Archive for Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA)

It's a Marathon, not a sprint: Small steps build lasting momentum for comprehensive restoration

September 23, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, coastal restoration, Community Resiliency, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Restoration Projects, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund and Gaby Garcia, Science Intern, Environmental Defense Fund

This post is part of a series on early restoration planning in Louisiana. Be sure to check out parts one and two for more information on previous plans.

By the early 1990s, Louisiana’s coastal land loss crisis had been studied and documented for more than two decades. Successful establishment of the state-level Office of Coastal Restoration and Management and the Wetlands Trust Fund in 1989 galvanized support and action for wetlands restoration at the federal-level as well. In 1990, Louisiana U.S. Senator John Breaux co-sponsored and helped pass the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and RestorationCWPPRA Act (CWPPRA), sometimes called the “Breaux Act.”

The Act was one of the first attempts to support a comprehensive approach to restoring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands by establishing a dependable, long-term funding stream for projects. A new federal interagency task force, made up of five federal agencies and the Louisiana state government, was also created by the Act to oversee coastal restoration activities, including the prioritization, planning and implementation of small- to medium-scale projects.

Three years after CWPPRA was enacted, in 1993, the Task Force published their Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Restoration Plan, which recommended changes in management of the lower Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. The plan focused specifically on increasing the sediment and freshwater supply to coastal wetlands to reestablish natural land-building processes.

The CWPPRA plan only has a 20-year time horizon, as opposed the 50-year perspective taken in other contemporary plans published by the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR), Louisiana State University or the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. Despite the shorter outlook of the CWPPRA plan, it relies on similar principles and strategies we see in these other plans. Namely, this plan calls for:

  • Shifting navigational use from the existing bird's foot delta to a new western delta in a neighboring estuary, possibly Breton Sound;
  • Multiple diversions to address land loss in Barataria Basin;
  • Reactivation of old distributary channels;
  • Seasonal changes in the Atchafalaya River’s flow distribution; and
  • Projects to facilitate hydrologic restoration, such as: Nourishing barrier island chains and Controlling tidal flows in large navigation channels.

Small scale tests, important success

Even before the passage of CWPPRA, the LDNR was implementing small-scale diversions by cutting crevasses into banks of the southernmost reach of the Mississippi River. Between 1986 and 1993, 20 crevasses were constructed with a mean discharge rate of less than 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). Despite the lower flow rates, these crevasses created nearly 1,400 acres of emergent marsh during this period, an impressive amount of land considering the scale of these projects.

The early results of these experimental projects encouraged the prioritization of sediment diversions in the CWPPRA planning process, many of which have also performed well. The Channel Armor Gap Crevasse, for instance, was constructed in 1997 in one of the most rapidly subsiding areas of the delta. This crevasse created nearly 200 acres of land over 10 years and increased overall sediment elevation by more than three feet.

The West Bay Sediment Diversion, on the other hand, was constructed in 2003 and had formed little subaerial land despite the creation of two small spoil islands in the bay in 2009. Due to this lack of land building, it was considered a complete failure and was in the process of being deauthorized. But after the historic flood of 2011, which delivered large quantities of sediment to coastal Louisiana, dry land had emerged in West Bay by that fall. This combination of spoil islands and pulsing floodwaters has proven successful in building land here and may be translated elsewhere across the coast.


West Bay Sediment Diversion

Scaling up the vision for restoration

CWPPRA has played an important role in funding restoration projects, beyond diversions, across the coast. The program has also been critical in supporting long-term, large-scale undertakings, such as the Coast-wide Reference Monitoring System and planning efforts like the Barrier Island Shoreline Feasibility Study and Coast 2050.

The Barrier Island Shoreline Feasibility Study was the first large-scale feasibility study sponsored through CWPPRA. The technical analysis, completed in 1997, was designed to figure out the most effective barrier island configurations to protect inland areas from saltwater intrusion, wind and wave action, storm surge and other extreme events, such as oil spills. An estimate of the possible quantitative effects of different regional barrier island arrangements on Louisiana’s environmental and economic resources were produced through this work as well.

The scope of the study was limited to the shoreline from the Atchafalaya River east to the Mississippi River and provided two alternatives for restoration. These results ultimately informed the initial Barrier Shoreline Restoration studies conducted as part of the Army Corps’ Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Ecosystem Restoration Study, which in turn formed the basis for two of our priority projects, Barataria Pass to Sandy Point and Belle Pass to Caminada Pass Barrier Island Restoration.

