Archive for Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)


West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion Project

December 5, 2014 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), RESTORE Act, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

Louisiana recently proposed 5 projects to be funded by the initial round of funding from the RESTORE Act.  The West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion project’s objective, also known as the Mississippi River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp project, is to restore and enhance the health and sustainability of the Maurepas Swamp through the reintroduction of season Mississippi River inflow. Here’s what we wrote to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in support of the West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion project:

Dear Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members,

The undersigned groups appreciate the opportunity to share our supporting comments on the River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project, submitted by the State of Louisiana for RESTORE Council consideration for the first Funded Priorities List of the RESTORE Pot 2 Council-selected projects.

We represent a coalition of conservation interests that have worked for decades to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – starting with prompt restoration of the Mississippi River Delta – reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to protect communities, environment, and economies. Our groups continue to recommend urgent action on projects that will reduce land loss and restore wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through comprehensive restoration actions that have the potential to provide multiple benefits and services over the long term to the entire Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the necessary restoration actions to be undertaken in Louisiana are already fully authorized under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, were unanimously approved by the Louisiana legislature in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, enjoy broad public support, and have been vetted by scientists and lawmakers for many years.

Such is the case with the River Reintroduction into the Maurepas Swamp Project.

The River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project has long been discussed as an important coastal restoration project: it was featured as a key restoration project in the 1998 “Coast 2050” plan, was further developed in the Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) program with EPA as its sponsor, was included in the LCA (Louisiana Coastal Area) Study (WRDA 2007) and the Louisiana 2007 Coastal Master Plan, and is currently included in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan (named the “West Maurepas Diversion”).

This project would benefit the western Maurepas swamps, the landbridge between Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain and the LaBranche wetlands. In addition, this project, in conjunction with the Central Wetlands diversions, will influence the Biloxi Marsh area.

Dominated by bald cypress and water tupelo trees, this swamp complex is one of the largest forested wetlands in the nation. Levees constructed along the river and the closure of Bayou Manchac have isolated the area from spring floods and the vital fresh water, nutrients and sediments that once enhanced the swamp. This isolation has led to a decrease in swamp elevation, that coupled with rising salinities throughout the Pontchartrain Basin have left the swamp in a state of rapid decline – trees are dying and young trees are not regenerating. The River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project will reconnect the swamps to the river, preventing further loss and the conversion to open water, as well as helping to temper rising salinities throughout the entire Pontchartrain Basin.

Applying funds to the project now, toward completion of the remaining engineering, design, and permitting, will finally take the River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project to a construction-ready status. And, given its development history, this project would seem a perfect candidate for CPRA to conduct in collaboration with EPA, with some assistance from Corps of Engineers regulatory and restoration teams.

In conclusion, the 2012 Coastal Master Plan data demonstrated that the swamp could be completely lost in a mere two decades. Due to the urgency of getting this project constructed and operating, the below signatories commend Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for submitting, and we urge the RESTORE Council to select this project for funding.

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Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration Project

| Posted by lbourg in Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

Louisiana recently proposed 5 projects to be funded by the initial round of funding from the RESTORE Act.  The Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration  project, also known as the Biloxi Marsh Living Shoreline project, will construct an oyster barrier reef along the southern and eastern shores of the Biloxi Marsh. This reef will provide a natural protective barrier to reduce the damaging effects of storm surges and provide wave attenuation. Here’s what we wrote to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in support of the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration project:

Dear Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members,

The undersigned groups appreciate this opportunity to share our collective supporting comments on the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Project, submitted by the State of Louisiana for RESTORE Council consideration for the first Funded Priorities List of the RESTORE Pot 2 Council-selected projects.

We represent a coalition of conservation interests that have worked for decades to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – starting with prompt restoration of the Mississippi River Delta – reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to protect communities, environment, and economies. Our groups continue to recommend urgent action on projects that will reduce land loss and restore wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through comprehensive restoration actions that have the potential to provide multiple benefits and services over the long term to the entire Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the necessary restoration actions to be undertaken in Louisiana are already fully authorized under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, were unanimously approved by the Louisiana legislature in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, enjoy broad public support, and have been vetted by scientists and lawmakers for many years. In the case of the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Project, it has a completed Programmatic EIS and a signed Chief’s Report from the Corps of Engineers.

The Biloxi Marsh platform is relatively stable and enjoys a fairly low rate of subsidence; however, erosion on the marsh edge by wave action has resulted in significant loss of this wetlands habitat over time. Construction of an oyster barrier reef along the southern and eastern shores of the Biloxi Marsh will provide a natural protective barrier to reduce the damaging effects of storm surges and provide wave attenuation. In addition to providing protection against waves, oyster reefs also provide a myriad of ecosystem services including water quality enhancement and benefits to fish populations in both Breton Sound and Mississippi Sound.

Reestablishment of vertical oyster reefs in Biloxi Marsh, in conjunction with the reintroduction of small amounts of river water (River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp, Central Wetlands diversions), will help slow marsh deterioration. Additionally, once established, unlike rock and other materials, these reefs are naturally self-maintaining.

Our groups support the development of the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Project—and the concept of living shorelines in general—and commend the selection of this important “line of defense” by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. We look forward to the construction of this project within the next few years as funding becomes available.

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Golden Triangle Marsh Creation Project

December 4, 2014 | Posted by lbourg in Community Resiliency, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, Restoration Projects, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

Louisiana recently proposed 5 projects to be funded by the initial round of funding from the RESTORE Act.  The Golden Triangle Marsh Creation  project, located in the Pontchartrain-Maurepas Basin, is designed to restore and protect wetland, fish, and wildlife habitat and help maintain landscape integrity and enhance community resilience.  Here’s what we wrote to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in support of the Golden Triangle Marsh Creation project:

Dear Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members,

The undersigned groups appreciate this opportunity to share our collective supporting comments on the Golden Triangle Marsh Creation Project, submitted by the State of Louisiana for RESTORE Council consideration for the first Funded Priorities List of the RESTORE Pot 2 Council-selected projects.

We represent a coalition of conservation interests that have worked for decades to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – starting with prompt restoration of the Mississippi River Delta – reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to protect communities, environment, and economies. Our groups continue to recommend urgent action on projects that will reduce land loss and restore wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through comprehensive restoration actions that have the potential to provide multiple benefits and services over the long term to the entire Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the necessary restoration actions to be undertaken in Louisiana are already fully authorized under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, were unanimously approved by the Louisiana legislature in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, enjoy broad public support, and have been vetted by scientists and lawmakers for many years.

The Golden Triangle Marsh Creation Project, located near the confluence of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet shipping channel and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, is in an area badly damaged by the saltwater intrusion and erosion that followed the dredging of the MRGO. The restored marsh will work with a nearby shoreline protection and marsh creation funded by the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) to help buffer the newly constructed IHNC Surge Barrier, which is essential to the Greater New Orleans’ flood protection, and will also provide important estuarine habitat for Lake Borgne and Mississippi Sound. The project has undergone technical analysis completed by the Corps and the State of Louisiana through the MRGO Ecosystem Restoration Plan authorized in WRDA 2007. The project has a signed Chief’s Report and a completed Programmatic EIS.

The project is important not only for its obvious marsh creation benefits, but also for the citizens of the area who use the area located so close to the city of New Orleans. This project enjoys much public support and will increase the resilience of surrounding communities. We support the continued development of the Golden Triangle Marsh Creation Project and thank the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for submitting it to the RESTORE Council.

 

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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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