Archive for Restoration Projects
Study demonstrates importance of sediment diversions for building land in the Mississippi River DeltaMarch 27, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Diversions, Restoration Projects, Science
By Alisha A. Renfro, Ph.D., Staff Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
Last week, an independent scientific panel comprised of prominent scientists from throughout the U.S. released a report, “Mississippi River Freshwater Diversions in Southern Louisiana: Effects of Wetland Vegetation, Soils, and Elevation,” which examines some of the ecological effects of freshwater river diversions. The panel concluded that there is little evidence suggesting that the existing freshwater diversions in Louisiana have appreciably reversed the rate of land loss in the region, and that to reverse the land loss trend, significant inputs of sediment are needed. While most of the existing diversions in Louisiana were built to move fresh water only, many of the diversions included in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan focus on sediment capture and conveyance into coastal wetlands.
Freshwater diversions affect basins by reducing salinities. Extensive dredging of canals throughout the Mississippi River Delta’s wetlands has allowed for salt water from the gulf to intrude into wetlands adapted to lower salinity conditions, resulting in large areas of these wetlands dying and being converted to open water. Wetland vegetation is affected directly by the salinity of the water in wetland soil. High salt concentrations in the soil can affect vegetation by reducing the overall rate of photosynthesis, decreasing nutrient uptake and stunting growth rates. Consequently, the introduction of fresh water into wetland communities damaged by saltwater intrusion is vital in any restoration effort.
Freshwater diversions also increase the amount of nutrients introduced into the receiving basin. While increases in nutrient availability to wetland vegetation would presumably stimulate growth, scientific information collected in Louisiana marsh communities have exhibited varying results depending on plant species, nutrient concentrations and the abundance of different types of nutrients. Increasing the amount of nutrients may also alter the composition of the plant community, as some species of plants have a competitive advantage when it comes to nutrient uptake and growth.
River diversions can also have an influence on wetland elevation. In order for wetlands to persist over time, processes that increase the surface elevation of the wetlands must be equal to factors that increase the threat of submergence (e.g. sea level rise, storms). Diversions have the potential to promote an increase in the elevation of a wetland by adding mineral sediment to the surface and stimulating plant growth both above and below ground. However, the surface elevation of a wetland could decrease as nutrients become less scarce, as the abundance of vegetation roots decline and as an increase in the breakdown of belowground organic material by bacteria takes place. More scientific studies are needed to enhance our understanding of the relationship between marsh response and river input in order to better predict the net effect that sediment and freshwater diversions may have on different marsh types.
This scientific panel found that any freshwater diversion that does not transport a substantial sediment load is unlikely to reverse the current trend of wetland loss in Louisiana. The 2012 Coastal Master Plan recognizes and addresses this reality by focusing on large-scale diversions that would be capable of transporting significant amounts of river sediment into the nearby wetlands. In addition to shifting the focus of diversions from fresh water to sediment, the panel determined that a formal adaptive management scheme is needed for existing and planned diversions where the goals of the project are clear, the pre-diversion conditions of the affected area are well characterized, monitoring in the outfall area is done to measure the progress of the project in relation to its goals and a process exists to adjust the operation of the structure to increase the likelihood those goals are reached.
- Fact sheet: "Pulsed" land-building sediment diversions
- Mississippi River Freshwater Diversions in Southern Louisiana: Effects of Wetland Vegetation, Soils, and Elevation (Technical Panel from the Workshop on Response of Louisiana Marsh Soils and Vegetation to Diversions)
By Amanda Moore, Greater New Orleans Program Manager, National Wildlife Federation
On Wednesday, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Lacombe, La. for what possibly could be his last public meeting outside of Washington, D.C. Salazar said he was proud to hold the meeting in the Mississippi River Delta, adding that it is “a world-class conservation area for hunting and fishing.”
State and local government officials, fishermen and women, and non-profit leaders turned out to the refuge to meet the secretary, ask questions, and share concerns on topics ranging from coastal community and at-risk youth engagement in coastal restoration to ensuring that ecosystem restoration is the focus of BP oil disaster fines and penalties routed through the RESTORE Act.
Speaking to the BP disaster, Salazar said, “Sometimes from the hardest of times, the best of things arise. We have a great opportunity to put restoration of the Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast on steroids.”