While the CWPPRA Plan proposed some forward-thinking solutions at the basin-wide level to mimic natural processes, Coast 2050 took comprehensive planning even further. This initiative, finalized in 1998, was jointly developed by the Louisiana State Wetlands Authority and the CWPRRA Task Force and takes a regional perspective on restoration strategies for long-term ecosystem sustainability. The LCA Ecosystem Restoration Study was largely based on the recommendations and vision of Coast 2050, both of which played a significant part in shaping the 2012 Coastal Master Plan and the way we envision restoration in coastal Louisiana.

Be sure to check out our next post for more details on Coast 2050 and the Louisiana Coastal Area Study!

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The History of Coastal Restoration in Louisiana: More than 40 years of planning

August 17, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), coastal restoration, Community Resiliency, Diversions, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, K10, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, Restoration Projects, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund and Gaby Garcia, Science Intern, Environmental Defense Fund

The damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in Louisiana’s bird’s foot delta nearly 10 years ago, brought regional and national attention to the state’s dramatic and ongoing coastal land loss crisis. But this crisis, as well as innovative and large-scale solutions to reverse wetland loss, had been studied, discussed and planned by scientists and decision-makers for decades.

In a series of blog posts, we will explore a few of Louisiana’s early restoration plans that, in many ways, laid the groundwork for the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.

More than 40 years of restoration ideas & planning

In 1973, Louisiana State University’s Center for Wetland Resources published a multi-volume report titled "Environmental Atlas and Multi-Use Management Plan for South-Central Louisiana. The report provides an overview of the Barataria and Terrebonne Basins and recommendations for natural resource management and restoration.

One of the most notable recommendations is initial discussion of a freshwater and land-building river diversion into Barataria Basin at Myrtle Grove, a project now known as the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. A number of other natural resource management options are described in the plan, including the engineering of barrier islands, use of salt domes for water management, hydrologic restoration and regulation of development.

But not all the ideas have had as much staying power as the notion of harnessing the muddy Mississippi River to restore and maintain coastal wetlands.

Barrier islands in lakes?

Barrier islands are a coastal area’s first line of defense against storm surge, wave action and tides. These islands not only provide important habitat for many bird species, but they protect natural and built infrastructure upon which Louisiana’s economy depends.

This early management plan suggests constructing barrier islands along the shorelines of large lakes and bays, to help stop erosion in these areas. The authors state that these islands would create new, more diversified habitats as well as enhanced recreational opportunities. While these would be nice benefits to have, it would require building a highly engineered, unnatural feature into the landscape.

Not only is this line of thinking something that ecologists and natural resource managers have moved away from, but these projects would not have done anything to address the root causes of land loss. Therefore, they would have been extremely expensive to maintain due to a lack of natural sediment input and continued saltwater intrusion.

Building out of harm’s way

One of the concepts proposed in the report is the establishment of a network of “development corridors” throughout south-central Louisiana. These corridors would ensure limited development in vulnerable coastal areas while encouraging urbanization in areas that have firmer soils, good drainage and are reasonably safe from flooding. They would have been focused on natural levee ridges for land stability and have access to major and minor waterways for commerce.


Development Corridors

Interestingly, the areas within the proposed network of corridors are the economic and population centers that many Louisianans are most concerned about protecting today. Moreover, the areas outside of this network, where the authors specifically discourage further development, are those that we now recognize as some of the most vulnerable to increased damage from storms and the threat of sea level rise.

A diversion at Myrtle Grove

Certain solutions in the report still maintain a presence in restoration efforts today, specifically the proposal to construct a freshwater diversion at Myrtle Grove. Today, this project is called the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion and has evolved into a plan to pulse high-velocity river water, full of sediment, into deteriorating wetlands in the adjacent Barataria Basin. Unlike the project defined in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, the 1973 plan focuses on using fresh water to help establish a proper salinity gradient and combat saltwater intrusion and has other, more complex plans for diverted sediment.

myrtle grove 2As with today’s sediment diversions, the plan recommends that water flow from the Mississippi River be regulated by a control structure, through a diversion canal and then into the basin. The authors predict that the diverted water would abruptly loose velocity on the basin-side of the canal and deposit sediment in a “silt fan” near the canal mouth. While some sediment would continue out into adjacent wetlands, recreating more naturally occurring conditions, sediment from the stilling lagoon and silt fan would be removed by a small dredge and conveyed via pipeline for either construction or restoration purposes.

