Archive for Mississippi River Gulf Outlet
By Rachel Pickens, Esq., Resiliency Manager for Coastal Outreach & Community Awareness, Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development
"River to the Bayou" is a phrase often spoken by members the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED). When CSED was created in December 2006 by Pam Dashiell and Charles Allen, they envisioned rebuilding a more resilient neighborhood, one that stretches from the Mississippi River to Bayou Bienvenue. Learning from Katrina, they realized that resilience is more than strengthening the built environment – it also requires restoring and protecting the surrounding natural environment.
There is a need for more education and awareness of the importance of our coastal wetlands in communities like the Lower 9th Ward, which have and continue to be disproportionately affected by strong storms. Residents must look out to the coast protect what's in the neighborhood, and in the Lower 9th Ward, that means reconnecting people with the river and the bayou.
To address this need, CSED is creating a Wetland Education Center for residents to learn and interact with the water that surrounds the neighborhood. The site will run along Florida Ave, between Caffin Ave. and Lamanche St., across the street is the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle and platform. It is composed of four lots, which CSED purchased from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority in 2013. The first phase of the project, an outdoor classroom, was constructed through a partnership with Tulane's School of Architecture during the 2015 spring semester.
The outdoor classroom includes a bioswale, where the sloped ground collects water that would otherwise cause flooding in the adjoining street. The goal is to retain 100% of all rainwater that falls on the site. Plants in the bioswale include spider lilies, thalias, irises, and soft rush, all plants that live well in wet and boggy soils.
The bioswale is divided into three zones, demarcated by oyster benches and oyster trails. The oysters serve as "check dams", which slow down the rainwater and prevent it from eroding the bioswale. The three zones are a visual timeline of the neighboring Bayou Bienvenue. The zone by the entrance, with the diversity of native plants, represents the past, before Bayou Bienvenue was destroyed by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). The middle zone represents the current state of the bayou, sparse with only a few switch grasses. The third zone, representing the future, remains unfinished and will be a site for additional plantings.
The site also includes two shaded structures. The first, an outdoor classroom and a second, to be used for kayak storage. Both structures are composed of steel columns and shade cloth that provides 90% UV protection. In front of the structures are rows of silver shower Aztec and purple foundation grass which will help prevent erosion. The outdoor class room also includes an orchard now growing grapefruit, orange, satsuma, kumquat, fig and apple trees, along with a magnolia tree. Program coordinator, Kathy Muse started a butterfly garden in the back part of the site several years ago.
Phase 2 of Wetland Education Center will include the placement of a modular classroom. Designed by Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, in partnership with the US Green Building Council (USGBC), the classroom features sustainable building materials and design elements. It was showcased at the 2014 USGBC Green Build, held in New Orleans. The classroom, which was donated to CSED, will be used as a K-12 environmental education center and research space.
While the Wetland Education Center is still a work in progress, it is currently open to the community and it will be a gathering and learning site for wetland awareness and water management. CSED believes that the first step towards resiliency is education and with the help of the Wetland Education Center, the Lower 9th Ward will become more resilient than ever.
CSED and other environmental groups will be holding a ribbon cutting ceremony for the first phase of the project on August 11th at 10am, following a press event at the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle Platform to discuss the state of our coast 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. For more information on this event, contact Samantha Carter at carterS@nwf.org.
For more information on CSED and how you can get involved, click here.1 Comment
By Amanda Moore, Deputy Director, National Wildlife Federation, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition
Over the coming months as we approach the 10th anniversaries of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition will publish a series of blog posts that examine issues and topics relevant to these events, particularly as they relate to coastal restoration. Below, is an update on the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO).
Even before the storm, locals dubbed the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) a “hurricane surge super-highway”. Since its construction in the 1950s, MRGO has impacted over 600,000 acres of coastal ecosystems surrounding the Greater New Orleans area and destroyed over 27,000 acres of wetlands that once served as important buffer from storm surge.
