Archive for Restoration Projects


New White House climate agenda focuses on natural infrastructure, climate resilience

October 10, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Community Resiliency, Meetings/Events, Restoration Projects

By Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund

As part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, on Wednesday, the White House announced the release of the Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda. Prepared by the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience Climate and Natural Resources Working Group, this commitment across the Federal Government to support resilience of our natural resources is the first of its kind. The agenda identifies a suite of actions the Federal Government will take to increase the resiliency of our country’s natural resources to the current and future effects of climate change.

Shannon Cunniff, Environmental Defense Funds, speaks at the White House announcement.

Shannon Cunniff, Environmental Defense Fund, speaks at the White House about the importance of natural infrastructure and Mississippi River Delta wetlands restoration.

Included in the agenda are actions to protect important ecosystems and to promote climate-resilient lands and water; improve carbon sinks such as wetlands, grasslands and forests; support including natural infrastructure – such as coastal wetlands – into community planning; and modernizing Federal programs and investments to build resilience. A full list of actions as well as a timeline can be found here. The announcement also included new executive actions to support resilient natural systems, including investing in natural infrastructure, supporting coastal resilience and restoring forests in the Lower Mississippi River Delta.

Shannon Cunniff, Environmental Defense Fund, speaks at the White House.

Shannon Cunniff, Environmental Defense Fund.

Shannon Cunniff, deputy director for water programs at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), was invited to speak at the White House Wednesday. “To propel adoption of natural infrastructure as part of a balanced approach to coastal resiliency, EDF aims to demonstrate that incorporating these nature and nature-based systems cost-effectively reduces risks to coastal communities and improves their resiliency, while providing communities with other benefits,” she said.

“Natural infrastructure needs to be seen and embraced as a viable tool for reducing risk,” Shannon continued. Ms. Cunniff went on to point out that natural infrastructure is ideal for enhancing resiliency because:

  1. Natural infrastructure mitigates multiple sources of risk, including reducing tidal flooding, erosion and wave heights. It is especially effective for frequent, chronic impacts of sea level rise, which are predicted to increase with climate change.
  2. It also helps achieve climate adaptation and mitigation goals, as oyster reefs and wetlands also act as carbon sinks.
  3. Its use results in other co-benefits that achieve other public purposes, such as providing open space, recreation, fisheries, water quality improvement and drinking water protection benefits.

In places like the Mississippi River Delta, natural infrastructure works hand-in-hand with traditional “gray” infrastructure, such as levees and floodwalls. Coastal wetlands provide storm surge protection for levees, increasing the structures’ resiliency and helping prevent failure. Natural infrastructure can also reduce the cost of traditional infrastructure, as the height of seawalls or dunes can be reduced if there are enough protective wetlands in front of them. Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan contains a suite of restoration and resilience tools that work in concert to rebuild and protect Louisiana’s vanishing coast.

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Shannon Cunniff (EDF), Charles Rowney (American Society of Civil Engineers) and Susan Gilson (The National Association of Flood & Stormwater Management Agencies).

“What we are after is putting nature and nature-based infrastructure on a more even playing field with gray infrastructure, to provide the fullest set of tools for communities to plan and implement their more sustainable and resilient futures,” said Ms. Cunniff.

The Administration also reaffirmed its commitment to implement the Green Infrastructure Collaborative in the Climate Natural Resources Priority Agenda. The collaborative includes 26 public and private sector organizations – including Environmental Defense Fund – who have pledged to work together to highlight the multitude of benefits provided by natural infrastructure.

In addition to Ms. Cunniff, other speakers at Wednesday’s announcement were Ben Grumbles, President, U.S. Water Alliance; Ann Mills, Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Marion McFadden, Deputy Assistant General Counsel, Office of Housing and Community Development, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and Julius Ciaccia, executive director for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

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New study examines ecological and coastal restoration benefits of oyster reefs

October 3, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Restoration Projects, Science, Seafood

By Alisha Renfro, National Wildlife Federation

“Oysters are the most tender and delicate of all seafoods. They stay in bed all day and night. They never work or take exercise, are stupendous drinkers, and wait for their meals to come to them.” – Hector Bolitho

Oysters are remarkable organisms. Not only are they delicious, but each oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, which provides food for the oyster and improves local water quality. A collection of oysters form an oyster reef, which can provide food and habitat for a wide variety of fish and birds. In addition to these benefits, oyster reefs can also be an important tool for coastal restoration.