Evolution in natural resource management & restoration

Clearly, the idea behind what is now a crucial component to Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, diverting fresh water and sediment from the river to build new land, has come a long way from its humble beginnings. And although many of the proposed restoration and management solutions in the 1973 report did not make the cut, the problems they sought to address still threaten the livelihoods and communities of coastal Louisiana.

Check back as we continue to trace this history of restoration planning in Louisiana, which only emphasizes the great need for restoration action now!


Want to get involved? Take the PLEDGE now to vote in the upcoming elections and urge candidates to support the following restoration principles:

1. Be a voice for coastal restoration progress

2. Protect Existing and Secure Future Coastal Restoration Funding

3. Support the Coastal Master Plan

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A Bird's Eye View of Coastal Erosion

November 24, 2014 | Posted by lbourg in Birds, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Wildlife

This was originally posted on the National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Promise blog.

By Kelly Wagner, National Wildlife Federation

Each day I pass an egret on the way to work that lingers in the watery ditches in my town. It amuses me that this elegant bird seems to give little concern to the cars that are passing within ten feet of it. It doesn’t know that I am heading to NWF’s New Orleans field office that has one focus—to restore its wetlands habitat in the Mississippi River Delta before the wetlands disappear. Recently, I got to see the devastating wetland loss from the egret’s perspective.

The Mississippi River Delta, where the mighty Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico, supports more than 400 species of birds. For millions of birds, the delta’s food-rich habitats are critical stopping places before their grueling nonstop flight across the Gulf. But human activities have disrupted the natural balance of the wetlands in the delta and they are receding at alarming rates—nearly a football field of wetlands disappears every hour.

Last week, we took local officials up in a flight provided by to get an aerial view of how quickly the Gulf is encroaching inland. It was an eye-opening experience that only pictures can convey:

kw pic 1

As far as I could see looking south and westward, the wetlands were breaking up into patchy areas. The pattern of deterioration reminded me of the gauzy Halloween material with all the holes that people were using to decorate their homes.

kw pic 2

In some places, all you could see were the raised spoil banks from past canals that are no longer necessary as the wetlands turn to open water.

kw pic 3

We also passed over restoration areas that were underway, but from the air it was easy to see that the disappearing wetlands exceed the healthy or restored areas. We need to do more restoration on a larger scale to catch up with the amount of wetlands we are losing. Wildlife are depending upon us to restore this once-beautiful delta.




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What does a “record-setting dead zone” mean for Louisiana’s coast?

June 25, 2013 | Posted by Rachel Schott in Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Reports, Science, Seafood, Wildlife

By Rachel Schott, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign

Dead zone. Words that bring images of military exercises or deserted, war-torn areas of land, but certainly not an acceptable description of a region that contains some of the nation’s most vibrant and diverse ecosystems, wildlife and habitats. Right?

The predicted "record-breaking" area of the Gulf of Mexico and coastline that would be affected in this year's dead zone.

Recent studies released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and conducted by Louisiana State University, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, and University of Michigan scientists forecast a “record-setting dead zone” for the Gulf of Mexico this summer. The studies suggest that the 2013 dead zone area could be anywhere between 7,286 and 8,561 square miles, which would be substantially larger than last year’s dead zone of almost 2,900 square miles.

According to NOAA, dead zones are not uncommon for waterways and estuaries, as they have recorded 166 dead zones along United States coastlines. As the Gulf of Mexico is at the receiving end of the country’s largest river system, the Mississippi River’s discharge is one of the main causes of the Gulf dead zone. Unfortunately, a dead zone is exactly what it sounds like: an area normally teeming with wildlife and vegetation is infiltrated by pollutants, fertilizer chemicals and industrial runoff. When the river’s more buoyant fresh water enters the Gulf of Mexico, it lies on top of the denser, saltier water, causing a stratification that isolates the deeper waters from receiving a necessary amount of oxygen.