The secretary acknowledged the contribution the Gulf Coast makes to the country in terms of energy production and noted that we now have the resources to move forward with some of the major structures needed for restoration, like river diversions in the Mississippi River Delta. He said Louisiana can be one of “our best examples of ecosystem restoration.”
Mr. Secretary, we are ready to make it happen.1 Comment
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council recently released "The Path Forward to Restoring the Gulf Coast: A Proposed Comprehensive Plan." The RESTORE Act, signed into law in July, required the newly created Restoration Council to publish a Proposed Plan within six months of the legislation becoming law. Only six pages in length, the Path Forward provides a general framework for the Restoration Council to follow while developing their more robust Initial Comprehensive Plan, due out in July 2013. Moving forward, it is important that the Restoration Council create a Comprehensive Plan concentrated on restoring Gulf Coast ecosystems, which are the backbone of a healthy and thriving gulf economy.
Following the 2010 gulf oil disaster, Congress passed the RESTORE Act to ensure robust restoration of the Gulf Coast. Through the RESTORE Act, Congress developed a framework for federal and state officials to undertake comprehensive restoration. Congress provided money for restoration by ensuring at least 30 percent of funds under the RESTORE Act are dedicated to ecosystem projects. To oversee much of the restoration, the RESTORE Act establishes a highly experienced body of federal and state stakeholders, known at the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. Finally, the law requires the Restoration Council to develop a scientifically-based Comprehensive Plan to guide ecosystem restoration projects to implementation. The “Path Forward” document is a first step to building a plan for ecosystem restoration.
As expected, and required by law, the Path Forward builds on the work and recommendations of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, which was led by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Task Force strategy had four overarching goals: habitat restoration, restore water quality, replenish marine resources and enhance community resilience. The newly released Path Forward adds a fifth goal of revitalizing the gulf economy. Moving forward, it is important for the Restoration Council to ensure that funds dedicated to the Comprehensive Plan are used solely for ecosystem restoration projects. After all, numerous studies have shown that ecosystem restoration supports economic restoration, including healthy tourism and fishing industries. New jobs created by the ecosystem restoration projects help protect existing infrastructure, rebuild critical wetlands, and create a new export industry focused on coastal and delta restoration.
We are excited about the Restoration Council’s commitment to long-term recovery in the gulf. In the Path Forward, the Restoration Council has reaffirmed their plans to invest in “specific actions, projects, and programs that can be carried out in the near-term to help ensure on-the-ground results to restore the overall health of the ecosystem.” By incorporating the best available science and adapting the Comprehensive Plan over time to incorporate new science, the plan can advance innovative ecosystem restoration solutions, like freshwater sediment diversions.
We look forward to the next draft of the Comprehensive Plan due out sometime before July.No Comments
It's been exactly 1,000 days since the BP-operated oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, gushing millions of barrels of crude oil into a body of water that supports countless ecosystems and economies.
Below is a timeline of major events that have occurred in the last 1,000 days.
- Restorethegulf.org, "First oiled bird is recovered."
- Restorethegulf.org, "NOAA Expands Fishing Closed Area in Gulf of Mexico."
- The New York Times, "Effects of Spill Spread as Tar Balls Are Found."
- TIME, "100 Days of the BP Spill: A Timeline."
- The White House, "Executive Order 13554–Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force."
- Bloomberg, "BP Oil Still Ashore One Year After End of Gulf Spill."
- PNAS, "Impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on a deep-water coral community in the Gulf of Mexico."
- University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, "Study confirms oil from Deepwater Horizon disaster entered food chain in the Gulf of Mexico."
- The Times-Picayune, "About 565,000 pounds of oiled material from Deepwater Horizon stirred up by Hurricane Isaac."
- The New York Times, "BP Will Plead Guilty and Pay Over $4 Billion."
- Georgia Tech Biology, "Gulf of Mexico Clean-Up Makes 2010 Spill 52-Times More Toxic."
- University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, "UMiami scientists partner with NOAA, Stanford and U of N Texas to study post spill fish toxicology."
- NOAA Fisheries Service, "2010-2013 Cetacean Unusual Mortality Event in Northern Gulf of Mexico."
- The Times-Picayune, "Transocean to pay $1.4 billion to settle pollution, safety violations in Gulf oil spill."