Indeed, ten years ago, MRGO lived up to its name and intensified the impact of Hurricane Katrina, creating a funnel that channeled its surge into the heart of communities. The result? Catastrophic destruction. After Katrina, it was clearer than ever that “Mr. Go” had to go.
Ten years later, we examine what has been accomplished, what work remains and how you can help.
- MRGO was finally closed: Following the storm, in 2006, renowned Louisiana coastal scientists released a report detailing the impacts of the channel and recommending its closure. In this same year the MRGO Must Go Coalition – a group of 17 local and national NGOs and community organizations – was formed to advocate for the closure of MRGO and restoration of the ecosystem. Congress passed the Water Resources and Development Act in 2007, mandating the channel be closed to navigation and the Army Corps develop a plan for ecosystem restoration. By 2009, the channel was closed with a rock dam near Bayou La Loutre and a $1.1 billion surge barrier across the MRGO funnel was officially completed in 2013. These closures have moderated surface water salinity, setting the stage for large-scale ecosystem restoration.
- Advocacy resulting in impact: The MRGO Must Go Coalition worked closely with the Corps to watchdog the drafting of their congressionally-mandated ecosystem restoration plan. The groups helped define the size of the impact area, brought community concerns to the forefront and helped prioritize projects. The coalition, whose positions are captured in these 2010 and 2011 papers, successfully extended public comment period timelines and increased the number of scheduled public hearings. A record 75,000 public comments were sent to the Army Corps in support of MRGO Must Go recommendations. Some of the coalition’s recommendations were included in the Army Corps plan and others, notably, the Violet Diversion, were not.
- Restoration planning in earnest: In 2012, the final $3 billion Army Corps MRGO ecosystem restoration plan was approved and sent to the Assistant Secretary of the Army and a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement was completed. Assistant Secretary Darcy then recommended $1.325 billion of projects to Congress for appropriations. This was an unusual move and speaks to strong public activism on the issue, since the Corps has no local sponsor for the MRGO project due to a dispute with the State of Louisiana about who is responsible for paying for these restoration projects. Despite strong public support and heavy activism, no wetland restoration projects in the plan have been funded by the Army Corps to date. Around the same time in 2012, the State of Louisiana released their 2012 Coastal Master Plan, which recognized the impacts of MRGO and touted the benefits of proposed projects. The plan also reflected the important role played by the NGO community and included the vast majority of the MRGO Must Go Coalition’s ecosystem restoration recommendations, including many of those in the Army Corps’ plan.
What still needs to happen?
- Meaningful restoration: The MRGO projects in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan are proving critical guides for current restoration efforts in the New Orleans area. The Master Plan served as a blueprint for the CWPPRA program as two projects in the MRGO impacted area advanced to planning and design in 2014. It will also guide restoration work funded by the RESTORE Act, legislation that brings Clean Water Act penalties generated from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, which directly impacted the MRGO ecosystem area in 2010, to the Gulf coast for restoration. In 2014, the state put forward three key MRGO projects — Golden Triangle Marsh Creation, Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration, and the Maurepas Diversion — as candidates for RESTORE Council The MRGO Must Go Coalition has met with RESTORE Council staff on several occasions to ensure they are fully aware of the need for restoration in the MRGO area. We will soon learn if these state-proposed projects were indeed chosen for funding.
So, what can you do?
- We’ve had many successes over the years with the closure of the channel and developing plans for restoration. However implementing these plans and restoring our critical coastal ecosystem remains. As the RESTORE Act process plays out, more funding will become available for restoration under direction of the RESTORE Council, State of Louisiana, and local parish governments. Those decision-makers will have the opportunity to ensure funds are used for restoration based on the best science and to make sure MRGO is addressed.
- It’s up to everyone who cares about the future resilience of our region to speak up. The loss of wetlands caused by the channel leaves us without our historic, protective wetland buffer – a major line of defense against storm surges and an important factor in the effectiveness of our new $14 billion levee system. We can strategically restore our region’s protective wetlands and sustain a healthy coastal ecosystem, but it’s up to us to be our own champions for resilience and ensure the right projects are funded.