Oyster reef restoration project. Credit: NOAA.

Oyster reef restoration project. Credit: NOAA.

Oyster barrier reef restoration can reduce the erosion and retreat of nearby shorelines. An alternative to rocks in some areas of coastal Louisiana, oyster reef restoration can be a low maintenance project, as reefs can build themselves vertically over time, helping them keep pace with rising sea levels.

The benefits of oyster reef restoration can be great, but are all those benefits present as soon as the reef restoration project is finished or do they develop over time? A study published this year in Ecological Engineering, “Temporal variation in development of ecosystem services from oyster reef restoration,” examines the development of oyster reef benefits over time, including improved water quality, stabilization of nearby shorelines and use as fish and bird habitat.

In the study, led by Megan La Peyre, researchers built six experimental oyster reef projects along the shoreline of Sister Lake in Terrebonne Parish, La. The oyster reefs were created using shell material. The researchers found that:

  • Reefs were populated by oysters and other filter feeding organisms that provided water filtration benefits within the first year of post-project construction and continued for the duration of the study.
  • Shoreline stabilization benefits provided by the restored reef to nearby marshes varied with results suggesting that shoreline stabilization benefits only occurred during periods of high winds and more powerful waves.
  • Created oyster reefs immediately provided habitat and had increases in the abundance of fish species associated with them. This remained consistent throughout the study.
Forming bagged oyster shell reefs. Credit: NOAA.

Forming bagged oyster shell reefs. Credit: NOAA.

The results of this study suggest that oyster restoration projects can provide multiple benefits to the ecosystem that surrounds them fairly quickly after their construction, but that their ability to stabilize nearby shorelines may be limited in areas where waves are small but persistent. However, the researchers in the study suggest that modifications to the design and footprint of oyster reef restoration projects exposed to low energy wave may increase the shoreline stabilization benefits and should be explored further.

Oyster barrier reef restoration projects are an important component in our arsenal of coastal restoration tools. Prominently featured in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, this project type can have multiple benefits under the right conditions. However, like all types of restoration projects, there are factors that can limit project success. Oyster reef restoration projects depend on the recruitment and survival of oysters, which flourish under very specific conditions. Water that is too cold, too fresh, too salty or doesn’t have enough oxygen can limit the success of the project – if not dooming it to complete failure.

No one type of restoration project is the cure-all for combatting the rapid loss of land in coastal Louisiana. Instead, we need to use a combination of science-based projects in our restoration toolbox to staunch the rapid loss of our coast and build a more sustainable future.

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The Beauty of the Louisiana Barrier Islands

September 23, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Hurricanes, Meetings/Events, People, Restoration Projects

By Eden Davis, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign

Baby Pelican on Isles DernieresOn September 12, I had the opportunity to travel to Raccoon Island, one of the remaining barrier islands outside of Terrebonne Bay. Raccoon Island was once part of the 25-mile-long barrier island chain called Isles Dernieres or Last Islands. Prior to the Last Island Hurricane of August 10, 1856, Isles Dernieres was a famous resort destination. When the Last Island Hurricane hit, more than 200 people perished in the storm, and the island was left void of vegetation. The hurricane split the island into five smaller islands called East, Trinity, Whiskey, Raccoon and Wine Islands.

On this beautiful summer day, I traveled by boat with 18 other volunteers and employees from the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries 13 miles off the coast of Cocodrie to Raccoon Island. As we left Terrebonne Bay, we passed several shrimping boats and a distinctly large jack-up rig that was heading offshore. These were distinct reminders that Louisiana’s coast is a working coast that provides our nation with oil and gas and some of the best seafood one can sink its teeth into.

