Archive for Hurricane Katrina

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

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Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle signs teach visitors about need for coastal restoration

November 22, 2013 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Hurricane Katrina, Meetings/Events, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet

By Amanda Moore (National Wildlife Federation) and Elizabeth Skree (Environmental Defense Fund)

Excitement filled the air last Friday as community members, government officials, students and staff from local and national conservation organizations gathered on the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle viewing platform in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward to celebrate the unveiling of new educational, interactive signs. These signs help interpret an important story for visitors as they look out over the open water and ghostly remains of a former healthy cypress swamp. At this powerful site, in the backyard of a community less than five miles from the French Quarter that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, visitors will learn about efforts to restore the Bayou Bienvenue ecosystem as well as the broader, critical need for coastal restoration. The signs were a project of The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development and the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign.


The welcome sign (foreground) greets visitors as they approach the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle viewing platform (background).


In addition to the four National Park Service-grade signs, a new website,, was also created to accompany the signs. On the site, visitors can learn more about the history of Bayou Bienvenue; read about the vision for restoration of the wetland triangle as well as broader Louisiana coastal restoration; learn about community and environmental organizations working to restore the wetlands; watch videos in the multimedia gallery; sign the virtual guestbook by taking a photo using Instagram and adding the hashtag #restorethebayou; and take action by signing a petition to decision-makers, asking them to prioritize MRGO-area restoration projects – like the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle.

The dozens of people in attendance heard from Garret Graves, Chair of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, who proclaimed the importance of the platform and signs when he said, “This is such an important teaching tool for us…it’s a microcosm of what is happening on a huge scale in coastal Louisiana.”

IMG-20131115-00611Other speakers included Charles Allen, Director of the City of New Orleans’ Office of Coastal and Environmental Affairs; Arthur Johnson, Executive Director of the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development; and Amanda Moore, Greater New Orleans Program Manager for the National Wildlife Federation, speaking on behalf of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition.

Get involved! Check out Restore the Mississippi River Delta’s Facebook album of photos from the unveiling event, and visit to learn more about the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle and coastal restoration efforts.

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Katrina and Isaac anniversaries remind us of urgent need for coastal restoration

August 29, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Community Resiliency, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Hurricane Isaac, Hurricane Katrina

By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation

This week marks the anniversaries of Hurricanes Katrina and Isaac. As we take time to remember and commemorate, we must also look to the future and commit to preparing for the next storm and protecting our communities.

Even eight years after Katrina, it’s hard to forget the storms. Recovery and rebuilding remain an everyday reality in coastal Louisiana. Levees and home elevation are some of the more immediate ways to protect ourselves, but these measures work best when part of a multiple lines of defense strategy that includes restoration of our natural storm protection along the coast.

Lopez, John A., 2006, The Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy to Sustain Coastal Louisiana, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Metairie, LA January 2006.

For example, wetlands serve as a buffer for levees, reducing wave energy and the chance of over-topping, thereby reducing the chance that levees will fail. But the marshes, ridges and barrier islands that reduce waves and storm surge are disappearing at an alarming rate – we lose one football field of wetlands every hour in Louisiana.

That statistic stings the most when storms are brewing in the Gulf. Our communities need the protection of a healthy and resilient coast, and getting there will take the support of all who care about the future of our region.

At a public meeting in New Orleans yesterday, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council approved its Initial Comprehensive Plan.

Yesterday, coincidentally on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Isaac, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council approved its Initial Comprehensive Plan for restoring the Gulf Coast’s ecosystem and economy after the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. The next crucial step will be for the Council to select and implement sustainable restoration projects that will protect our communities and restore our ecosystems. The Council should work with Louisiana to prioritize restoration projects set forth in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.

Find out how you can get involved and help restore our coast!

Stay up-to-date on opportunities by visiting, taking action, liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.

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The Power of We: The Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign

October 15, 2012 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Meetings/Events, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, People, RESTORE Act

By Happy Johnson, Amanda Moore and Elizabeth Skree

Our Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign works to reconnect the Mississippi River to its delta to protect people, wildlife and jobs. At our core, we are the “Power of We”: a coalition of five national and local non-governmental organizations — the National Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation — working together to save a national treasure: the Mississippi River Delta.

The Mississippi River Delta is losing an area of land the size of one football field every hour. Yes, you read that right. Turning the tide on wetland loss, which totals over 1,900 square miles since the 1930s, is no small feat. To take on this task, we turn to the Power of We.