As we approach the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we have our work cut out for us to ensure that restoration, which is vitally important to our region’s future, moves forward with urgency. Visit restorethebayou.org to learn how you can view the MRGO ecosystem impacts in person, learn more about ongoing ecosystem restoration and how you can get involved. Check out these albums from the MRGO Must Go Facebook page to see photos before and after the outlet’s closure.No Comments
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.
By Samantha Carter, Restore the Mississippi River Delta, National Wildlife Federation
Wind. Rain. Record-setting lows. None of that stopped community members and conservation groups from welcoming members of a federal restoration council to a potential project site in the Lower Ninth Ward last Thursday morning. Members of the MRGO Must Go Coalition met with Executive Director Justin Ehrenwerth and Environmental Compliance Director John Ettinger of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council at the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle platform in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. Joined by representatives from the US Army Corps of Engineers and the City of New Orleans Office of Coastal and Environmental Affairs, we had a robust discussion about the future of restoration in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) ecosystem area.
The platform at the end of Caffin Avenue overlooks a 400 acre “ghost” swamp, a remnant of a dense freshwater cypress tupelo forest that existed in the city boundaries until roughly 50 years ago. Saltwater intrusion, caused by the construction of the MRGO in the 1960s, killed the cypress swamp in the Lower 9th Ward and destroyed tens of thousands of acres of wetlands that once protected the Greater New Orleans area. The MRGO channel and the loss of the surrounding wetlands are attributed to the catastrophic flooding that occurred in the Lower Ninth Ward and surrounding communities during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle provides a unique opportunity for highly visible coastal restoration work. Only five miles from the French Quarter, the platform already attracts Orleans Parish locals and tourists alike who can learn about the history of the swamp and see an example of the coastal land loss problems that extend throughout southern Louisiana. If the project is funded and constructed, reintroducing Mississippi River sediment and freshwater into the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle could return the conditions in the area to a place where cypress swamp can once again survive. In addition to restoring ecology and increasing quality of life for residents, restoration work in this location would allow the public easy access to see the State’s Coastal Master Plan in action and potentially RESTORE Act restoration funds at work.
Discussions with the MRGO coalition and the RESTORE Council staff focused on this possibility and the process by which restoration projects are going to be chosen. The frigid weather kept the site visit short, but conversations continued in the warmth of the Greater Little Zion Baptist Church just a few minutes away. The RESTORE Council stressed the importance of coordination between different funding streams and leveraging completed work, such the programmatic EIS already done by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the MRGO ecosystem restoration area. MRGO Must Go coalition members shared their passion and vision for restoration and why they are engaged in the effort to see the MRGO ecosystem restored. There are already plans to revisit the platform together on a sunnier day and take a flight over the MRGO ecosystem.
Interested in visiting the platform and learning more? Check out http://www.restorethebayou.org/.
Guest post by Lynda Woolard (New Orleans)
This post is the first in a two-part guest series.
"The simple truth is, if we fail to restore our coast, we fail to protect our city from future storms."
I was recently blessed with an opportunity to go along for a boat trip to see the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) and the Central Wetlands of southeast Louisiana with a delegation from the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign. I was initially a little anxious, because despite having lived in New Orleans for 20 years, this was new territory for me. Although these wetlands are less than a 30-minute drive from my home, I had never been out to see them.
I felt some relief upon reaching the marina, as others on the boat were residents of St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes and had made this trip many times for fishing, work and recreation. My fears were replaced by awe as we traveled into the wetlands. The waterways and surrounding marshes were stunning and peaceful and seemed a world away from the city. Yet amazingly, we could still see the New Orleans skyline throughout much of our trip. While New Orleanians identify ourselves as living in a port city, we don’t often think of ourselves as living in a coastal city. But we do!