By Shannon Hood, Environmental Defense Fund
Terrestrial carbon sequestration is the process by which atmospheric carbon dioxide is taken up by plants through photosynthesis and stored as carbon in biomass and soil. During the process of photosynthesis, plants take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, coupled with sunlight and water, and turn it into sugar and oxygen, allowing them to act as long-term storage facilities for carbon (“carbon sinks”). Some carbon is re-emitted during the process of respiration, but overall, vegetated areas act as net carbon storage facilities. Utilizing vegetated areas as sinks for carbon allows carbon emissions from other sources (fossil fuel emissions, deforestation, etc.) to be offset. The value of forested lands has been documented for carbon sequestration (e.g., “REDD-Avoiding Planned Deforestation” and “Afforestation and Reforestation of Degraded Lands”), however, until now, the ability of wetlands to capture and store blue carbon hasn’t been formally recognized or quantifiable.
Tierra Resources LLC, an environmental consulting firm based in New Orleans, has developed the first American Carbon Registry-certified methodology for creating carbon offset credits for wetland restoration activities. (In a follow-up post, we will provide information on the methodology and test site). The methodology provides a calculation for determining the number of carbon credits that may be obtained from a wide variety of wetland restoration projects. Never before had wetlands entered the arena for carbon credits, but the potential for credits to be obtained from their restoration is tremendous!
Biologically, wetlands are some of the most highly productive ecosystems in the world, with high rates of photosynthesis. Higher rates of photosynthesis lead to greater carbon capture and storage by trees, grasses and other plants. In addition, wetlands soils are largely anaerobic, meaning that incorporated carbon decomposes slowly and can be stored for long periods of time.
Tierra Resources estimates that if 25 percent of the four million acres of Mississippi River Delta wetlands that are eligible under this methodology are selected for restoration through carbon sequestration, between $5 and $15 billion may be generated over the next 40 years. This creates an additional source of funding for wetlands restoration and adds yet another ecosystem service to the many already provided by the Mississippi River Delta.No Comments
SMART Solutions for Restoration: The Second Summit on Coastal Restoration in Lafourche and Terrebonne ParishesDecember 5, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Meetings/Events, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), Restoration Projects, RESTORE the Gulf Coast States Act
By Maura Wood, National Wildlife Federation
On Oct. 31, 2012, Garret Graves, director of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), spoke at the Second Summit on Coastal Restoration in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes held at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La. At the time, summit attendees were unaware of the proposed settlement on criminal penalties against BP for oil spill damages that would designate a sizable portion of these funds over the next five years to river diversions and barrier islands to restore Louisiana’s coastal habitats. Now, with a tangible and substantial amount pending only approval by the judge, his comments are even more relevant.
Mr. Graves began by detailing progress made over the last five years, including establishment of the CPRA as a policy and implementation arm with the authority to consolidate and integrate coastal protection and restoration functions which were formerly scattered throughout state government. He stressed resiliency and a comprehensive approach to restoration as central themes of CPRA. Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, informed by these themes, created a common set of principles while also recognizing limitations in funding and resources to accomplish restoration and protection. With that in mind, he detailed five next steps to strengthen the state’s ability to plan and build projects.
First, Graves spoke of the importance of continuing to integrate the expertise and capability of agencies and entities at the federal, regional, state and parish level. Second, he detailed the need to improve the predictability of funding. Gulf of Mexico Energy Securities Act (GOMESA), the RESTORE Act, gulf oil spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) funding, and BP civil penalties are all potential sources, although how much might be available and when remains a murky issue.
Third, Graves recommended a better integration of levee districts. The effort to combine and streamline began with the consolidation of several levee districts in the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina. Graves reminded participants that many levee districts were established in the '40s, '50s and '60s, and their boundaries are frequently political. Now, he said, would be a good time to consider hydrologic boundaries as opposed to geopolitical ones.
Next, Graves cited the utter emergency of the current rate of land loss and called for reform in the way the Army Corps of Engineers pursues projects. While praising the corps in some areas, he asserted the need to speed progress exponentially and called for an end to obstacles and delays. Finally, Graves detailed the need to establish a network of pipelines to deliver sediment to areas across the coast that are currently sediment starved. Although river diversions will deliver the most bang for the buck, he said, we must also get sediment in to some areas as quickly as possible.