Pelicans Isle DernieresUpon reaching the island, we saw hundreds of pelicans. Many were in the air, some were in the water and others were on the island with their young whom were not yet able to fly. As we trekked to the beach side of the island, there were beautiful moon shells scattering the sand. Our task was to install a one-mile-long sand fence. This involved rolling out sections of the fence, standing it up and nailing it to the already placed fence posts.

The sand fence will help to restore and protect 20 acres of the rapidly eroding shoreline of Raccoon Island. The island chain used to be one large barrier island, but years of erosion from hurricanes compounded with a loss of sediment from the Mississippi River have broken the island into the four that exist today. The remaining islands continue to erode and, without intervention like the sand fence project, may wash away completely over the next several years. The sand fence will directly protect critical nesting habitat for the pelicans and other seabirds that call these islands home. The sand fence will also help to mitigate erosion.

Isle Dernieres Sand Fence Building IBarrier islands are our communities’ first line of defense. Storm surge during a hurricane will hit these islands before it hits our marshes and communities. Barrier islands are beautiful, but they are on the front lines of sea level rise and subsidence. If we fail to restore them, our grandchildren may never see their splendor. Moreover, the birds that call these islands home will be forced out of their habitat.

Brown pelicans, the island’s primary residents and our state bird, are at great risk if these islands succumb to the Gulf’s waters. Brown pelicans do not migrate. They stay in the mangroves, the beaches and the shores. As the Louisiana coast sinks into the Gulf, the critical habitat for these beautiful birds is threatened.

Sand Fence Isle DernieresIf you have a Friday or Saturday free, consider volunteering with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. They have regular marsh grass plantings, dune restoration projects and other ecosystem protection and restoration projects available for volunteers. Not only will you enjoy a beautiful day outdoors, but you will also be directly restoring and protecting our coast. Check out the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s event calendar here: https://www.thedatabank.com/dpg/316/mtglist.asp?formid=event&caldate=9-1-2014#mtgsrchfrm.

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Wax Lake Delta Tour Showcases New Land

August 13, 2014 | Posted by Ashley Peters in Meetings/Events, Restoration Projects

By Philip Russo, Plaquemines Parish Outreach Coordinator, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition

Ashore

A couple weeks ago, I traveled down the Atchafalaya River’s Wax Lake Outlet on a boat tour attended by state officials, coastal restoration advocates and media personnel. The outlet, constructed in 1941 to reduce flood stages at Morgan City, has had the serendipitous effect of creating its own delta—one particle of clay at a time.

Our boats approached one of the outlet’s delta islands. This large island, and others like it, formed over the last two decades. As a young man growing up here, I explored the warm, muddy bayous and dense cypress swamps surrounding Morgan City. There was deep satisfaction in knowing where I could hook catfish or stalk alligator. However, I didn't understand the significance of the area gaining land. Complex wetland ecosystems look simple when you don’t see the “swamp for the trees,” and I was oblivious to the larger role this watery landscape played in supporting our economy, protecting our communities and incubating our culture.

When we pulled ashore, Paul Kemp, a coastal oceanographer and geologist at Louisiana State University, said, “If we tried to propose a sediment diversion like this, they would say we’re crazy,” because the Wax Lake Outlet is a very large diversion with no control structures. However, "when you look at the landloss maps, this is the one place that’s [building land].”

Island Stubble

As an experienced professor, Kemp knows how to put this into perspective. In addition to building land, he described how the Atchafalaya’s sediment-rich waters help salt and brackish marshes, that line the nearby bays, keep up with sea level rise. “They are sustained by mud that comes into the bays and then gets re-suspended through tidal and wind action.”

He concluded that, these systems need mineral sediment, not just decaying organic matter and “deltas just don’t do very well in the absence of a river.”

When talking about coastal restoration in terms of rivers, deltas, and islands, it’s easy to focus on the sediment, especially if you’re hanging around a geologist. But the diversity and robustness of the plants, and thus the wildlife, is undeniable. According to Bren Haase at the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, “You just don’t see this in deteriorating deltas; you see this in building deltas.”