Interspersed with the beautiful natural scenery of southeast Louisiana were stark reminders of how precarious our proximity to the coast is. We saw an entire fishing village that had been wiped away by storm and remains a ghost town. We saw the memorial and sculpture at Shell Beach, placed in honor of the 163 St. Bernard residents who lost their lives during Hurricane Katrina. We saw the further peril we have put ourselves in by decades of carving up these coastal marshes and failing to protect them adequately.
The creation of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet navigation channel, which is a straight shot from the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of New Orleans, has put our entire region at greater risk from hurricanes. It’s been called the “Hurricane Highway” because it led a surge of seawater in a direct path to cause catastrophic flooding of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina. However, its damage is more far reaching than that. The construction of the MRGO has made our levees and surge barriers, which were not engineered to withstand open water, more vulnerable. Our hurricane protection systems, both manmade and natural, require protection by freshwater wetlands and marsh.
Because of the MRGO, our wetlands are disappearing at a more rapid pace. The channel itself has eroded as well, from a 650-foot wide waterway to 2,000 feet wide. While traveling down the MRGO, we could see cypress tree “tombstones” marking the spots where vibrant wetlands once flourished. Our charter boat captain told stories about how more islands vanish with each passing year. The introduction of salt water into the marshes has been disastrous.
The good news is that steps are being taken to restore the Mississippi River Delta. There is a Coastal Master Plan in place to rebuild the wetlands, barrier islands and marshes that serve as our city’s first lines of defense against hurricanes and to preserve the ecosystems that support our state’s way of life. Massive and impressive projects, like a surge barrier and a rock dam, have already been started that will lessen further damage from the MRGO.
But this good news comes with some alarm bells. Progress needs to come at a much faster rate, because our wetlands are disappearing too quickly. While traveling to the Golden Triangle Marsh, it was made very clear that St. Tammany Parish citizens need to be made aware that if we allow wetland deterioration to continue to the point of losing the New Orleans East Land Bridge, the waters of the Gulf will be on their doorstep. The environmental scientists and engineers working on restoration have done the research – they know the solutions and it is imperative, regardless of what we have allowed to happen in the past, that we listen to them now… and act.
The residents of Orleans Parish need to see this as an incredibly urgent issue, because this is as big of a safety issue as having secure, functioning levees. There is a direct correlation between protecting our city – as well as our culture – and restoring our wetlands. The simple truth is, if we fail to restore our coast, we fail to protect our city from future storms. I believe the Gulf Coast, Louisiana’s wetlands and the city of New Orleans are treasures worth saving. If we have the will, we have the power to make it happen.
New Orleans, LA
July 26, 2014
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.
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.No Comments
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.
In addition to the four National Park Service-grade signs, a new website, www.restorethebayou.org, 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.”
Other 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 www.restorethebayou.org to learn more about the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle and coastal restoration efforts.No Comments
Media Advisory for Friday, November 15, 2013
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, email@example.com
Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913-8978, firstname.lastname@example.org
Arthur Johnson, The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, 504.421.9643, email@example.com
Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle Signage Unveiling and Press Conference
New educational, interactive signs teach visitors about need for coastal restoration
Each year, thousands of people visit the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle viewing platform in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. New signage to be unveiled Nov. 15 will help these visitors and residents alike understand what they are seeing when they look out over a cypress ghost swamp in the backyard of a community devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Visitors will learn why the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle is important to the community, what has happened to the area since construction of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) and how the Triangle serves as a portal to the larger land loss issues facing Louisiana’s coast. This signage project is a product of The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED), Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
Press Conference Details:
WHAT: Press conference, signage unveiling and photo and interview opportunities.
WHEN: Friday, November 15, 10:00 a.m. CT
WHERE: Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle Viewing Platform
Florida Ave at Caffin Ave
Lower 9th Ward
New Orleans, LA 70117
Garret Graves, Chair, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana
Charles Allen, Director, Office of Coastal and Environmental Affairs, City of New Orleans
James Austin Gray II, Councilmember, New Orleans City Council
Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson, Councilmember-at-Large, New Orleans City Council (Invited)
Arthur Johnson, Executive Director, The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development
Amanda Moore, Greater New Orleans Program Manager, National Wildlife Federation
More information about the signs:
While at the viewing platform, visitors will have numerous opportunities to interact with the signs and the natural area around them. They can scan a QR code with their smartphones and watch videos about Bayou Bienvenue and other coastal restoration projects on the accompanying website. Visitors can use their phones to sign an action alert or text “BAYOU” to donate to the CSED’s coastal outreach program, call to listen to locals and coastal experts further discuss the coastal crisis facing Louisiana, sign up for volunteer opportunities with local organizations, as well as sign an electronic guestbook via Instagram.
