Archive for Diversions


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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National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Announces Nearly $68 Million for Louisiana Restoration Projects

November 14, 2013 | Posted by Ryan Rastegar in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Media Resources, Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, Restoration Projects

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, egreeson@audubon.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, eskree@edf.org

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Announces Nearly $68 Million for Louisiana Restoration Projects

$40.4 million dedicated to Mid-Barataria Diversion, a critical project to comprehensive coastal restoration

(New Orleans, LA – November 14, 2013) Today, leading national and local conservation and restoration organizations – Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following joint statement:

“We applaud the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), in partnership with Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, for dedicating $67.9 million to seven key barrier island and river diversion projects, including $40.4 million for the Mid-Barataria Diversion project. The Barataria Basin has one of the highest rates of land loss in the world, and this large-scale wetland restoration project is crucial to reversing that trend.

“The mid-sized Mid-Barataria sediment diversion is a key component of Louisiana’s 2012 Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. The master plan is a blueprint for restoring the Mississippi River Delta and Louisiana’s coast and contains a suite of coastal restoration and protection projects. Our organizations support the full suite of restoration projects in that plan, of which the Mid-Barataria Diversion is a critical piece.

“Restoration of Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands is important not only to Louisiana but to the entire nation. Louisiana’s wetlands and waters provide one-third of the nation’s seafood, are a stopover point for migratory birds traveling the Mississippi Flyway and provide critical wildlife habitat. Projects like the Mid-Barataria Diversion can help revive Louisiana’s coastal wetlands – part of America’s largest delta – to a productive, functioning state, which provides important ecological and economic opportunities for people and wildlife. We look forward to continued work with both the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the State of Louisiana to implement the Mid-Barataria sediment diversion on its current timeline of being ready for construction in 2015.”

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Recap of Wednesday's Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study Technical Meeting

October 25, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Army Corps of Engineers, Diversions, Meetings/Events, Restoration Projects, Science

By Alisha Renfro, Coastal Scientist, National Wildlife Federation

The Mississippi River is one of the most managed river systems in the world. However, that management has focused on navigation and flood control needs to the detriment of the economically and ecologically important coastal Louisiana landscape. This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) hosted a public meeting in New Orleans to present information and preliminary results of their joint effort on the Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study. This large-scale, long-term study is developing tools to evaluate different combinations of restoration projects in an effort to address the long-term sustainability of the Mississippi River and its delta while balancing the needs of navigation, flood protection and restoration.

The scope of the study extends from Vicksburg, Miss. south to the Bird’s Foot delta. The study is actually comprised of two coupled, but somewhat distinct, efforts. The hydrodynamic portion of the study will focus on characterizing the dynamics in the river and developing models that can be used to evaluate river-side changes due to proposed freshwater and sediment diversion projects. It will also inform location and design of these projects to maximize their effectiveness and minimize the potential for shoaling in the river’s navigation channel. The delta management part of the study will focus on the basin-side benefits and changes caused by these restoration projects. The delta management portion of the study has not yet begun. Currently, the state of Louisiana and the Army Corps are working to define the depth and breadth of that part of the study.

The afternoon session of the meeting focused on detailed technical presentations on the study. The different tasks of the Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study include a geomorphic assessment, data collection and an extensive modeling effort. The geomorphic assessment focuses on compiling historical river data, dredging records and satellite imagery to document the historical trends in the river. The data collection effort will compile existing data and conduct field work to fill in gaps in understanding of the water and sediment dynamics that currently exist in the river. The historical data and present data will be integrated into the modeling work to inform the models and to ensure that the models capture the dynamics of the river system. The modeling effort includes a suite of models that each has different strengths and weaknesses. These models will be used to forecast the large-scale, long-term and shorter-term regional changes expected in the river in both a future without river diversions and a future that includes different combinations of diversion projects.