Whether it’s by supporting our nation’s fisheries, vital wildlife habitat, trade routes or energy production, the Mississippi River Delta is important to the entire country. Here in the delta and across the nation, citizens are learning more and more about the crisis in the delta and taking action to help restore the area. Locally, our campaign works to engage area residents throughout their neighborhoods. Together, we rally. Together, we hold press conferences. We release reports. We host public forums that empower citizens to speak directly to their legislators, state officials and federal agencies about moving restoration forward. We harness the Power of We to make change.

Community Conversations on Coastal Restoration

This year we organized a series of community conversations to enhance and increase coastal competency in Louisiana urban areas. Those gatherings provided an informal outlet to openly discuss the comprehensive challenges and opportunities as a result of staggering wetland loss. In particular, people were interested in how they can become advocates and participate in the emerging job market created by coastal restoration investment.

MRGO must go

The Power of We shines in one major delta project: restoring tens of thousands of acres of protective wetlands just southeast of New Orleans destroyed by a federal shipping channel, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (also known as the “MRGO” or “Mister Go”). Since Hurricane Katrina, we’ve worked hand-in-hand with local landowners, local government, academia, local neighborhood associations and national environmental organizations to advocate for closure of the shipping channel (which happened in 2009) and for a strong restoration plan for the area. We worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in planning, and in the last few years alone, we’ve generated over 75,000 comments to the agency calling for urgent and careful ecosystem restoration along the MRGO. These comments poured in from across the nation, and we now have a $2.9 billion recommended plan for restoration by the Army Corps’ Chief of Engineers.

BP oil disaster

We harnessed the Power of We to pass landmark legislation after the BP oil disaster. The Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign has been working since the spill to ensure that the Clean Water Act fines BP and other responsible parties will pay as a result of the spill are returned to the Gulf Coast to be used for restoration. For this to happen, Congress needed to pass legislation ensuring the money was sent to the gulf states — that bill was the RESTORE Act. A little over two years after the spill had started, Congress passed the RESTORE Act and the President signed it into law. This historic bipartisan legislation came to be in part because of the many letters sent to Congress by people all across the country. Our campaign helped generate over 160,000 letters to Congress asking them to make the RESTORE Act a priority.

Holding BP accountable

But even though the RESTORE Act is now law, our work is not done. It’s been over two years since the gulf oil disaster started, and BP has still not paid a penny in Clean Water Act fines. BP has been stalling the process and is actively trying to walk away from its obligations to clean up the gulf. We can't let that happen. The Power of We can help make things right for the environment and communities of the gulf. Please sign our petition to BP and tell them to stop stalling, stop litigating and make the gulf whole. It’s the right thing to do.

What else can you do?

Like the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign on Facebook! By liking our page, you can be the first to receive updates and action opportunities for the delta.

Follow us on Twitter! @RestoreDelta is Twitter's best resource for Mississippi River Delta news, action items and project updates.

Subscribe to Delta Dispatches! Delta Dispatches is the Web's foremost blog on the policies and science behind Mississippi River Delta restoration.

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The People Have Spoken

October 1, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Army Corps of Engineers, Congress, Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet

By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation

On September 6, restoration along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) passed another important milestone with completion of the final public comment period for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ planning process. It’s a milestone worth honoring, because almost 49,000 people commented on the plan and the need to prioritize restoration of the area. These comments were collected through nonprofit organizations affiliated with the MRGO Must Go Coalition, and since last year, over 75,000 people have shared their voice of support for the Coalition’s recommendations for MRGO ecosystem restoration during the public comment process. That is, by far, a record for the Corps of Engineers New Orleans District and goes to show how important this restoration effort is for the Greater New Orleans area.

“The corps needs to listen to the will of the people and address the ecosystem damaged by the MRGO. It’s time for the corps to step up to their responsibility and move on this work,” said John Koeferl, member of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Despite this loud demand for urgent and comprehensive restoration, the Corps of Engineers is considering a recommendation of no further action on the MRGO ecosystem restoration report, due to a dispute over who will pay for the projects. A formal decision is still being made on the recommendation by the Chief of Engineers and is expected this week.

Aerial graphic of MRGO ecosystem restoration plan components. Source: U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

Of course, the need for restoration transcends a policy dispute. The MRGO report, which is more than four years beyond its congressional deadline, contains the corps’ plan to restore a portion of more than 600,000 acres of coastal wetlands and waterways impacted by the MRGO shipping channel. The MRGO has been directly linked to intensifying the destruction of Hurricane Katrina by destroying the wetlands that once buffered the Greater New Orleans area from storm surge.