The Louisiana Wildlife Federation was perceptive in organizing this trip to give state officials, restoration advocates, and media personnel hands on experience with a growing delta. For me personally, it confirmed that I’ve come a long way in understanding and appreciating our wetlands. And it’s encouraging to see I haven’t made this journey alone since recent polls show that protecting and restoring our coast is a major public priority.

To those who haven’t had a chance, go to Wax Lake and see for yourself the possibilities for our coast.

Wax Lake Island

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Business Community, Civic Associations and Coastal Parishes call for Louisiana Legislature to Protect Coastal Fund and Pass HB 490

May 15, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in People, Restoration Projects, State Legislature

By Derek Brockbank, Campaign Director, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign

More than 150 businesses, business associations, economic development groups, civic associations, tourism and outdoor recreation groups recently signed on to a letter calling for the Louisiana Legislature to pass HB 490, to protect the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund from misuse.

At the same time, the 20 parish presidents that represent Louisiana’s coastal parishes sent their own letter to the leaders of the Louisiana House of Representatives and State Senate calling on them to support HB 490.

Led by Coast Builders Coalition, Dredging Contractors of America, Greater New Orleans, Inc. and dozens of local chambers of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus, the letter from businesses and civic associations stated that:

“Monies dedicated to the Coastal Fund should only be used for coastal protection and restoration, but for the past few years, a loophole in the law has been used by the state as a way to attempt to balance the state’s ailing budget. While the Louisiana constitution prohibits using one-time money for recurring costs, such as health care and higher education, some lawmakers believe they can get around that rule by transferring money through the Coastal Fund.

“As civic and business leaders who value restoration as one of our top policy priorities, we urge you to pass HB 490 and protect the integrity of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund, by ensuring it will be used only as intended.”

The letter from Louisiana Parishes Against Coastal Erosion (PACE), representing Louisiana’s 20 coastal parishes, said:

“La. PACE has reviewed and discussed the provisions set forth in this proposed piece of legislation, and has determined that HB 490 is in the best interest of the citizens of Louisiana.”

After unanimously passing the Louisiana House of Representatives, HB 490 is clearly gaining momentum. The more people hear about the bill, the more popular it becomes. Not surprisingly, the business community, local civic associations and coastal parishes understand that transparent and proper use of Coastal Fund dollars is essential to ensure the continued flow of BP oil spill fines and other federal funds to the state. Mismanagement of the Coastal Fund now will create doubts that could jeopardize millions of future dollars. HB 490 would protect the integrity of Louisiana’s Coastal Fund by using the Fund as the law intended – for coastal restoration and protection only. Now it’s up to the Louisiana State Senate to pass this important legislation.

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Diversions Expert Panel engages scientific community for second public meeting

May 1, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Diversions, Meetings/Events, Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, Restoration Projects, Science

By Erin Greeson (National Audubon Society) and Alisha Renfro (National Wildlife Federation)

While there is no question that large-scale action is urgently needed to add address Louisiana’s land loss crisis, some questions surround the scientific solutions necessary to address this challenge. As the state of Louisiana advances its Coastal Master Plan and the comprehensive set of restoration projects within it, experts have opened discussion to scientists and interested members of the public to provide information, share science and encourage dialogue.

This week in New Orleans, the Expert Panel on Diversion Planning and Implementation had their second meeting, which offered an opportunity to reconvene for updates and discussion on sediment diversions – one of the key tools in Louisiana’s coastal restoration toolbox. In addition to addressing environmental concerns, the panel addressed social and economic questions about river diversions and the communities they will impact.

Sediment-starved-sediment-wasted-CPRA

At the start of the meeting, Mr. King Milling, Chair of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation, delivered a powerful reminder of Louisiana’s disappearing coast:

“Demise of this delta would be an environmental impact of international proportions: disaster for economy, culture, communities – all the things we do and live for in the delta. If we don’t proceed urgently, we will lose the delta. Nothing will stop this damage if we don’t proceed in an orderly fashion with large-scale, comprehensive solutions. This is not a time for debate. Our role is to address the issue of remarkable deterioration, and the state’s diversion committee will be addressing issues and conflicts. Its position is to focus on the larger picture of how we can preserve as much as we can, and how can we create a system that will protect as much as we can.”