The presentations from the technical meeting indicate that this collaborative state of Louisiana and Army Corps effort has moved forward significantly since it began. The geomorphic assessment has been completed and a final report on its results is expected by the end of this year. The data collection effort is ongoing, having captured the low discharge of the river last year and the higher flow discharge from this past spring. Many of the preliminary model simulations have begun, and the preliminary results presented at this meeting emphasized the dynamic nature of the Mississippi River system, where water discharge, sediment transport and deposition can not only vary greatly from year to year, but also from week to week. The preliminary results also point to the importance of appropriate size, location and operation of sediment diversions in order to maximize sediment conveyance into adjacent wetlands and to reduce potential riverside impacts.

The Mississippi River has been a key feature in the growth and development of the U.S. However, for more than 80 years, the management of the river has focused on balancing the needs of navigation and flood control. A shift away from that management scheme towards one that balances navigation, flood control and restoration is absolutely critical for the survival of the delta ecosystem and, ultimately, the communities and navigation industry that depend on the Mississippi River Delta. The Hydrodynamic and Delta Management study is poised to be the effort that changes the way we think about management of the river and how we build a more sustainable, holistic system for our future.

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Conservation Groups Respond to Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Environmental Impact Statement Launch

October 8, 2013 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Media Resources, Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS: Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, egreeson@audubon.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, eskree@edf.org

Conservation Groups Respond to Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Environmental Impact Statement Launch

Corps’ intention to conduct EIS seen as crucial step forward

(New Orleans, LA – October 8, 2013) Today, a coalition of leading national and local conservation and restoration organizations – Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation– released the following joint statement:

"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in last Friday’s Federal Register their intention to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement on the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion will be the first major controlled sediment diversion reconnecting the Mississippi River with its delta. It is a cornerstone of the state’s master plan for sustaining our coast.

"The Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign believes that launching the Environmental Impact Statement is an important step forward for the project. Given the urgency of restoring and sustaining our coast, a thorough and rigorous Draft Environmental Impact Statement should be completed by fall of 2014, with final review and permits issued by spring of 2015. We look forward to collaborating with the Corps and its state and federal partners to achieve this exciting and crucial 2015 construction goal. Our coast can’t wait. It's time to get together and get it done.”

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The Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Comprised of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in Houma, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. See more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.

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Conservation Groups Issue Statement on New Timeline for Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion

September 20, 2013 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Media Resources, Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACTS: Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, egreeson@audubon.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, eskree@edf.org

Conservation Groups Issue Statement on New Timeline for Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion

 (New Orleans, LA – September 20, 2013) Today, leading national and local conservation and restoration organizations Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation released the following joint statement:

“The Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign commends the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) for adopting an ambitious timeline for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. Announced at the Authority's monthly meeting in New Orleans on September 18, the state plans to complete environmental review, engineering and design documents, and permit applications and submit them to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by Spring 2015. Construction could begin later that year.

“The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion is the first major controlled sediment diversion reconnecting the Mississippi River with its delta. It is a cornerstone of the state’s master plan for sustaining our coast. CPRA’s timeline matches the urgency of our coastal land loss crisis. Funding from BP oil spill settlements makes this schedule altogether feasible.

“We know that the Army Corps of Engineers and the other federal resource agencies consider this project to be a national ecosystem restoration priority and will do everything possible to work with the State to make this schedule a reality. We look forward to collaborating with the State and its federal partners to achieve this exciting and crucial 2015 construction goal. Our coast can’t wait. It's time to get together and get it done.”

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Study demonstrates importance of sediment diversions for building land in the Mississippi River Delta

March 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.

Locations of sediment diversion projects included in Louisians's 2012 Coastal Master Plan. The brown stippled areas show the diversion impact areas. Credit: CPRA

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.

Related resources:

 

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Mardi Gras Pass: Compromise will be key

March 4, 2013 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Diversions, Mardi Gras Pass, Science, Videos

By Emily Guidry Schatzel, Communications Manager, National Wildlife Federation

Recent news reports suggest that the potential for compromise exists in the case of Mardi Gras Pass, the newest known distributary of the Mississippi River. The pass was discovered in 2012 when the river cut a channel through its bank in the Bohemia Spillway, a stretch without levees, giving an exciting and rare view at how a natural delta system operates.