In addition to the Coalition’s recommendation that the Corps of Engineers move forward on plan implementation, other major recommendations were offered to the corps, including prioritizing the 19 projects listed in the corps’ report that are also addressed in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, as well as expeditiously moving forward the Violet Freshwater Diversion. The majority of marsh creation, marsh nourishment and swamp creation features depend on river reintroduction, and the Violet Diversion project will allow for salinity control, sediment delivery to the Central Wetlands area, and better adaptation to sea level rise.

To learn more about the MRGO Must Go Coalition and our recommendations, please visit

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Seven Years Later: Hurricane Katrina and MRGO

August 28, 2012 | Posted by Kevin Chandler in Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet

Seven years ago today, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the coastlines of Louisiana and Mississippi, ripping a path of destruction and shattering the lives of countless coastal residents. Around the world, images of flooding and destruction were burned into the eyes of billions of people as they watched one the costliest, deadliest disasters in American history unfold before them.

Today, seven years have passed, and as we speak, Hurricane Isaac is hovering over the coast. As Katrina continues to affect Louisiana residents in very real ways, countless others continue their work helping those who have suffered.

Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: GOES 12 Satellite, NASA, NOAA.

Where does the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign fit into the equation? Consider our campaign's tagline: "reconnecting the river to its delta to protect people, wildlife and jobs."

The key word here is "protect."

There are thousands of reasons why we should restore Louisiana's coastal wetlands. They provide the natural resources on which the state's economy thrives. They hold some of the world's most popular game fish and waterfowl. They offer stopover and nesting sites for hundreds of millions of birds.

But they also offer protection.

By absorbing storm surge and acting as horizontal levees, wetlands are a key line of defense against hurricanes. As wetlands disappear, so do the natural defenses for millions of coastal residents, hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and gas infrastructure, and our nation's most important navigation system.

Louisiana's communities are the most vital part of this equation — they are the backbone of the region's culture and economy. With every acre of wetlands that disappears, coastal residents are an acre closer to disaster. For evidence, we look back at Hurricane Katrina and the disaster that unfolded in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO).

MRGO is a channel dug by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s and 1960s as a shorter shipping route from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans. It was supposed to save time and money in shipping and navigation, but it turned out to be expensive and underused. In 2006, every ship passing through the channel cost state taxpayers $20,000. What's more, it destroyed 27,000 acres of vital wetlands and impacted over 600,000 acres of coastal habitat that protects the Greater New Orleans area.

When Hurricane Katrina struck, storm surge from the MRGO breached levees and floodwalls in St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans, flooding homes throughout the areas. The MRGO channel actually acted as a funnel, amplifying storm surge by 20 to 40 percent, resulting in catastrophic flooding in the historic Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans.

Because of the destructive role MRGO played in the Katrina disaster, the U.S. Congress ordered the corps to close the channel in 2006. Earlier this year, a federal court upheld a previous ruling that names the Army Corps of Engineers responsible for negligence in its mismanagement of the MRGO.

Yet despite its closure, MRGO isn't gone yet. Though the channel is closed to navigation, the ecosystem continues to deteriorate and still needs restoration of critical landscape features that help buffer storm surge and waves.

In 2008, Congress gave the corps a six month deadline to develop a comprehensive closure plan that includes wetlands restoration. Four years later, no plan is complete, and restoration has yet to begin.

The Corps of Engineers is now considering further delaying restoration because of a cost-share dispute with the state of Louisiana. Their current restoration plan also does not include plans for the Violet diversion, which would deliver sustaining fresh water and a small amount of sediment to the Central Wetlands and Biloxi Marshes east of New Orleans. The Violet diversion is critical for the long-term viability of any wetland restoration in the area.

Louisiana needs a plan that mirrors the unprecedented scale of damage done to these coastal habitats and storm buffers. This plan should have been put in place years ago. Further delay on implementation is unacceptable.

The Corps of Engineers is currently accepting comments on its MRGO restoration plan, and Louisiana needs your help. By submitting your own comments to the corps, you can be an additional voice for the communities impacted by Hurricane Katrina and MRGO.

Nothing can undo the damage that was done, but by restoring the area around the MRGO, we can restore wildlife and add one more line of defense for the people of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish. With another hurricane striking on this 7th anniversary of Katrina, it's the right thing to do.