2012-Master-Plan-Coastwide1

The first day of the meeting was open to the public, and the agenda reflected many of the areas of focus that require follow-up from the panel’s first meeting. Presentations from the Army Corps of Engineers, The Water Institute of the Gulf and Biedenharn Group focused on the Hydrodynamic Study, which is collecting data in the river and using models to represent conditions in the river as it is today, predicting what the river will be like in the future without diversion projects and how the construction and operation of diversion projects change the river compared to the future without the diversions. They also briefly discussed the Mississippi River Delta Management Study, expected to begin soon, which will focus on the basin-side effects of diversions and evaluate combinations of diversion projects that maximize the number of acres of wetlands built or sustained over time.

Presentations from David Lindquist from the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) summarized the current state of knowledge on fisheries and wildlife response to existing freshwater diversions. Craig Colten, Ph.D. from the Water Institute of the Gulf highlighted the importance of considering the influences of restoration projects on communities.

A presentation from Micaela Coner and Bob Beduhn narrowed the discussion down to the engineering and design considerations of a single project – the Mid-Barataria Diversion. Ms. Coner, CPRA, discussed the Mid-Barataria sediment diversion project within the context of the 109 Coastal Master Plan projects. Speaking to the plan’s theme of reconnecting the river with its estuaries, she described sediment diversions as the best opportunity to build, maintain and sustain land.

Dr. Robert Twilley, Louisiana State University

Dr. Robert Twilley

Dr. Robert Twilley, Louisiana State University, described how the river once built natural resource wealth: “Natural resource economies and the flooding of the river once coexisted. The wealth of fisheries, and the wealth of the river building wetlands, once coexisted. Today, there’s a conflict. Historically, the river built land during big flood events. Nature had this figured out. We’re forcing a conflict. There is a resolution to this.”

During the closing portion of the meeting, attendees had opportunities to provide comments to the Expert Panel. Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition leaders were among the conversation.

David Muth

David Muth, NWF

David Muth of the National Wildlife Federation urged the panel to consider the historical context of the river in addressing site-specific questions about diversions: “We have glimpses from historical record about how productive this system once was. But for the past 300 years, we have been choking off that system.”

John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation described the coastal land loss crisis in powerful terms and underscored for a sense of urgency: “This house is on fire. Lives are at risk. We have a great scientific challenge, but we don’t have time to delay.”

More background on the Expert Panel:

During its first meeting in January, the Expert Panel was asked to focus on the topics of uncertainty – underlying natural variability and limitations in knowledge – they perceived surrounding the design and operation of major freshwater and sediment diversions. A report summarizing their findings and recommendations from that first meeting was released in February.

In this report the panel focused on identifying six areas that should be answered or considered as sediment diversions move further from idea into planning, engineering and design:

  1. Data collection is important for understanding the system as it is today and for evaluating performance of individual diversion projects.
  2. A controlled sediment diversion does not currently exist, but some information needed to understand the time scales and extent of land building that could be expected from a controlled sediment diversion can be gleaned from natural crevasses.
  3. The response of plant, fish and wildlife communities to the operation of sediment diversions should be incorporated into modeling of different scenarios, both capacity and operation, of a diversion.
  4. The potential social and economic influences of a diversion project need to be considered to minimize any potential negative impacts that can be foreseen.
  5. Planning and design of diversion projects need to be explored under present day and possible future conditions (e.g. sea level rise, changes in precipitation) to maximize project success in the very near and long-term future.
  6. Communications between planners and stakeholders to discuss the realities and limitations of any predictions is essential for project success.
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Mississippi River carries enough sand to build new land for at least 600 years, new study suggests

April 28, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Diversions, Reports, Restoration Projects, Science

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

As spring weather warms the Midwest, snow melts and drains from 31 states into the Mississippi River. In south Louisiana, the mighty Mississippi River is nearing its peak flow of nearly 900,000 cubic feet of water per second. Rolling down the river with the water is mud and sand, which are essential to building wetlands in the disappearing Mississippi River Delta.