The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) explains that the influx of these unnatural substances and nutrients results in the overgrowth of algae and marine organisms on the surface of the water. At the end of their life cycle, they sink to the bottom and are decomposed by bacteria, a process that depletes the oxygen supply from the water, making the existence of life nearly impossible. Every type of marine life is affected, from Gulf fish to tiny marine organisms, which are all essential parts of an interdependent ecosystem necessary for maintaining the balance of life in the Gulf of Mexico.

In scientific terms, the low oxygen is known as hypoxia and has severe effects on the future health and growth of ecosystems. TIME Magazine recently reported that the Gulf of Mexico may soon become an “aquatic desert” and attributes the problems to recent weather conditions in the Midwest: heavy rainfall and flooding increases the levels of nutrients and pollutants in the river. All of these compounding problems will contribute to the 2013 possibly record-setting dead zone.

Scientists state that the dead zone would be less severe if a tropical storm were to enter the area, which would mix up the Gulf’s waters and facilitate oxygenation. The irony of this fact is that it leaves Louisiana residents in a less-than-ideal situation.

To read more about the causes and effects of dead zones, check out NOAA’s State of the Coast website:

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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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The Next 50 Years: Louisiana Coastal Area projects in the master plan

July 12, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Coastal Master Plan series, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, Restoration Projects, Whites Ditch

This is the fourth post in our "The Next 50 Years" Coastal Master Plan series. Check back as we continue diving into the master plan and what it means for the people and environment of the Mississippi River Delta.

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

To formulate Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, coastal authorities evaluated nearly 250 restoration projects that had been proposed in previous parish- and state-level restoration plans. This number was then narrowed down by setting a realistically achievable budget, modeling for future environmental conditions and understanding how the implementation of individual projects could help sustain or build land over the next 50 years. Projects included in the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Comprehensive Study were among those considered for inclusion in the master plan, and many of these projects – or similar versions of them – were included in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. By incorporating these projects in the long-term vision of restoration for coastal Louisiana, these projects will be better integrated with others in the master plan. Additionally, inclusion of these LCA projects shows the state’s commitment to their construction and implementation.

The LCA Program was authorized through the 2007 Water Resources Development Act and includes 15 near-term critical restoration projects. As part of the LCA Program, the state of Louisiana and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work together to plan and implement these 15 projects. To date, construction has not begun on any of these projects, and as they near the construction phase, the lack of federal funding in the immediate future threatens to delays them indefinitely. That is, until Congress passed the RESTORE Act in June. Signed into law just last week, the RESTORE Act will ensure that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines BP and other responsible parties will pay as a result of the 2010 gulf oil spill are dedicated to environmental restoration in the gulf states. In Louisiana, this money will be used to help fund the restoration projects outlined in the master plan.

Of the 15 LCA projects, nine were included in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. But in many cases, the project selected and described in the master plan is a modified version of the original LCA project. This is a result of the analysis conducted in the planning process that indicated that modifications to the project would increase the land it built or maintained. However, it should be noted that the projects described in the master plan are still conceptual, as their exact size and location will be determined through further planning and design. Below is a list of the LCA projects and a brief description of the corresponding project included in the master plan.

The extensive analysis that went into formulating the master plan indicates that the capacity of several of the LCA sediment diversions may need to be scaled up in order to maximize the amount of land they can build and sustain. By including so many LCA projects in the plan, coastal authorities reaffirmed the importance of these critical projects to restoring the coastal Louisiana landscape. Moving away from smaller restoration projects toward larger ecosystem-scale projects will help restore the natural hydrology and mimic the processes that built the Mississippi River Delta, thus creating a more sustainable coastline for the people who call the region home.

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Conservation groups laud funding for restoration efforts from U.S. House

June 1, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Army Corps of Engineers, Congress, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Media Resources, Restoration Projects

Federal funds will support critical restoration construction projects, jobs in Louisiana


(Washington, D.C. — June 1, 2012) Today, local and national conservation groups applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for approving $10 million in new funding for critical Louisiana coastal restoration projects.

Passed as an amendment to the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, the measure was sponsored by Louisiana Representatives Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and directs $10 million to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction account for the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) program. This funding allows the Corps of Engineers to begin construction on federally approved restoration projects that will restore and rebuild Louisiana wetlands and barrier islands. In April, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $16.8 million for LCA ecosystem restoration projects. This funding supports President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget request for coastal restoration projects.

