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, research led by Federico Falcini, Ph.D. examined the link between the historic 2011 river flood and sediment accumulation in nearby wetlands. Their analysis suggested that the natural dynamics of the coastal system coupled with man-made alterations to the river system influenced the amount of sediment deposited in the wetlands. This work shows that under river flood conditions, diverting the flow of the river into shallow basins adjacent to the river could contribute significantly to sediment deposition in the wetlands and therefore contribute to wetland growth.

Mississippi River sediment plumes, as viewed from space (May 17, 2011). Credit: NASA Modis imagery

In the study, the sediment plumes of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers were tracked using satellite imagery from the 2011 flood event to understand where the sediment went once it exited these rivers. The Mississippi’s sediment plume exited the river in focused jets of sediment-laden water due to the confinement of much of the river’s flow between artificial levees. This plume moved past the coastal current and into the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico, limiting the amount of sediment that could be deposited in the near-shore area and adjacent wetlands. In contrast, the Atchafalaya’s sediment plume exited the river and moved along a broad, near-shore area, mixing with waters from the Gulf of Mexico and creating conditions that were likely to favor sediment deposition.

A comparison of sediment accumulation during the 2011 flood in nearby marshes shows a trend that corresponds to the difference in behavior of the two river plumes. Sediment accumulation was highest at marsh sites near the Atchafalaya River, which supports the idea that its sediment plume spreading out over a large area in relatively shallow water, promoting increased sedimentation in the region. Sediment accumulation in wetlands near the mouth of the Mississippi River was substantial, but significantly lower than near the Atchafalaya. While the Mississippi River carried a larger sediment load during the 2011 flood event, much of the sediment was lost to the deeper waters of the gulf.

Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan identifies several sediment diversions that are key to restoring the important coastal Louisiana landscape. The success of these diversions will depend on a variety of factors, including location and operation. However, this new research confirms that fine sediments introduced into shallow water can substantially contribute to sediment accumulation in wetlands. In order to restore the rapidly deteriorating wetlands of coastal Louisiana, it is critical to reintroduce the sediment that once built this productive region.

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What the BP criminal settlement means for Gulf Coast restoration

November 29, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Diversions, RESTORE Act

By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

Just in time for the holidays, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) delivered welcomed and unexpected good news for Gulf Coast restoration efforts. On November 15, DOJ announced they had reached a settlement with BP on all criminal charges related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. But what was expected to be a simple press conference outlining the details of the criminal plea agreement turned out to be a huge $2.4 billion win for Gulf Coast restoration.

For the last two years, the Department of Justice has been working to bring criminal and civil charges against BP for its involvement in the deadly rig explosion and nation’s largest environmental disaster. On the criminal side, DOJ claimed BP broke a number of securities violations and environmental laws.  Environmental laws often contain provisions that allow the government to pursue criminal charges when the party is suspected of acting negligently during the incident. Criminal charges can carry hefty fines, require probation and may lead to the imprisonment of company officials. BP plead guilty to all criminal charges brought by DOJ and agreed to pay $4 billion in fines.

Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling unit on fire (April 20, 2010). Source: U.S. Coast Guard

Criminal fines are separate from the civil fines the company will pay for violations under the Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Act in a forthcoming settlement or trial. The RESTORE Act, passed by Congress in June of this year, will direct 80 percent of civil fines to Gulf Coast restoration. The RESTORE Act does not capture criminal fines, which generally flow to the U.S. Treasury, or natural resource damage money assessed under the Oil Pollution Act.

The agreement reached by DOJ and BP is unprecedented for two reasons. One, the criminal fines assessed by DOJ, and agreed to by BP, are the largest ever levied against a corporation. If the criminal fine is any indication of the seriousness to which DOJ is pursuing civil charges under the Clean Water Act, then those fines could reach the $21 billion mark that some analysts have predicted. Whatever the amount, 80 percent will be returned to the Gulf Coast for restoration under the RESTORE Act.

The second reason the agreement reached by DOJ is unprecedented is the fact that the agency allocated more than half of the fine money – $2.4 billion – for Gulf Coast environmental restoration. Neither the gulf states nor coastal restoration planners expected DOJ to unilaterally direct money to environmental restoration.

What’s even more exciting is that $1.2 billion of this money is reserved to advance sediment diversions and barrier island restoration projects in the rapidly-disappearing Mississippi River Delta. Sediment diversions reconnect the Mississippi River, which is full of vital freshwater, sediment, and nutrients, with adjacent dying wetlands that have been cut off from the river by manmade levees.

Dedicating this much money towards restoration of the Gulf Coast signals that the Administration recognizes the importance of the gulf to the nation, and perhaps more pointedly, the importance of the Mississippi River Delta to the gulf. With its recently passed 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Louisiana is well-situated to devote money from the BP oil spill to critical restoration projects in the delta. We applaud the Department of Justice for their recognition of this important issue and encourage them to pursue civil Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Act penalties with the same vindication, so the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River Delta can be restored and revitalized.

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