Graves may not have known that a BP criminal settlement would dedicate $1.2 billion over the next five years to restore barrier islands and implement river diversion projects – significant progress toward a renewed and self-renewing coast. Yet his major next steps – integrating the capability and expertise of federal agencies, levee districts, as well as the corps; and changing positions and practices that impair rapid action on restoration – are all the more important now that money is available.
The second summit for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on coastal restoration in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes was sponsored by Restore or Retreat and the National Wildlife Federation. The event brought together NGO representatives who have considered restoration goals in these parishes and are committed to specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely (SMART) actions to advance those goals.No Comments
By Alisha Renfro, Ph.D., Staff Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
In the aftermath of the BP oil disaster, President Obama created the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force through an executive order in October 2010. The mission of this Environmental Protection Agency-led group was to develop a long-term, holistic and science-based ecosystem restoration plan for the Gulf Coast.
Included in this effort was the Science Coordination Team which involved more than 70 scientists from federal and state agencies who provided scientific input for the development of the strategy document. While the final Gulf of Mexico Regional Ecosystem Restoration Strategy was released in December 2011, the Science Coordination Team realized there was also a need to develop a science program to ensure that both focused and ecosystem-wide science would be available to implement and maintain the Gulf Coast restoration projects. The science team produced a report in April 2012 titled “Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Science Assessment and Needs,” which identified current conditions in the gulf and specified actions that need to be taken to meet the goals set for a healthier ecosystem.
The qualifiers for the recovery of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem are:
- Coastal wetland and barrier shoreline habitats are healthy and resilient.
- Fisheries are healthy, diverse, and sustainable.
- Coastal communities are adaptable and resilient.
- A more sustainable storm buffer exists.
- Inland habitats, watersheds, and offshore waters are healthy and well managed.
The coastal habitats of the Gulf of Mexico are some of the most productive ecosystems on earth. However, there has been an overall decline in health of these ecosystems as wetlands have been lost, barrier islands have eroded, and water and sediment quality has declined, which has increased stressors on commercially-important species and other organisms. As miles of the Gulf Coast’s protective wetlands and shorelines have been lost due to natural disasters and other events, including the BP oil spill and several hurricanes, the vulnerability of the people who call the region home has increased.
To address these changes, the science team recommended a variety of actions, including identifying historic changes in land use and shoreline changes; determining the sediment, water and nutrient resources needed to support sustainable habitats; and increasing the understanding of the relationships between different types of gulf habitats. Additionally, long-term, continuous scientific data, analysis, and interpretation were identified as critical for informing the design, construction, and operation of restoration projects. They were also considered key in developing modeling tools, methods, and protocols for undertaking ecosystem-level restoration planning and assessing restoration success.
Increasing the health of the surrounding ecosystem will also help improve the resiliency of coastal communities. To directly address risk reduction for communities, the science team suggested holding workshops and training opportunities to bring together local community planners, emergency managers and building code officials to learn about the surrounding environment and how to build more resilient coastal communities.
In September 2012, the duties and responsibilities of the Task Force were transitioned to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. That month, President Obama issued an Executive Order recognizing the importance of the Gulf Coast as a national treasure and acknowledging the successful completion of the Task Force and its strategy document. The Executive Order transferred the Task Force’s duties to the new Restoration Council. The Council, established by the RESTORE Act, will build on the work of the Task Force, identifying projects and programs that would help restore and protect natural resources and ecosystems of the Gulf Coast with funding from the RESTORE Act’s Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. With a strategy and source of funding in place, recovery and restoration of the Gulf Coast, including the Mississippi River Delta, moves one step closer to becoming a reality.No Comments
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, firstname.lastname@example.org
Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, email@example.com
Lacey McCormick, National Wildlife Federation, 512.203.3016, firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott Madere, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, 225.767.4181, email@example.com
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin, 604.421.7348, firstname.lastname@example.org
Environmental Groups Praise Historic Criminal Settlement
Using BP criminal penalties for restoration a step forward to unprecedented civil fines
Leading conservation groups praised the Department of Justice for reaching a historic $4.5 billion settlement on the criminal charges stemming from the 2010 BP oil disaster. This settlement will send $1.2 billion to coastal Louisiana restoration projects with an emphasis on river diversion projects and barrier island restoration.
