Archive for Restoration Projects


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.

2012-Master-Plan-Coastwide1

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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When it comes to restoration, let nature fill in the details

December 19, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Restoration Projects, Science

This was originally posted by Environmental Defense Fund on EDF Voices: People on the Planet.

By David Festa, Vice President, West Coast & Land, Water & Wildlife, Environmental Defense Fund

I was struck by a line in an article in the new issue of Scientific American. It called the loss of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands “the greatest environmental, economic and cultural tragedy on the North American continent.”

healthy_bird_0It’s easy to see why they would say that. Since the 1930s, efforts to control the Mississippi River and widespread energy development in the delta have resulted in the sacrifice of 1,900 square miles of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands to the sea. If that had happened on the east coast, an area twice the size of Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. put together would be under water. Of course, the engineering projects on the Mississippi spurred over a century of economic development and navigation. But the cost has been the loss of the original delta ecosystem, leaving coastal communities more exposed to storm surges and a rising sea level.

As dramatic as that is, the thing that caught my eye even more was another line in the Scientific American article: “Many wetland recovery programs have failed by trying to re-create the original ecosystems.”

The article goes on to make a point that we don’t have to re-create the past to make things better for people and the planet. In fact, when you think clearly and specifically about the need we as a society are trying to meet, and then ask how nature can help meet that need, surprisingly positive things can happen.

Consider Scientific American’s example of the Delaware Bay, an ecosystem that was teeming with aquatic life before settlers built dikes and drained thousands of acres to grow crops.

“Looming on the New Jersey shore of the bay is the Salem nuclear power plant, owned by utility giant PSEG. The plant sucks in billions of gallons of water a day for cooling and kills millions of tiny fish and other creatures as they get drawn through the intake valves. In the early 1990s state regulators asked PSEG to build cooling towers to end the carnage. Reluctant to spend $1 billion to $2 billion, the utility proposed an alternative: restore enough salt marsh to compensate for the loss of fish — more than 10,000 acres.”

The restoration team decided to take a less-is-more approach — cut gaps in the dikes that would let just the right amount of water into the marsh to create an initial maze of tidal creeks, and then let the rest of the creeks develop on their own. “If you engineer a drainage system in great detail, the system is forced to go the way you think it ought to be,” a restoration expert told the publication. “But if you allow it to develop itself, it’s more likely to be stable.”

Today, reports Scientific American, the increase in fish populations more than makes up for the losses from the power plant’s water intake, and the restoration looks like the natural marshes next door. Plus, it saved consumers money because letting nature meet the need cost hundreds of millions of dollars less than the concrete cooling towers.

Reversing Damage

You see this principle at work in the efforts of EDF and our allies in the Gulf of Mexico. Last year, as part of ongoing efforts to reverse losses in the Mississippi River Delta, Louisiana passed the Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. This landmark plan serves as the blueprint for restoring Louisiana’s wetlands, and it follows two tenets that proved so successful in the Delaware Bay. First, it focuses on a single goal: rebuilding and sustaining hundreds of square miles of land. Secondly, it relies on nature to do the bulk of the reconstruction. Sediment-laden water from the Mississippi River will be diverted into marshes and shores. Over time, the sediment will create new land and a more resilient coastline.

In the face of extreme weather and global sea-level rise, this new approach takes on great meaning. Superstorm Sandy provided powerful illustrations of how wetlands can serve as a first line of defense against extreme weather events. Salt marsh remnants along Long Island’s Jamaica Bay, for example, helped to protect residents there, while the lack of wetlands around Manhattan left it exposed to crashing waves.

More than 3 billion souls — 40 percent of the world's population — live as close to the sea as New Orleans. By letting nature back into the game, we can help rebuild coastal Louisiana and turn “a North American tragedy” into a model of success for protecting nearly half the planet’s population.

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Deepwater Horizon Trustees release environmental plans for $627 million in restoration projects

December 18, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), Restoration Projects

By Whit Remer and Estelle Robichaux, Environmental Defense Fund

On December 6, the U.S. Department of Interior, on behalf of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage (NRDA) Trustees, released a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for approximately $627 million of early restoration projects across the Gulf Coast. While the projects were initially proposed in May, over the past six months, the Trustees have been preparing a PEIS to evaluate the broad impacts of the projects. The PEIS includes $318 million for barrier island restoration projects and $22 million for marine fisheries research and science in Louisiana.

A NOAA veterinarian prepares to clean an oiled Kemp's Ridley turtle. As part of the NRDA process, NOAA assesses injuries to marine life.

A NOAA veterinarian prepares to clean an oiled Kemp's Ridley turtle. As part of the NRDA process, NOAA assesses injuries to marine life.

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment is the scientific and legal process to assess and quantify injuries to natural resources and services following oil spills. Trustees from the five Gulf states and four federal agencies are conducting the process for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While the full NRDA for the spill is ongoing, the Trustees and BP reached an agreement in April 2011 to begin an early restoration program to restore resources and services immediately and acutely harmed by the oil spill.

The early restoration process is guided by a contract signed by the Trustees and BP known as the Early Framework Agreement, whereby BP committed to provide up to $1 billion in early restoration funds. Two phases of funding were announced prior to the latest $627 million announcement. In Phase I, Louisiana received funds for the Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation Project and for oyster hatcheries in Plaquemines and Terrebonne Parishes.  Phase II contained $9 million in sea turtle and bird habitat restoration projects in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

Phase III contains the largest and most diverse suite of projects across the Gulf. In Louisiana, four barrier islands will be restored through $318 million in funds proposed under the Louisiana Outer Coast Restoration project set.” Once the PEIS is complete for Phase III, the Trustees will begin work to restore beach, dune and back barrier marsh on Caillou Lake Headlands (also known as Whiskey Island), Chenier Ronquille, Shell Island (West Lobes and portions of East Lobe) and the North Breton Island. These islands provide important habitat for brown pelicans, terns, skimmers and gulls. Barrier islands also have the potential to buffer storm surge and wave action and thus serve as a first line of defense for coastal communities and infrastructure.

An oiled shoreline in Barataria Bay, Louisiana.

An oiled shoreline in Barataria Bay, Louisiana.

Restoring these islands will require an enormous amount of sediment. Almost 7,500 tons of sand, silt and clay will be pumped from various locations offshore or in the Mississippi River to provide the material for these restoration projects. In all, these projects will restore nearly 2,500 acres of barrier island habitat. Before sediment pumping can begin, containment dikes need to be constructed. Containment dikes give new sediment time to settle and compact, allowing sediment-stabilizing vegetation to grow. These structures are very important because they lessen the impact of ocean currents and waves that lead to the erosion of these newly established island sediments. The containment dikes will generally degrade over time as the island becomes more stable and more vegetation grows.

After the islands have been restored, sand fencing will be installed, to help trap and retain wind-blown sediments and help foster the development of sand dunes, and native vegetation will be planted. Sand dunes are important to the long-term maintenance of barrier islands because they serve as a reservoir of sand from which a beach can replenish itself after a storm. Dunes can also lessen wave energy by breaking waves before they reach shore and, along with “back-barrier marsh,” (the salt marsh on the backside of a barrier island) have the potential to buffer storm surge by absorbing and retaining water.

These barrier island restoration projects were selected for NRDA early restoration because many of them were the first landmasses to be oiled by the Deepwater Horizon spill. But it is important to have these projects constructed quickly, so that Louisiana’s communities can have their first line of defense intact.

To make sure this happens, we encourage you to urge the NRDA Trustee Council by February 4, 2014, either in writing online or at one of the public meetings, to advance these critical Louisiana restoration projects as expeditiously as possible.

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