Archive for Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)


The Billion Dollar Question: Who pays for MRGO ecosystem restoration?

December 10, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Army Corps of Engineers, Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

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.

Degraded marsh at lower end of the Central Wetlands near the MRGO.

Degraded marsh at lower end of the Central Wetlands near the MRGO.

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.

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The Next 50 Years: Funding features for the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan

July 17, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Coastal Master Plan series, Congress, Federal Policy, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), RESTORE Act, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

By Cynthia Duet, Director of Governmental Relations, National Audubon Society

Louisiana’s recently passed 2012 Coastal Master Plan contains an ambitious mix of risk-reduction and restoration projects spread across the entire Louisiana coastal area. Such ambition does, however, come with a price — costing an estimated $50 billion over 50 years, and so the plan is also frank in its account of the uncertainties and complexities of funding and creating a sustainable coastal Louisiana ecosystem. To reverse generations of massive and ongoing land loss, encroaching sea level rise and a decade of natural and manmade disasters, the funding challenge must be met head on.

The state acknowledges the need to quickly begin the large-scale work laid out in the plan. At the same time, project implementation depends on funding from a myriad of sources. These projects will also be implemented by various actors — some projects by Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), others by local or federal partners. Progress will be tracked through the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Annual Plan, which will identify specific projects, schedules and funding streams.

So now that the plan is passed, does the funding exist to implement the plan?

In recent years, and in brighter economic times, the Louisiana Legislature authorized a generous allocation of state surplus dollars — a total of $790 million between 2007 and 2009 — to accelerate implementation of priority projects for the coast. Additionally, the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP), established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, provided nearly $500 million to the state of Louisiana and its coastal parishes, the bulk of which was obligated and spent on critical protection and restoration projects in fiscal years 2007-2010. These dollars, accompanied by the long-standing Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) dollars (approximately $80 million per year to which the state matches 15%), the Louisiana Coastal Area Program (LCA) dollars and related federal funds through the Water Resources Development Act  of 2007 (WRDA), are the foundation upon which the coastal program has been funded to date.

On the horizon are revenues from the sale of mineral leases and royalty revenue from oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico that have been dedicated to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Trust fund through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Securities Act of 2006 (GOMESA). Though funding from this program has trickled through in modest increments since 2007, larger revenue streams from these royalties will be available in 2017 when “Phase II” of that program begins. Estimates of funding for Louisiana from this source have ranged up to $500 million annually on the high end, but the true figures are nearly impossible to pin down because they are tied to new leasing and drilling activities in the gulf.

As the state continues to ramp up its coastal efforts, bringing more and larger projects to construction, more money is required in the short term to fill the gap between now and 2017, when the GOMESA funding is realized. Some significant recent commitments to funding have come in the form of post-Deepwater Horizon oil spill commitments:

  • On July 6, 2012, the President signed into law the transportation funding bill which contains the RESTORE Act, a landmark piece of legislation that dedicates 80 percent of all Clean Water Act penalties and fines from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to projects in the gulf states for environmental and economic recovery. The settlement has yet to be reached that will ultimately determine the exact value of those dollars to be directed to impacted gulf states, but the range is somewhere between $5 and $21 billion.

For planning purposes, the Coastal Master Plan was crafted using reasonable budget projections and a conservative view of what is likely to be received by the state in the coming decades — a range of between $20 and $50 billion (in present value dollars) over the next 50 years. This range was further defined and annualized, and an estimated $400 million to $1 billion per year was the result.

The Coastal Master Plan emphasizes that funds are not guaranteed and that funding levels are based on the state’s best “educated guess.” Funds will not arrive at once but will be spaced over the next 50 years; and much of the expected funding is tied to CWPPRA (about $80 million per year, requiring a reauthorization in 2019), GOMESA (about $110 million per year after 2017), LCA (about $150 milllion per year), the RESTORE Act and NRDA.

In summary, insufficient funding has been the Achilles’ heel of coastal work for decades. Though this will remain the case for years to come, as the implementation of the large and ambitious 2012 Coastal Master Plan begins to unfold, the necessary elements are finally beginning to come together for a hopeful future. Through continued efforts by the State of Louisiana, its delegation leaders, the U.S. Congress and a bit of urging by our own NGO partners, we can all work together to make the Coastal Master Plan’s vision a reality. 