Submit comments to the Army Corps of Engineers on MRGO via NWF

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Seven years later, a continued call for restoration

August 27, 2012 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Hurricane Katrina

By Elizabeth Skree, Communications Manager, Environmental Defense Fund

Hurricane Katrina made landfall in coastal Louisiana on August 25, 2012. The storm was one of the most-damaging hurricanes on record, taking nearly 2,000 lives and causing over $80 billion in damage. A nation watched in horror as the city of New Orleans was destroyed, residents were stranded and chaos ensued. No one will ever forget what happened that day, and every year as the anniversary approaches, we are reminded of the power of Mother Nature.

We are also reminded of the need for increased storm protection to prevent a similar disaster. Louisiana has over three million acres of coastal wetlands. These wetlands provide natural storm protection by buffering storm surge and reducing inland flooding from hurricanes. Unfortunately, Louisiana is also losing its wetlands at an alarming rate: Every hour, a football field’s worth of wetlands disappears. As this land goes, so does natural storm protection, wildlife habitat, hunting and fishing grounds and a host of other benefits.

But all is not lost.

We have the opportunity to rebuild Louisiana’s wetlands, increase protection from future storms and turn the tide on coastal land loss.

This week, the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign will be remembering what happened seven years ago as well as looking forward to what can be done to provide a safer and sustainable future for Louisiana’s people and wildlife. “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to find out more about what can be done to restore Louisiana’s coast and protect us from another natural disaster.

Additional resources:

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Profiles in Resilience: Ecology and Environment, Inc.

July 10, 2012 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in BP Oil Disaster, Hurricane Katrina, Job Creation, Profiles in Resilience, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act

This is the next in our "Profiles in Resilience" series, highlighting companies that work on coastal restoration in the Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast. 

By Audrey Payne, Environmental Defense Fund

Ecology and Environment, Inc. (E & E) is an environmental consulting firm that was founded in 1970 and prides itself on its ability to get “the most environmental bang for your buck.” A few of their projects include helping countries around the world write environmental policy; working on environmental issues through social and political turmoil, oil embargoes and environmental disasters; and helping to restore the Gulf Coast. Environmental restoration has become a major part of E & E’s work, and the company has paired up with several non-profit organizations on projects, including The Nature ConservancyNational Fish and Wildlife FoundationNational Audubon Society, Riverkeeper and a few land trust organizations. The company’s goal is to remain ahead of the curve in environmentally sustainable practices, and it has been instrumental in not only carrying out restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico, but also in planning them.

“The Gulf Coast is everyone’s responsibility,” says Bill Hudson of Ecology and Environment. “We are particularly pleased that Congress has finally passed the RESTORE Act. Beyond directing much-needed funding to the gulf, the legislation does a great job of integrating ecological and economic recovery and making sure that projects across the region are planned, coordinated, and managed using the best available science and ecosystem-based and adaptive management approaches.”

Ecology and Environment, Inc.: A philosophy of sustainability

Ecology and Environment, Inc., headquartered in Lancaster, N.Y., has offices in 43 cities across the United States, including one in Baton Rouge, La., as well as 17 more offices throughout the world. The company has worked in just about every ecosystem imaginable, from the arctic to the tropics, and it employs over 1,150 experts in 85 different science and engineering disciplines, contributing to its multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. The company strives to promote economic and human development in an environmentally sustainable manner and says that “sustainability is the culture in which we live, work, and conduct business; it extends from our local neighborhoods to the global community.”

Ecology and Environment, Inc. offers services in several markets, including power, government, oil and natural gas, renewable energy and mining. One of its points of pride is its approach to ecological and ecosystem management. Hudson says an example of E & E’s expertise in ecosystem management is its work with oyster beds. “Anybody could go out and build an oyster bed,” explains Hudson. “But you don’t want to build an oyster bed in water that’s not good for growing oysters. If there’s too much sediment, or if the water’s not right, or you’re destroying a bed of seagrass to put in the oysters, then they’re not going to grow like you want them to, and it’s not worth it. That’s why we do a lot of planning, testing and assessing before we actually take action.”

