Federal and State Policy for Restoring the Delta

Crafting the Policies for Restoring the Delta

To restore the delta, policies must be enacted both at the state level in Baton Rouge and at the federal level in Washington that do the following:

  1. Develop and implement a comprehensive plan for sustainable restoration of the Mississippi River Delta
  2. Establish a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary governance structure implementing the plan
  3. Provide the funding necessary to implement the plan before the delta crosses a threshold of collapse

Restoration Plan

To address the enormity of the challenge of restoring the Mississippi River Delta, the state of Louisiana and the federal government need to work jointly to develop and then implement a comprehensive restoration plan addressing the systemic causes of delta collapse and outlining specific actions for restoration.  Some of the current comprehensive planning efforts include the following:

State Master Plan – Every five years, the state of Louisiana writes a plan recommending specific action to protect and restore the coast.  The 2012 Coastal Master Plan is expected to be the most comprehensive action plan to date for restoring the Mississippi River Delta and all of coastal Louisiana.

Learn more about the Louisiana State Master Plan at the Louisiana’s Office of Coastal Protection & Restoration website.

Federal Planning – Louisiana’s Master Plan will need to be integrated with federal plans to restore both the delta and the full Gulf Coast.  The interagency Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force is developing a road map for Gulf of Mexico restoration that will include actions that federal agencies can immediately implement to promote restoration and outline what’s needed for long term restoration.  The 2007 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) also authorized a comprehensive federal restoration plan (in Section 7002).

For more information on Louisiana and delta restoration plans, please see the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s website.

Governance for Delta

While the land subsiding in Louisiana is a mixture of public and private property, the management of the Mississippi River is largely under federal control. To actually implement a comprehensive restoration plan, a governance structure for the Mississippi River Delta will need to be established that includes both state and federal agencies with the authority to manage the river and delta to meet restoration goals.

Federal Governance – Many federal agencies have a role in managing the delta, including the Departments of Interior and Agriculture, but the management of the Mississippi River, and therefore the delta, is mostly left to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps), which manages the river for both flood control and to support navigation.  The development and operation of diversions, spillways, dredging and any potential changes to the flows of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya are under the jurisdiction of the Corps.

Louisiana State GovernanceLouisiana’s Office of Coastal Protection & Restoration (OCPR) is responsible for the State Master Plan and the annual coastal restoration plan.  OCPR is also responsible for all for overseeing all projects and coastal protection under state jurisdiction, including oil spill response and land loss.

Funding

Large-scale restoration and re-engineering of the Mississippi River Delta will not be cheap.  Individual projects can run into the hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars.  However, the cost of inaction, when community impacts, the value of lost ecosystem services and the loss of storm protection are combined, will be far higher. Initial funding for restoration will need to come from a variety of sources.  Some available or potential sources of funding include:

Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) – Following the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, BP was ordered to pay for restoration to parts of the ecosystem directly impacted by the spill, according to a Natural Resource Damage Assessment.  BP has already committed to a $1 billion downpayment for NRDA across the gulf, of which $100 million is guaranteed for Louisiana, with the state eligible to apply for an additional $500 million in federal funds.

Clean Water Act Penalties  – BP and other parties responsible for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill will owe between $5 and $21 billion in Clean Water Act Penalties.  As part of their oil spill reports, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and the non-partisan Oil Spill Commission both recommended that 80 percent of these funds be used for gulf restoration.  Legislation currently in Congress would direct these funds to gulf restoration.

AppropriationsThe 2007 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) authorized fifteen “Louisiana Coastal Area” (LCA) restoration projects.  Funding for these and other restoration projects can come from federal appropriations.

Oil and Gas leases – For federal projects in the Mississippi River Delta, Louisiana must cover 15 percent of the cost (known as the state “cost share”).  This can come from a variety of sources.  Through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA), starting in 2017 the state will receive revenue from leasing the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for oil and gas development.

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