WHO WE ARE: The Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Comprised of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in Houma, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. See more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.No Comments
Basics of the Basin research symposium discusses past, present and future of the Pontchartrain BasinNovember 6, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Mardi Gras Pass, Meetings/Events, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, Science
By Shannon Hood and Estelle S. Robichaux, Environmental Defense Fund
On October 24-25, 2013, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) hosted its 11th Basics of the Basin research symposium. Scientists and researchers from academia, non-profit organizations, private consulting groups and federal and state agencies gathered at the University of New Orleans (UNO) on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain to discuss the past, present and future issues of the Pontchartrain Basin. LPBF has hosted these biennial symposiums since 1992, providing an opportunity for students and established researchers alike to share and discuss the most up-to-date research on the restoration and management of Louisiana’s Pontchartrain Basin.
After opening remarks by Dr. John Lopez, executive director of LPBF, the plenary continued with comments and presentations from Phil Turnipseed of the U.S. Geological Survey; Dr. Ioannis Georgiou, Director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences at UNO; and Dr. Chip Groat, President and CEO of The Water Institute of the Gulf, among others. The conference was grouped into seven general session topics, including hydrodynamic modeling, water quality, storm surge protection, river diversions, wetland restoration, the Central Wetlands Unit and fisheries. Because of the diversity of environmental concerns within the Pontchartrain Basin, broad, interdisciplinary research is essential to effective system-wide restoration and management.
Understanding the present condition of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin requires a look into the history of the lake itself. Dr. Oliver Houck, professor at the Tulane University Law School, provided the storied account of the history of Lake Pontchartrain during his keynote speech. He spoke of the lake’s days as a hot spot for recreation, as well as its decline during the years when the lake was dredged for the clam shells that lined the bottom. This dredging caused a rapid decline in the health and suitability of this lake for wildlife habitat and for recreation. A few brave souls recognized the trauma that the lake was enduring and took on the task of halting the dredging to allow the lake to begin to heal. Through years of dedication, lawsuits and creative thinking, the dredging was successfully stopped, and the healing process began.
Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation’s original research was well represented at the conference, with 14 presentations in six different sessions. Eva Hillman presented LBPF’s research into the salinity levels found within wetland soils in the Central Wetlands Unit (CWU), just west of New Orleans. Construction of the nearby Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) in 1968 allowed salt water to easily enter these previously freshwater wetlands and lead to severe deterioration of the CWU wetlands. Although the MRGO has been closed since 2009, much of the area still remains highly degraded. LPBF scientists are monitoring soil salinity throughout the CWU to inform restoration efforts, specifically re-vegetation projects.
Research conducted by LPBF scientists on Mardi Gras Pass, a new and evolving distributary of the Mississippi River, was also on display. Dr. Theryn Henkel presented preliminary research on where the fresh water and sediment from Mardi Gras Pass is going once it enters the receiving basin. Results from this study indicate that the deposition of sediment happens well before the influence of fresh water on salinity levels in the receiving basin is no longer observed, and that sediment travels further into the northern areas of the basin than it does to the south. Andreas Moshogianis presented the preliminary findings of ongoing biological assessments in Mardi Gras Pass, most notably that a range of both fresh- and saltwater fishes have been caught during these assessments, often in the same net. LPBF’s research on Mardi Gras Pass is important because it has implications for future restoration efforts throughout coastal Louisiana, as scientists and citizens work to reconnect the Mississippi River with its delta.No Comments
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?
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