“This funding is an important step in breaking ground on federally approved projects that will restore critical wetlands around the Mississippi River Delta and protect Louisiana’s coastal infrastructure and natural resources,” said the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Environmental Defense Fund, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, National Audubon Society and National Wildlife Federation in a joint statement. "Thanks to the efforts of Representatives Scalise and Richmond, these funds will allow Louisiana to move forward on these projects that are so necessary to the long-term viability of our coastal communities.”

Since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost more than 1,900 square miles of wetlands, an area roughly the size of the state of Delaware. The decline of the Mississippi River Delta’s wetlands has dramatically weakened protection from hurricanes by wiping out much of the natural buffer against storm surge and other disasters. The loss of wetlands also threatens:

  • One of our nation’s most important fisheries
  • One of our nation’s most significant port complexes and navigation systems
  • Wildlife, including tens of millions of migratory birds and waterfowl
  • Domestic energy production and processing
  • Communities all along the central Gulf Coast

The federal funding was provided in the House’s version of the FY13 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill.

More restoration projects like the ones funded through this budget request would be possible with passage of the RESTORE Act. The legislation would dedicate 80 percent of oil spill penalties paid by BP and others responsible for the 2010 oil spill towards gulf restoration. The RESTORE Act has received strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate and is currently under consideration as part of conference committee negotiations of the House and Senate transportation funding bills.

Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543,
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781,
Kevin Chandler, National Audubon Society, 202.596.0960,


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Managing the Mississippi River for ecosystem restoration, navigation and flood protection: A win-win-win

May 16, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Diversions, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Reports, Restoration Projects, Science

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

The Mississippi River is one of the largest rivers in the world, carrying water, nutrients and sediment across America’s heartland, through Louisiana and into the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study is a Louisiana Coastal Area project that has recently been initiated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. The purpose of this 5-year, large-scale study is to assess the resources of the lower Mississippi River and evaluate restoration efforts that could increase the long-term sustainability of the delta. To take serious steps toward using the river for coastal restoration, the management of the Mississippi River must be re-envisioned to regard navigation, flood protection and ecosystem restoration as equally important services provided by the river.

Integrating well-designed river diversions into the management of the river has the potential to be a win-win-win for the Mississippi River Delta: restoring the ecosystem, providing a more reliable navigation channel and bolstering the flood protection system.

The hydrodynamic part of this study will focus on compiling previous scientific research and collecting new information about river discharge, water flow, changes in the river bottom and sediment availability. The information collected will be used to inform models that replicate the current conditions of the Mississippi River from the Old River Control Structure north of Baton Rouge down to the Bird’s Foot Delta. The delta management part of this study will use the newly-developed models to assess the benefits and effects of different proposed restoration projects on the river and the nearby basins.

This study is important because it provides us with an opportunity to reevaluate how we manage the Mississippi River. Currently, the river is being managed exclusively for navigation interests, which has directly contributed to Louisiana’s coastal land loss crisis over the last 80 years. However, despite this focus on navigation, increases in the cost of dredging and decreases in the Corps of Engineers’ dredging budget have threatened to diminish the depth and width of the navigation channel, reducing the cargo capacity the ships can carry and decreasing the ability of U.S.-produced exports to compete on the world market.

Integrating well-designed river diversions into the management of the river has the potential to be a win-win-win for the Mississippi River Delta: restoring the ecosystem, providing a more reliable navigation channel and bolstering the flood protection system. Sediment diversions can mimic the natural processes that once built the surrounding delta. They can also remove sediment from the river, which reduces the need and cost for dredging in the navigation channel. During flood events, river diversions can also be used as additional outlets for flood waters, reducing pressure against the flood protection levees that protect communities and important infrastructure.

The Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study is an important tool that will improve the understanding of the current conditions of the mighty Mississippi River and the resources available for coastal restoration. It is imperative that the information from this study be used to accelerate large-scale ecosystem restoration efforts and better manage the river for the important services it provides not only to Louisiana, but to the entire nation.