While the pass promises ecological prosperity for the delta, the newly enlarged channel washed out the private road that one local oil company uses to access its facilities. The company has since applied for a permit to rebuild that road. Coastal restoration advocates believe that the current plan to rebuild will effectively close the Mardi Gras Pass and will eliminate encouraging ecological benefits that scientists from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation have been monitoring since the channel’s development.

FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

This video further explains the debate over keeping the pass open, and alternatives for compromise. The key takeaway? Whether it be construction of a bridge, or another reasonable alternative that gives the oil company access while allowing Mother Nature to literally “run its course,” this is clearly an issue that requires the full attention of key decision-makers so that the best long-term solution is achieved.

As Dr. John Lopez, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation — the organization that discovered the pass in 2012 — said, “It’s the kind of thing that most scientists sit in their offices there, dreaming how it might happen. Here, you can actually see it.” Keeping Mardi Gras Pass open is important — it’s a chance for the river to reconnect with its wetlands, which is exactly what the river is designed to do.

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Path Forward plan must focus on ecosystem restoration

February 6, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Diversions, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, Job Creation, Reports, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act, Science

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.

Allocation of RESTORE Act Funds (Source: The Path Forward to Restoring the Gulf Coast: A Proposed Comprehensive Plan).

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.

Initial Comprehensive Plan Development Timeline (Source: The Path Forward to Restoring the Gulf Coast: A Proposed Comprehensive Plan).

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.

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Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council Convenes for First Time, Discusses Restoration Plan

December 18, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Diversions, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, Meetings/Events, RESTORE Act

By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

Last week, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council held its first public meeting in Mobile, Ala. to update residents on the progress of implementing the RESTORE Act. The law, which Congress passed in June 2012, dedicates 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the BP oil spill back to the Gulf Coast for restoration. Those fines, expected to reach billions of dollars, will help stabilize and revive troubled ecosystems across the Gulf Coast.

The Council was created by the RESTORE Act to develop a long-term ecosystem restoration plan for the region. This plan is expected to reverse coastal land loss, create new marshland and rebuild fisheries and marine environments across the Gulf Coast. At this week’s meeting, Council members recognized that challenges lie ahead, but they are optimistic they have the resources and expertise necessary to revive the Gulf Coast.

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council held its first public meeting December 11, 2012 in Mobile, Ala. Source: www.restorethegulf.gov

The Restoration Council is a diverse group of federal agency and state representatives who are tasked with developing an ecosystem restoration plan to address the varying needs of complex and diverse environments stretching across five states. To develop a comprehensive and multidisciplinary plan, the Council will rely on the expertise housed in its federal member agencies and state partners, including the Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Coast Guard, Army and Department of Agriculture. The federal agencies will be joined by the governors from each of the five gulf states.

The basis of the restoration plan has already been developed by a similar, and often overlapping in membership, group of federal and state partners known as the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Following the 2010 BP oil disaster, President Obama commissioned the group to study the environment of the Gulf Coast and submit a holistic restoration strategy. The Task Force produced a Gulf Coast restoration strategy document in December 2011, which identified four key areas of restoration: habits restoration, water quality improvement, marine resources protection and community resiliency enhancement.

In September 2012, the President released an Executive Order which rolled the Task Force’s strategy into the planning process of the comprehensive plan being developed by the RESTORE Act’s Restoration Council. This means we can expect the Restoration Council’s comprehensive restoration plan to look similar to the Task Force’s strategy document.

Of particular importance to the Comprehensive Plan will be incorporating the Task Force’s strategy recommendation to stabilize and reverse land loss along Louisiana’s coast through the use of sediment diversions. Sediment diversions are recommended as a key Mississippi River Delta restoration tool in both the Task Force strategy and Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan.

The Restoration Council plans to meet multiple times over the next few months to update the public on the progress of developing the comprehensive plan, which must be finished by June 2013. The Council will fund the comprehensive plan with 30 percent of the money dedicated to the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund established by the RESTORE Act. That could mean billions of dollars for ecosystem restoration projects and programs identified by the plan. This is welcome news for all those who rely on the Gulf Coast for recreation, seafood, energy and their livelihoods.

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