By Natalie Peyronnin, Director of Science Policy, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, Environmental Defense Fund
Twenty-seven leading wildlife and fisheries biologists and other wetlands professionals are urging Louisiana’s citizens to support the construction of sediment diversions to restore marshes vital for protecting Louisiana’s diminishing coast and the people and wildlife it supports.
In full-page ads that will begin appearing in Louisiana media, including the state’s largest newspapers, this Sunday, May 3, the experts write:
“Louisiana urgently needs to restore a better balance between wetland building and wetland loss, between freshwater intrusion and saltwater intrusion, and between the river and the sea so that Louisiana’s wildlife, fish, culture, communities and economy will benefit for generations.”
These wildlife and fisheries biologists and wetlands experts who signed onto the letter have a connection to Louisiana’s coast and want to see it restored: “Like many of you, the signers of this letter know all too well what is at stake. We are wetland professionals who share a passion for Louisiana’s natural places and the extraordinary abundance of fish and wildlife it sustains…In addition to our professional work, we hunt, fish and spend much of our leisure time enjoying our state’s coastal wildlife and fisheries. We watch the wetlands convert to shallow water every day, every year. No one wants to save Louisiana’s coastal fish and wildlife more than we do.”
“We call on Louisiana to continue moving forward with the construction of large-scale wetland-building diversions,” the experts write. “We call on federal agencies to support Louisiana’s efforts by streamlining project implementation. We call on the citizens of Louisiana to insist that our leaders hold to the plan and move quickly.”
Despite the ability of sediment diversions to anchor and sustain the overall coastal restoration system for years to come, opposition exists in limited pockets. Last week, the St. Bernard Parish Council adopted a resolution opposing the use of state funding for four proposed sediment diversion projects, and some commercial fisherman say the diversions would push their saltwater fishing areas further from the coast. The scientists acknowledge this, noting, “Wetland-building diversions will not destroy fisheries but instead will immediately push them farther from some parts of the coast” and recommend objective policies to assist affected fisherman.
“We shouldn’t manage coastal wetlands only for our generation,” the scientists write in their letter, saying that the continuing loss of wetlands will rob future generations of jobs, Louisiana’s unique culture and wildlife habitat.
They also note that “places on our coast continue to thrive . . . where the river is allowed to work its magic.”
The paid advertisements will appear in the following publications in the coming weeks: The Advocate, The Plaquemines Gazette, The St. Bernard Voice, The Times-Picayune, The Houma Courier, Coastal Angler and Louisiana Sportsman.
You can read their letter in full below:
By Maura Wood, Partnership Manager, National Wildlife Federation
On April 20, several members of the Restore the Mississippi River Delta campaign gathered with community members in Davant, Louisiana, to commemorate the 5th anniversary since the BP oil spill with testimony and discussion about how the terrible oil unleashed on that day is still affecting us all. Those gathered included representatives from NGOs, fishermen, residents of coastal communities, business leaders, employees of restoration agencies and others.
While there is widespread agreement that restoring our coast is a priority and that BP should pay to repair the damage it created, we sometimes disagree on how best to achieve these goals. Our collective situation is urgent. Unfortunately, our differences sometimes prevent us from making rapid progress. When we let ourselves become attached to one idea or one way of doing things, we may begin to see those with different ideas as one-dimensional opponents – making it less likely we’ll be able to solve our land loss crisis.
To avoid this outcome, I and my colleagues make contact with a variety of people concerned about restoration, in as many ways and as often as possible. The invitation to the workshop for Plaquemines Parish Fishermen and Fishing Communities five years after the BP oil disaster was a welcome opportunity to learn more from the first-hand experiences of others. The panels and discussions dealt with how BP had settled – or not – with fishermen, the damage left behind from the oil and the dispersant and how the citizens of lower Plaquemines Parish were coping –or not – with the environmental, financial and cultural losses forced upon them by the oil spill.
Testimony from fishermen, shrimpers, and oystermen clearly spelled out some of the obstacles they still face. Prior to the spill, many had served as deckhands on oyster boats or as small operators selling sack oysters from the public seed grounds. For some, troubles began even earlier with Hurricane Katrina. Following the oil spill, producing the necessary proof of loss of income was difficult for many of these fishermen, resulting in their receiving little to no compensation from BP.
Other participants expressed concerns about the long-term effects of dispersants sprayed during the oil spill, the failure of oysters to recover on the east side of the river and how the oil spill was still unravelling the economic fabric of the lower parish. The marina, they said, the “heart” of the community, is now silent and without business. Before Katrina and the spill, this was a center for exchange within the community. Families gathered here after school. Young men earned spending money by unloading oysters. Trucks came in and out, loading and shipping seafood. Without this “center”, people feel the heart of their community is gone. “What is the price of a tradition?” one woman asked.
The participants in this workshop provided a glimpse into the real struggles they face in trying to recover from the impact of the BP oil spill. Sharing individual stories helps us view each other as real people with good intentions seeking to make it right. When we see each other as people with unique stories and valuable perspectives, we can better empathize with and address each other’s concerns about the uncertainties of coastal restoration.
The reward? A new tradition of people from different walks of life working towards the same goal – collectively sustaining and stewarding our coast and coastal communities for all Louisianans. That is a tradition worth building.
By Shannon Cunniff, Deputy Director, Water Program, Environmental Defense Fund
This is part two of a two-part series about the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.
Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy clearly illustrated the significant effects storms and flooding can have on the nation’s economy and security. So it’s not surprising that the President tapped the National Security Council to lead an interagency team to develop additional means to reduce the impact and cost of floods to the nation.
To develop the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, the Council built upon work done by the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and its Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy, that recommended the federal government create a national flood risk standard for federally-funded projects beyond the Sandy-affected region.