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Two Years Later: Dolphins Struggling

April 19, 2012 | Posted by Lacey McCormick in BP Oil Disaster, NOAA, Two Years Later, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

Two years after the start of the BP oil spill, dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico are dying in unprecedented numbers. This month marks a record-shattering 26 consecutive months of above-average dolphin strandings. Only 5 percent of the stranded dolphins were recovered alive and their prognosis was usually poor.

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 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently did an in-depth study of 32 dolphins in Barataria Bay, an area that was heavily oiled during the BP oil spill. The researchers found that many of the animals were underweight, anemic, had low hormone levels, low blood sugar, and some had signs of liver damage. These symptoms are consistent with those seen in other mammals exposed to oil. One of the dolphins in the study has since been found dead.

As a top-level predator, the poor health of dolphins in the most heavily oiled areas suggests possible ecosystem-wide effects of the oil.  Dolphins can inhale oil vapors, ingest oil when feeding, absorb it through their skin or eat contaminated fish.

Scientists with NOAA are continuing to investigate the factors that may be contributing to the dolphin mortalities.

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Louisiana Coastal Area 6 Project Profile: Medium Diversion at White Ditch

December 8, 2010 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Congress, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Restoration Projects, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), Whites Ditch

By Angelina Freeman, Environmental Defense Fund

The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund and National Audubon Society reviewed and provided comments on the six near-term Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA 6) project reports and final environmental impact statements.

Medium Diversion at White Ditch, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Program

Among the LCA 6, perhaps the most ground-breaking is the tentatively selected plan that incorporates pulsing for the Medium Diversion at White Ditch.  White Ditch would provide freshwater, nutrients and sediments to restore degraded habitat and sustain a larger coastal ecosystem east of the Mississippi to support and protect the environment, economy and culture of southern Louisiana.

“We support and commend the recommended plan incorporating pulsing at 35,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) at high river flows to maximize sediment capture in the planning and operation of the diversion," stated the groups in their letter to the Corps.  "We agree that the recommended plan meets the LCA program and project objectives and is within the scope of the WRDA [Water Resources Development Act] authorization, and therefore agree that Congress raise the total project cost for the Medium Diversion at White Ditch Project.”

The recommended plan requires congressional action.  The groups pledge to work with the newly-elected Congress to secure legislation required to change the authorization and funding required to begin project construction.

The White Ditch project is entering the Planning, Engineering, and Design (PED) phase.  Sediment concentrations in the Mississippi River can vary significantly according to location, and the groups recommend a thorough analysis of site specific data and modeling in PED to improve prediction of the sediment efficiency of the diversion relative to location.  The groups also recommended reevaluating the conveyance channel and whether natural channel formation can be effectively utilized allowing the engineering to be scaled back (thereby reducing cost) to be investigated in PED.

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Public Scoping Meetings Held for Myrtle Grove Diversion

December 1, 2010 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, Restoration Projects, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

By Maura Wood, National Wildlife Federation

Last week, members of the public were invited to attend and participate in a series of scoping meetings about the proposed Myrtle Grove Diversion in southern Louisiana.  The three public meetings officially launched the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)/Feasibility Study for the Myrtle Grove Diversion.  Ensuring that Myrtle Grove is constructed as a land-building, pulsed, sediment diversion is a key element of our coalition's coastal restoration campaign.  Scoping meetings allow stakeholders the opportunity to give input about the potential impacts the project.

Photo credit: National Wildlife Federation

Myrtle Grove is one of 15 coastal restoration projects authorized by Congress in the Water Resources Development Act of 2007.  It was authorized as a medium diversion with dedicated dredging under a program called the Louisiana Coastal Area Study.  Our partnership has worked with state officials to gather data and model scenarios of a “modified” Myrtle Grove, which functions as a sediment diversion and employs pulsing to make maximum use of the river's sediment for land building. 

At the meetings, members of the public requested that the EIS examine impacts to fisheries and to local communities that might be flooded by water from a diversion.  At the same time, many speakers firmly stated the need to get sediment into deteriorating basins and recognized that local conditions would change and some uses would move within the estuary. 

One frequent suggestion already has been adopted: the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has promised to meet with stakeholders on a regular basis during the EIS process.  These meetings will enable information to flow back and forth between the Corps and the public and bring engineering expertise together with intimate local knowledge of the area.  NWF will play a role in convening these quarterly meetings.

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