Mississippi River Basin modified from nps.gov

Every hour in Louisiana, a football field of land becomes open water. This land loss crisis is caused in part by levees built for flood protection and navigation which severed the connection between the delta and the river, almost completely halting the land-building processes that once created this iconic landscape.

Sediment diversions are large-scale restoration projects that move sand and mud from the river through the levees into nearby wetlands during high river flows – such as this year’s spring high water flow – to restart the land-building process and help sustain existing wetlands. One important question to understand the full land-building potential of these projects is: Is the Mississippi River a long-term, sustainable source of mud and sand?

A recent Nature Geoscience paper by Jeffrey Nittrouer, Ph.D. of River University and Enrica Viparelli, Ph.D. of the University of South Carolina, “Sand as a stable and sustainable resource for nourishing the Mississippi River delta,” suggests that while the amount of mud carried by the Mississippi River has decreased since the 1970s, the sand it carries has remained steady and may do so for the next 600 years.

The Missouri River is an important source of sediment to the Mississippi, historically supplying about one-half of the total sediment moving down the Mississippi River. However, dams built in the 1950s along the Missouri have been hypothesized as the cause of the large reduction in the amount of total sediment (mud plus sand) that makes its way down to the Mississippi.

In this study, Nittrouer and Viparelli look at changes in the mud and sand carried by the river over a year since the 1970s and found that while the amount of mud that makes it to Tarbert Landing, Miss. (306 miles above the Bird’s Foot delta) has decreased over time, the amount of sand has been consistent. They point out that the likely source of sand is material that is being eroded out of the river channel.

Nittrouer and Enrica applied a model to simulate the response of a sudden reduction in sediment supply that likely occurred with dam construction along the Missouri River in the 1950s. The model indicates that erosion of sand in the river channel between Cairo, Ill. and Vicksburg, Miss. keeps the amount of sand available at Tarbert Landing, Miss. steady for the next 600 years.  

Sand and mud are both needed to restore the Mississippi River Delta. Sand, which is 20 percent of the sediment carried by the river, is essential for building new platforms that can support marsh vegetation. Mud, which makes up the other 80 percent, is necessary for maintaining and increasing the resiliency of existing marsh to sea level rise and storm events.

This study suggests that there is a steady supply of sand to the lowermost part of the Mississippi River that can be put to work by constructing and using sediment diversions to mimic nature to build new land, help sustain existing wetlands and begin the restoration of the Mississippi River Delta. This is positive news for large-scale coastal restoration efforts. 

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Profiles in Resilience: ORA Estuaries wins 2014 Water Challenge business pitch at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week

April 14, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Economics, People, Profiles in Resilience, Restoration Projects

By Keenan Orfalea, Communications Intern, Environmental Defense Fund

Last month, ORA Estuaries took first place in the 2014 Water Challenge business pitch competition at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. The Baton Rouge-based company beat out four other startups to claim the prize, which included $50,000 in seed money as well as free office space and legal counsel for a year. This support will help the company to expand the use of its innovative products and services in restoring Louisiana’s wetlands.

tyler ortego 2

Tyler Ortego, president and founder of ORA Estuaries.

ORA Estuaries provides engineering, scientific and regulatory consulting services as well as project implementation for clients including local, state and federal governments. The company’s primary products are the patented OysterBreak™ and OysterKrete® technologies.

“The OysterBreak and OysterKrete technologies were originally developed in Louisiana to address Louisiana's coastal land loss,” said Tyler Ortego, president and founder of the company. “This prize package, combined with recent project successes, is critical to allowing ORA Estuaries to export that success to other areas of the country and world.”

ORA’s innovative technologies are specifically designed to facilitate the protection, restoration and healthy growth of coastal estuaries. OysterBreak™ is designed to use the gregarious, shell-building nature to form a living coastal protection structure. The system has proven more effective than alternative rock structures. By employing these tools, ORA Estuaries is able to accomplish its primary goals of stabilizing shoreline and enhancing marine ecosystems.