Ecology and Environment and the Gulf of Mexico

Before Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil disaster of 2010, wetland restoration in the Gulf of Mexico had not been a main priority of the nation, even though it is well-documented that wetlands provide storm and flood protection to communities and natural areas as well as habitat for wildlife and seafood. However, those two disasters put restoring the gulf on the nation’s radar, and E & E has been heavily involved post-disaster. Hudson points out that E & E staff has attended almost every gulf restoration conference since the BP oil spill.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, E & E worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Louisiana to document damage to coastal wetlands. They conducted habitat analyses to find out where the most damage had been done, and they also helped develop restoration plans in several national wildlife refuges, such as Sabine, Cameron Prairie, Big Branch Marsh and Bayou Sauvage, to diminish the negative effects of storm damage. The Mississippi River Delta acts as an incredibly important habitat for waterfowl, and this habitat has been put at risk by damaged wetlands and strong storms.

In collaboration with Arcadis, E & E worked with the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration (OCPR) on the Innovative Dredging Initiative project. The purpose of the project was to develop a plan to look at new contracting techniques and bidding methods that could reduce the cost and streamline the design of constructing restoration projects. E & E also led the development of the Inland Marsh Restoration Plan for Louisiana and investigated new dredging contracting techniques and bidding methods that could reduce costs while streamlining the design of dredging projects.

These projects included a study proposal on alternatives to dumping dredged soil into upland confined disposal facilities (CDFs) or into the Gulf of Mexico. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is required to dispose of sediment dredged during the maintenance of waterways in the most cost-effective way possible. E & E proposed instead that the dredged sediment could be beneficially used to for wetland restoration. The proposal included locating ideal wetland areas to restore with sediment, creating a schedule of high-priority beneficial use restoration projects, developing cost projections and integrating these findings with OCPR’s existing plans. This was all part of E & E’s decision to take an active role in proposing how best to restore the coast.

“With the passage of RESTORE, there is a huge opportunity here to set a new international standard for integrated, large-scale ecosystem restoration, and E&E is eager to be a part of it,” said Hudson. “Hopefully, RESTORE will lead to many, many more restoration projects once the funding becomes available.”

Related Resources:

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Coastal restoration as a climate change adaptation strategy

June 12, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Diversions, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, Restoration Projects, Science

By Meg Sutton, Environmental Defense Fund

Global climate change has induced an increase in global mean sea level with a 3.1 mm/year average rate of increase since 1991[1]. Climate projections indicate a widespread increase of more intense precipitation events, with an associated increased risk of flooding. Similarly, climate scientists also predict an increase in hurricane wind speed and total volume.

The low lying, coastal Mississippi River Delta region is particularly vulnerable to the climate change threats of sea level rise, increased flood risk and more intense hurricanes. The area is additionally plagued by human-induced environmental degradation that has occurred over the past 200-300 years. The region has lost 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930s and is losing the wetland areas that are crucial to the region’s ecosystem function, economy and character.

Predicted land change along the Louisiana coast over the next 50 years if we do nothing more than we have done to date. Red indicates areas likely to be lost, and green indicates areas of new land. This map is based on assumptions about increases in sea level rise, subsidence, and other factors. (Estimate based on less optimistic scenario of future coastal conditions.) Map provided courtesy of the Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The numerous threats to the region set up a potential dilemma of competing interests. Should resources and attention be focused on immediate restoration or longer term climate change adaptation? Fortunately, no such choice has to be made. Climate change adaptation and coastal restoration do not constitute a zero sum game. Restoration of coastal Louisiana reduces the vulnerability to the major risks posed by climate change and therefore can be seen as a climate change adaptation strategy.

The global rise in mean sea level — termed eustatic sea level rise — is further complicated in the Mississippi River Delta region by subsidence (sinking land). The sum of the two is referred to as relative sea level rise. The Gulf of Mexico has one of the highest rates of subsidence in the nation due to sediment compaction and the extraction of groundwater, oil and natural gas[2]. These encroaching sea levels increase mean water levels in boundary regions, accelerate coastal erosion and alter the salinity levels of sensitive coastal habitat systems. These factors have contributed to the high rate of land loss in the region.

Restoration of the deltaic system can help stabilize shorelines and reduce the associated risks with rising sea levels. Deltas are formed by the constant inflow of sediment from rivers. However, the Mississippi River Delta has been cut off from this natural process through the construction of extensive levee systems for navigation and flood protection. Through planned sediment diversions, the natural deltaic process can be restored and help increase the resiliency of coastal areas. This will combat the effects of both eustatic sea level rise and subsidence.