In developing the Standard, the National Security Council should have used more transparency. For example, it doesn’t appear the Council consulted with Louisiana’s community leaders and others affected by Hurricane Katrina. That’s hard to understand, given the impacts that storm had on the region.
In addition to gaining understanding of the different and separate conditions around the nation, outreach also might have resulted in greater understanding among stakeholders of the intent behind the executive order and engendered less anxiety about its impact from those outside of Washington. To that end, such outreach very likely would have resulted in less confusion and consternation about the order, yielding a better result.
Implementing the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard
There are two steps to full implementation of the Standard. The first started with development and issuance of its draft Implementing Guidelines. The Administration has provided an extended opportunity for public comment on these overarching guidelines, which is currently scheduled to close on May 6, 2015. The second step will be development of detailed guidelines by each affected federal agency that reflect their authorities and programs.
Until the implementing agencies develop their guidelines, specific concerns about what the standard will mean can’t be fully answered. This causes increased anxiety among stakeholders.
Making sure implementation works for Louisiana
In the current public comment period, there are three significant ways to ensure application of the executive order works for Louisiana and other states that have real concerns about the outcomes:
First, commenters can identify clarifications needed in the final overarching Implementing Guidelines so that they set clear direction and sideboards, yet retain flexibility. These parameters will then guide each federal agency in developing its own implementing guidelines
Second, commenters can seek desired improvement in the public dialogue on flood risk management by suggesting that these final Implementing Guidelines direct federal agencies to engage in meaningful dialogue before and as they develop their own program-specific guidelines.
Lastly, commenters can identify issues and questions that each federal agency should carefully consider when drafting their program-specific guidelines.
While the White House could have done a better job engaging other regions of the U.S. prior to establishing its Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, let’s embrace opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue to establish flexible policies that encourage and enable communities to improve their resiliency. To send comments on the draft Implementing Guidelines, click here and then search for the notice in docket ID FEMA-2015-0006.
If you missed it, check out part one of this series: The new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.
By Shannon Cunniff, Deputy Director, Water Program, Environmental Defense Fund
This is part one of a two-part series about the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard. Check back tomorrow for part two.
There has been a lot of misinformation circulating about the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard established in Executive Order (EO) 13690. In this two-part series, we will shed light on the new standard as well as ways for stakeholders to get involved in the process and make their voices heard.
Louisiana and its citizens are no strangers to flooding and flood risk. Were it not for the devastation caused by the 1927 Mississippi River floods, Congress might not have created a new major flood control program for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. So it’s not hyperbole to say Louisiana’s history is steeped in floods.
Louisiana’s broad deltaic floodplains, storied bayous and New Orleans’ own tenacity and resilience to floods define this region. Louisiana knows how to live with water and the threat of flood. Through its Coastal Master Plan, the state is demonstrating to the nation its leadership in flood risk reduction and how creative cross-jurisdictional planning can ensure a vibrant future despite rising seas.
Why have a flood risk standard for federal investments?
However, Louisiana isn’t alone in experiencing flood damages. Between 1980 and 2013, the United States suffered more than $260 billion in flood-related damages. Accounting for inflation, the dollar losses due to U.S. tropical storms and floods have tripled over the past 50 years.
During this period, the federal government has assumed an increasing proportion of the financial responsibility associated with flooding and coastal storms. Federally funded infrastructure – including buildings, roads, ports, industrial facilities and military installations – have suffered flood damages stemming from higher flood levels, higher sea levels and more severe storms. A goal for the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard is to establish a higher level to which federal actions must be resilient.
This risk management standard represents an important step in coming to terms with more intense storms and sea level rise. The nation and its communities, as well as federal agencies, need to join together to cope with what sea level rise means for our coastal areas, populations, infrastructure and economies.
It’s taken us decades, even centuries, to achieve current levels of development. Now we need to start positioning ourselves to adjust to changing conditions. We need to start building differently and gradually shifting our important assets out of harm’s way.
Leaders in reducing risks
More than 350 communities across the nation, including some in Louisiana, have already implemented standards that account for increased future flood risk, to ensure investments today still provide benefits in a riskier future.
While the federal government is catching up with these communities, it’s been a leader and advocate for floodplain management since 1977, when the federal floodplain management executive order was last updated. Since then, federal agencies have been assessing – usually during their development of an environmental assessment or environmental impact analysis – and minimizing the effects of proposed actions occupying or modifying the floodplain.
The new federal flood risk management standard
The Federal Flood Risk Management Standard supplements the long-standing federal floodplain management Executive Order 11988 approach, by increasing the size of the floodplain and setting a higher level for designing means to lessen flood risks. When evaluating projects, federal agencies must consider:
- The impacts of their proposed action on adding to others’ flood risk.
- Ways to reduce impacts of flooding to structures they fund.
Federal agencies still must avoid the direct or indirect support of floodplain development whenever there is a practicable alternative. Practicality is the pivotal word with much turning on the purpose and need for the action. As the last 37 years demonstrate, federal agencies implementing Executive Order 11988 have been prudent in determining practicality.
Federally funded actions have and will continue in Louisiana’s broad, flat floodplains. They will do so in a manner that ensures federal investments lessen the risk of damaging floods, reduces the cost of flood damages to life and property and, should there be a severe event, rebound quickly to serve their intended purpose.
How we go about developing policies and practices to protect federal investments, lives and property from storms, floods and sea level rise is important. While the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard is a good thing, there are two areas worth examining around the executive order: process and substance. In tomorrow's post, we will be examining both of these areas and ideas for improvement.
Check back tomorrow for part two: Improving implementation of the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.