Small Oysterbreak. Credit: ORA Estuaries.

Small Oysterbreak™. Credit: ORA Estuaries.

While ORA Estuaries may be a startup, Ortego has years of experience working in coastal engineering and natural resource management. He is a Graduate of Louisiana State University and holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biological Engineering, as well as being both a professional engineer and a certified oyster biologist with the state’s Oyster Lease Damage Evaluation Board. He started his career consulting on wetland restoration, flood protection and mitigation projects around Louisiana and the Gulf Coast before founding ORA Estuaries. Since then, the company has participated in a number of large-scale plans involving the study and design of oyster reefs and various other aquatic environments. Through the success of these projects, Mr. Ortego hopes they will become “the new definition of a living shoreline.”

Thanks to winning the Water Challenge business pitch, ORA Estuaries plans to use its innovator prize monies to help market their OysterBreak™ technology as a solution to coastal restoration experts internationally.

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Rebuilding coastal Louisiana, using the natural power of the mighty Mississippi

February 12, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2011 Mississippi River Flood, 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Birds, Diversions, Mardi Gras Pass, Restoration Projects, Science

This was originally posted by Environmental Defense Fund on EDF Voices.

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

Soon after my flyover of the Mississippi River Delta, I joined Dr. John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) on a boat ride down the Bohemia Spillway to Mardi Gras Pass. As we sped down the spillway canal, beautiful swamp lilies and purple morning glories popped out against a backdrop of lush, green plants. Once we reached our destination, we saw an incredible number of birds: Laughing Gulls, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue and Tricolored Herons – just to name a few. This, along with an increase in the number of river otters and beavers observed, is a good indicator that there are healthy fish populations in the area.

mardigraspass

Thirty-five miles southeast of New Orleans, Mardi Gras Pass is the Mississippi River’s newest and naturally evolving “distributary,” a channel of water that flows away from the main branch of the river. This new distributary began forming during the spring flood of 2011, when the water level of the Mississippi River was so high that it flowed over the natural levee in this area. When the floodwaters receded, Dr. Lopez and his team of scientists noticed two breaches in the embankment. These breaches continued to widen and deepen and soon, right around Mardi Gras Day 2012, the breach was complete. The Mississippi River was once again connected to the surrounding wetlands, allowing freshwater and land-building sediment back into the area.

Losing Louisiana

Louisiana has lost 25% of its coastal land area since 1930 and continues to lose land at an alarming rate – one football field every hour, on average. Man-made levees along the Mississippi River cut off many small distributaries, like Mardi Gras Pass, from the wetlands in the floodplain of the river and have contributed to this massive wetland loss. Our team here at EDF works with partner organizations, including the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, as part of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition, which has a vision of reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to help protect people, wildlife and jobs in coastal Louisiana.

To address the complex, yet urgent need for coastal restoration in Louisiana, the state legislature unanimously passed the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. This plan is a long-term, science-based restoration program that includes nearly 250 restoration projects such as barrier island restoration, marsh creation, establishment of oyster barrier reefs and sediment diversions that will help rebuild Louisiana’s disappearing coast.

Restoring our coast, restoring my hope

One of the principal guidelines for restoration under the Coastal Master Plan is to address the root causes of land loss by using the natural power of the Mississippi River to build land at a large scale. Sediment diversions, a central component of the plan, embody this principle because they are designed to mimic the natural stages of the river and carry sediment to the areas of coastal Louisiana that need it most. By operating diversions at times of high water flow (like during a flood), large amounts of sediment can be diverted. It will then settle out in the wetlands and shallow bays, eventually building land mass in vulnerable coastal areas.

In a way, Mardi Gras Pass is a naturally occurring ‘pilot project’ of a sediment diversion. Knowledge gained from studying this area can tell us about the land-building properties, as well as the short-term effects, of sediment diversions. To learn more about this, LPBF scientists are studying how the reintroduction of freshwater and sediment to the spillway area is changing the wetlands and affecting wildlife populations.