The statement by the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign applauded the Department of Justice for its commitment to holding BP accountable and promoting restoration while stressing that this is only the first step in the pursuit of full accountability for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
“This announcement is historic not just for the dollar amount but also for the commitment it makes to restoring the Mississippi River Delta,” said the National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. “Moreover, by specifically directing dollars to fund barrier island restoration and the construction of a river diversion in the Mississippi River Delta, the Department of Justice also acknowledged the need for large-scale restoration of an ecosystem that was both impacted by the spill and already degraded before the spill. Such foresight is necessary to address the long-term health of the region.”
The groups stressed that the next step is to ensure that BP is held fully accountable for its civil penalties under both the Clean Water and Oil Pollution Acts.
“Today’s announcement is only the beginning. By affirming its pursuit of gross negligence in the civil suits, the Department of Justice has the opportunity to send tens of billions of dollars back to restoring the ecosystems, economies and communities still reeling from this disaster."
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
Today, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident announced two additional early NRDA restoration projects. The NRDA Trustees include representatives from the five Gulf Coast states and four federal agencies who are charged with assessing damage to natural resources, such as marshes, sea grasses, birds, and marine mammals, caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In April 2012, the Deepwater Horizon NRDA Trustees finalized the first phase of early NRDA projects, which included eight restoration projects spread across four gulf states and carried a price tag of $57 million.
The second round early NRDA projects focus on avian (bird) and turtle habitat restoration and are located in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. The projects are estimated to cost almost $9 million, which will be split nearly equally between the avian and turtle projects. The avian nesting project focuses on habitat protection in Florida and on Department of Interior lands in Alabama and Mississippi. Fencing, predator controls and stewardship signs will be posted around the nesting areas to prevent disturbance. The turtle projects will focus on nesting habitats for loggerhead sea turtles in Florida and state lands in Alabama. Those projects will attempt to reduce artificial lighting impacts on nesting habits of loggerhead sea turtles.
Both Phase I and Phase II NRDA projects are being negotiated and funded in accordance with the $1 billion Early Framework Agreement signed by the NRDA Trustees and BP in April of 2011. The Framework Agreement was largely seen as a positive step toward restoring the gulf when it was signed, but money has been slow to flow from under the agreement.
Moving forward, we encourage the Trustees to advance projects that are robust and comprehensive. The Mississippi River Delta is a vast and rich ecosystem that suffered discernible, adverse impacts as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The NRDA process presents a real opportunity for the Trustees and BP to make the gulf right again. Future NRDA phases should include projects that address the damaged ecosystem in the Mississippi River Delta. Thankfully, officials in Louisiana have identified a list of priority projects based on the recently passed 2012 Coastal Master Plan. We encourage the Trustees and BP to move swiftly to advance these important ecosystem restoration projects.No Comments
This was originally posted on the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana's Coastal Currents blog.
The much-debated West Bay Diversion will remain open for at least the next 10 years. That’s the word from the CWPPRA Task Force, which reversed its own 2008 decision to close the sediment diversion at its meeting on Thursday, October 12, 2012.
The move keeps open one of the few land-building diversions off of the Mississippi River, allowing sediment in nearby wetlands to continue to accumulate. Researchers will also have the opportunity to continue studying the diversion, which has reportedly built more than 10 acres of land in 2011 alone.
Quoted by The Advocate’s Amy Wold on Thursday, Colonel Ed Fleming of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said new research suggests the diversion is providing more benefit to the surrounding wetlands than first thought. “It appears the diversion is working better than expected,” he said. “When the task force made the decision a few years ago to close this, we didn’t have all the information we have today.”
The original decision to close West Bay was based on a complicated funding scenario that concluded the diversion was not providing enough benefit to justify the expense of keeping it open.
In light of new evidence, the CWPPRA Task Force decided to allocate the money it would have spent closing the diversion to take the necessary steps to keep it open for 10 more years.
While the West Bay Diversion has been criticized over the years for flaws in its design and the expense of keeping it open, the decision to keep the diversion running is important. The 2012 Coastal Master Plan, passed by the Louisiana Legislature this summer, relies on the use of properly designed and operated sediment diversions to rebuild sections of our delta. The acres of land created by West Bay lend credence to the position that these diversions will work. The opportunity to study a working sediment diversion is valuable to researchers who have few other options for studying this restoration method in the field. If West Bay continues its recent track record of success, it will also help proponents of diversions convince policymakers, and the public, of the worthiness of sediment diversions within Louisiana’s coastal restoration strategy.No Comments