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Conservation Groups Laud Funding for Restoration Efforts from Senate

April 26, 2012 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Congress, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Media Resources, RESTORE Act, Senator Mary Landrieu

Federal funds will support critical restoration construction projects, jobs in Louisiana


Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543,
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781,
Kevin Chandler, National Audubon Society, 202.596.0960,

(Washington, D.C.—April 26, 2011) Today, five national and local conservation groups praised the Senate Appropriations Committee for approving funding for critical restoration projects in Louisiana, including an effort to use sediment dredged from navigation waterways to recreate critical wetlands. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would receive $16.8 million for the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) program to begin construction on LCA ecosystem restoration projects and $9.3 million to study future projects. This funding was part of President Obama’s budget request and was strongly supported by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

"This funding is an important step forward in helping restore critical wetlands around the Mississippi River Delta, as well as helping create new jobs in Louisiana. This is a win-win for the environment and the economy,” said the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Environmental Defense Fund, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, National Audubon Society and National Wildlife Federation in a joint statement. "Thanks to the Appropriations Committee and Sen. Landrieu, these restoration projects will put sediment from the Mississippi River back to use creating wetlands that act as a speed bump for hurricanes and a natural storm buffer for communities.”

“We hope Congress will include this funding in the final version of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill,” the groups continued. “Taking these preventative actions now will make these areas less vulnerable to future disasters."

Since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost more than 1,900 square miles of wetlands, an area roughly equivalent to the state of Delaware. The decline of the Mississippi River Delta’s wetlands has dramatically impaired protection from hurricanes and wiped out much of the buffer against future storms and disasters. The loss of wetlands also threatens:

  • One of our nation’s most important fisheries
  • One of our nation’s most significant port complexes and navigation systems
  • Wildlife, including tens of millions of migratory birds and waterfowl
  • Domestic energy production and processing
  • Communities all along the central Gulf Coast

The federal funding was provided in the Senate Appropriations Committee Report on the FY13 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill.

More restoration projects like the ones funded through this budget request would be possible with passage of the RESTORE Act. The legislation would dedicate 80 percent of oil spill penalties paid by BP and others responsible for the 2010 oil spill towards gulf restoration. The RESTORE Act has received strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.


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LCA Science and Technology Program Discontinued, Holds Final Meeting

December 15, 2011 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Army Corps of Engineers, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Meetings/Events

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

Last month, the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Science & Technology (S&T) Science Board held their final meeting on November 15th in Baton Rouge. The S&T program was envisioned to support the LCA Ecosystem Restoration Plan by providing an external science review board; providing analytical tools and technology needed to reduce gaps in scientific knowledge; and to better integrate scientific knowledge at the local, state, and federal levels.

The S&T program closed due to a budget dispute between the State of Louisiana and the Army Corps of Engineers. This final meeting served as a wrap up of the program with presentations on new research that had been conducted and status updates on reports on the ecology of diversions and a guidance document for river diversions.

The meeting began with Dr. Mead Allison presenting his group’s work on determining the sediment and water budget of the Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers. For the future and success of the LCA restoration plan, it is critical to know how much sand is transported through the lower Mississippi River, where it is deposited and how much of it is lost to the Gulf. Preliminary discussion of the research results indicates that much of the sand that enters the lower Mississippi River is stored in the river channel or as overbank deposit. This work also indicates that greater sediment transport in the river is, in general, tied closely to high river discharge, but that direct monitoring work is needed to fine tune this relationship and account for other processes that increase sediment in the river at lower discharges. These results suggest that river diversion projects would be more effective when located higher on the river and should be operated when sediment transport in the river is at its highest.

The afternoon meeting focused on two highly anticipated reports—one of which will focus on developing a river diversion guidance document for managers and another on the ecology of diversions. The diversions ecology report was developed to explore information about river diversions, scientific uncertainties, scientific need to reduce uncertainties and maximize diversion effectiveness and operation recommendations for existing freshwater diversions to maximize their potential. The goal of the guidance document is to provide a rational basis for design, size, location and key project parameters as well as improving the methodology of diversion project design, implementation, and operation. Much of this work is still under review but should be released to the public in the near future.

Restoration of coastal Louisiana requires bold, ecosystem-scale restoration that is based on the best science available. Even with the dissolution of the S&T program, this pursuit of science-based restoration solutions must continue with groups like the Mississippi River Delta Coalition’s Science and Engineering Special Team (SEST) taking the lead. This group is comprised of scientists from various disciplines and throughout the U.S. that come together to try and answer the big questions in the pathway forward to restoring Louisiana’s coast.

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