Swift currents and downed trees along the edge of the flooded forest can make navigating Mardi Gras Pass somewhat treacherous, but we, in a trusty 14’ skiff, maneuvered through the channel and onto the Mississippi River for a brief but thrilling cruise.

This is what it means for the river to be connected to its floodplain, I thought as we emerged out onto the open water, this is what this ecosystem is supposed to be like.

Although I grew up only a few miles from it, this was the third time in my life I had been out on the Mississippi River and the first time it was in a boat small enough that I could reach down and touch its muddy waters. As our tiny boat circled out in that mighty river, despite the heat and the midday sun, I had goose bumps.

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Expert panel discusses diversions as a coastal restoration tool

January 17, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Army Corps of Engineers, Diversions, Meetings/Events, Restoration Projects, Science

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

Last week in Baton Rouge, The Water Institute of the Gulf hosted the inaugural meeting of the Expert Panel on Diversion Planning and Implementation. The panel – comprised of 12 experts in natural and social sciences, engineering and economics – was selected from more than 60 nominees from across the country. Panel members are all from outside Louisiana, in order to foster critical and constructive review of work being led by Louisiana-based experts. Under the direction of The Water Institute of the Gulf and meeting up to three times a year, this independent panel will provide technical review, input and guidance as the state moves forward and refines its plans for diverting fresh water and sediment from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers to build, maintain and sustain coastal wetlands. For this first meeting, the panel was asked to consider the most suitable approaches to addressing current or perceived uncertainties in the planning and design of sediment diversions.

The first day of this meeting was open to the public and included a series of presentations outlining the urgent need for restoration in coastal Louisiana as well as various perspectives on sediment diversions. Kyle Graham, Deputy Executive Director of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), summarized Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan. In his presentation, Graham pointed out that there was no single restoration project type that can address the state’s land-loss crisis in one fell swoop, but that a suite of restoration projects are needed, including barrier island restoration, marsh creation, oyster barrier reefs, shoreline protection, hydrologic restoration and sediment diversions. Barrier island restoration and marsh creation can mechanically create land in strategic locations, but sediment diversions convey sediment to not only build new land but also to maintain existing wetlands that would otherwise be lost.

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Brigadier General Duke DeLuca, Commander of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi Valley Division, presented the Corps’ perspective on sediment diversions. DeLuca discussed some of the questions that the Corps would like to see answered as sediment diversions move from plan to implementation. Many of these outstanding questions should be directly addressed through the Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study, a joint project being conducted by the State of Louisiana and the Corps. The study will use historic and field data, along with models, to do an assessment of large-scale restoration features to address sustainability of the Mississippi River Delta.

Additional presenters included Jim Tripp from Environmental Defense Fund, Michael Massimi from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, Dr. Ehab Mesehle from The Water Institute of the Gulf and Dr. Alaa Ali from South Florida Water Management District.

In a late afternoon panel, Mark Wingate and Martin Mayer of the Corps’ New Orleans District, John Ettinger of the Environmental Protection Agency and Ronnie Paille of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, discussed their federal agencies’ views on diversions. Afterwards, the public was given the opportunity to voice their thoughts and concerns about coastal restoration directly to the panel.

The following day, panel members met in private to discuss the uncertainties discussed and the science that needs to be done to address these uncertainties. A report on that meeting will be given at a CPRA meeting in the coming months.

Bold solutions are needed to halt the rate of catastrophic land loss in coastal Louisiana. Every year, communities throughout the coast inch closer to disaster, becoming more and more exposed to the destructive forces of storm events. Infrastructure, which is vitally important to the economy of Louisiana and the nation, becomes more vulnerable, and important habitat for wildlife, fish and birds vanishes.

Limited by money and sediment resources, there is no one type of restoration project that is a cure-all solution. A suite of restoration projects that strengthen and sustain the landscape is necessary. Sediment diversions use the natural power of the river to build new land and help maintain the existing wetlands. To do nothing or to only implement the least challenging types of restoration projects would doom the resource-rich Louisiana coast.

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