The projected increase in the intensity of precipitation events due to global climate change will exacerbate flood risk in the Mississippi River Delta region. Research has shown that coastal wetlands can greatly reduce flooding and storm damage. A one-acre area of wetland can store up to one million gallons of water[3], providing a significant buffer between flood waters and populated areas. In addition, wetland vegetation acts as a natural flood barrier by reducing the speed of flood waters. Healthy wetlands therefore have the potential to reduce both the volume and speed of floodwaters that reach surrounding areas. Restoration efforts seek to improve the condition of surviving wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta region as well as strategically reestablish historical wetland areas with sediment diversions. The restoration efforts to augment total healthy wetland area in the region will simultaneously reduce flooding risk associated with climate change.

As highlighted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the coastal Mississippi River Delta region is highly vulnerable to hurricanes and their associated storm surge. Climate change is predicted to increase hurricane wind speed and total precipitation, further amplifying this threat. Coastal wetlands have been shown to reduce both wave energy and wave height when storm surge passes through them[4]. These wetland regions introduce a frictional drag that reduces the intensity of waves, and restoration will therefore help protect surrounding regions from storm surge now and into the future.

The restoration of ecosystem function in the Mississippi River Delta would provide significant benefits for both the short and long-term future of this crucial economic and ecologic zone. The overlapping interests of restoration and long-term climate change adaptation serve to strengthen the case for large-scale immediate restoration of the region.

[1] IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

[2] Needelman, B.A., S. Crooks, C.A. Shumway, J.G. Titus, R.Takacs, and J.E. Hawkes. 2012  Restore-Adapt-Mitigate: Responding to Climate Change Through Coastal Habitat Restoration. B.A. Needelman, J. Benoit, S. Bosak, and C. Lyons (eds.). Restore America’s Estuaries, Washington D.C., pp. 1-63. Published by: Restore America’s Estuaries 2012

[3] Wetlands Protecting Life and Property from Flooding. United States Environmental Protection Agency, May 2006.

[4] Shepard CC, Crain CM, Beck MW (2011). The Protective Role of Coastal Marshes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27374. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027374

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On the first day of hurricane season, a call for coastal restoration

June 1, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, RESTORE Act, Science, Seafood, Wildlife

By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation

Hurricane season starts today! Click this image and LIKE and SHARE it on Facebook if you want to restore the wetlands that protect Louisiana's coast!

Water. Flashlight. Batteries. Canned food. It’s hurricane season. In coastal Louisiana, we’ll keep a close eye on the weather until November — hoping to dodge each swirling white storm that crops up on the radar.

As the world witnessed in 2005 during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Louisiana is dangerously vulnerable to strong storms. One major reason for our vulnerability is the collapse of coastal wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta in southern Louisiana. Since the 1930s, due in large part to manmade causes, we’ve lost about 1,900 square miles of land from the Louisiana coast — it's like losing the state of Delaware off the nation's map! These coastal wetlands play a critical role in protecting communities by helping buffer them from storm surge, wind and waves.

Here in Louisiana, we are still recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which cost nearly 2,000 lives and caused $91 billion in damages. At the same time, we are trying to get ahead of the next storm to prevent another horrific disaster by planning and advocating for coastal protection and restoration. The Louisiana Legislature just unanimously passed the Coastal Master Plan, a comprehensive 50-year plan for restoring our coast and protecting our natural resources. Coastal scientists continue to expand our knowledge and understanding of what is happening to our coast and how best to restore it. Thousands of people — from local school kids to celebrities to international visitors — are learning about the plight of Louisiana's wetlands and getting dirty in marshes planting grasses and trees every year!

Why all the attention? The Mississippi River Delta matters — to all of us. In addition to vital protection from storms, wetlands sustain vital industries like trade and seafood — the delta’s fisheries provide 25% of American seafood. The wetlands also provide wildlife habitat to hundreds of species, including the endangered Kemps Ridley sea turtle and the Piping Plover beach bird. These same wetlands and waterways contribute tens of billions of dollars to our national economy every year and support millions of jobs.

So as we ready ourselves for the 2012 hurricane season, let’s call for restoration — protecting communities and wildlife and sustaining the rich culture of America’s delta. Today, you have a great opportunity to help move restoration from plan to action. Click here to support the RESTORE Act, critical legislation moving through Congress, which will bring BP oil spill penalties back to Gulf Coast states to fund coastal restoration projects like those so badly needed in Louisiana.

We need your voice! Share this post with your friends and family and help us restore the Mississippi River Delta. And LIKE and SHARE this image on Facebook. Doing so will make a difference for hurricane seasons to come.

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